VEGAN CHOCOLATE CHESTNUT LAYER CAKE
Nothing says autumn like chilly mornings, romantic walks, and the smell of roasted chestnuts in the air. A magical atmosphere for any romantic soul.
And indeed, it is a magical time, and an endless inspiration for me when it comes to desserts. A treasure trove of seasonal ingredients that create the most beautiful and delicious sweets, especially cakes.
I have to admit, the older I get, the more I love creating new cake recipes. Especially cakes like this one, with many different layers, all in autumnal shades, full of delight and nostalgia. With warm rum and vanilla pairing perfectly with the chestnut and chocolate fillings, and a texture reminiscent of old-fashion pastry shop cakes, velvety and robust.
Generously glazed in dark chocolate ganache, it is best served well-chilled, with a cup of strong coffee, and even a glass of brandy.
For the soft vanilla cake layers
200 grams plain flour
240 grams granulated sugar
1 levelled teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
50 millilitres vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
280 millilitres tepid water
For the fragrant chestnut rum filling
350 grams chestnuts, in shell
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
20 millilitres water
50 grams dandelion honey
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
100 grams vegan block butter, at room temperature
100 millilitres plant double cream
1 tablespoon dark rum
For the dark chocolate ganache
75 grams dark chocolate (75% cocoa solids)
100 millilitres plant double cream
For the decoration
100 grams dark chocolate (75% cocoa solids)
150 millilitres plant double cream
Start by making the chestnut filling, as it needs to be completely cool before filling the cake.
Take each chestnut, and lay it on a kitchen towel, flat side down. Holding it firmly, make a small, relatively shallow cut on the shell, just deep enough so it is easier to peel later on. Rotate it, and make another cut across. That way, they will open up while cooking, and the peeling will be much easier.
Place the prepared chestnuts into a large pot, add enough water to cover them, add the sugar, and let them come to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, cook for 40 minutes, or until you see the chestnuts opening up. The water may change colour, but that is fine.
Strain the cooked chestnuts, let them cool slightly, so they are comfortably warm to handle, and remove the shells and the inner skin from each of them. This should go very smoothly, as they will be warm.
Weigh exactly 200 grams of the prepared chestnuts, place them into a blender, along with the water and vanilla, and let it run until a thick paste forms. This can be done with an immersion blender, as well.
Transfer the purée into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add in the honey, and mix well. At this point, taste the purée and adjust the sweetness, if needed. Place the saucepan over medium heat, and let it heat up until a very soft boil. Stirring constantly, let it cook until thickened and darker in colour. This will remove additional water from the purée, making it smoother, and easier to blend with the vegan butter and cream later on. Cover the top with a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper, and let it cool down completely.
While the chestnut filling is cooling, make the soft vanilla layers. Sift the flour with the baking soda a few times, to aerate it nicely, and add it to a large bowl. Add in the sugar and salt, and whisk well. Take another bowl, and whisk together the water, oil, vinegar, and the vanilla; and pour everything over the dry ingredients. Whisk only until everything comes together into a smooth batter, so the cakes stay nice and soft.
Line two 20-cm round pans by lining the bottoms and side with baking parchment, and divide the batter between them. Due to their thickness, this is best done by weight. Bake them immediately in a preheated oven, at 180°C, for about 12-15 minutes, or until baked through. Check them with a toothpick even around the 10-minute mark, to make sure they are baked, but not dry.
Remove them from the oven, let them cool down in the pans for about 10 minutes, and then take them out and let them cool down completely on wire racks. If you are worried about the cakes sticking, invert them onto a piece of baking parchment, and then onto the cooling racks.
Once the chestnut purée is completely cool, proceed with the filling. Pour the chilled plant cream into a deep bowl, and whip it until soft peaks form. Set it aside.
Place the chestnut purée into a large bowl, and add in the softened vegan block butter. Whip, with an electric mixer on high, until a smooth and thick filling forms. There is no possibility of overbeating the filling; even if it becomes somewhat soft, it will firm up in the refrigerator.
Add the whipped cream into the filling, along with the rum, and blend on high until it all whips together. Place the bowl into the refrigerator.
For the dark chocolate ganache, chop up the chocolate into shards, for easier melting, add it to a small saucepan, and pour over the double cream. Place it over medium heat, and let it melt together slowly. As soon as it is melted, remove from heat, whisk vigorously to make sure all the shards are melted, and let it cool down until thick and spreadable.
While both fillings are cooling down, very gently transfer the cooled cakes onto your work surface, level them if needed, and slice them into two thin layers. If you are more comfortable working that way, you can use cake boards to transfer the layers.
To assemble, place the first cake layer onto the serving platter, add a cake ring around it, a strip of acetate on the inside, and close the ring in place. Divide the chestnut filling into two equal parts, either by weight or approximation, and gently spread one half onto the cake layer.
Place the next layer on top, gently press it down with your palm, to even it out, and spread the dark chocolate ganache. If necessary, tap the cake platter a few times on the work surface, to remove any air bubbles. Place another cake layer on top, and spread the remaining chestnut filling. Top with the final cake layer, and gently press down with your palm. Place the platter into the refrigerator for at least 8 hours.
The next day, make the decoration. Once again, chop up the dark chocolate into thin shards, add it to a small saucepan, and pour over the double cream. Place the pan over medium heat, and let everything melt together slowly. As soon as it is melted, remove from heat, whisk to make sure all the shards are melted. Place a piece of plastic wrap on top, and let it cool down to room temperature, so it is pourable.
Remove the cooled cake from the refrigerator, remove the cake ring and the acetate strip, and glaze the top and sides with the ganache. Decorate the cake further, if desired, and serve. Yields 20 servings.
By Tina Vesić
TRIPLE CHOCOLATE FUDGE BROWNIE COOKIES