filbert gateau with praline buttercream (daring bakers)

There were a lot of similarities between the Filbert Gateau that Chris chose for this month’s Daring Baker challenge and the opera cake we made a few months ago. This works out well for me, because I could definitely use the cake-building practice. And I don’t know if I’m getting better at this whole baking thing or what, but this cake came together quite nicely for me.

I made the entire opera cake, from start to finish, in one day. I thought it would be fun, and while there were fun aspects, by the end, I never wanted to bake again (for two days). This time I got smart and did at least a small portion of the recipe ahead of time. There was still a good amount of baking to be done on the final day – most of the cake, the buttercream, the ganache, and the assembly, but it was manageable and fun.

The only part of the recipe that gave me fits was the praline. I have made caramel so many times before with nary a problem. But this time, I screwed it up four times in a row. I tried different methods, but each time, sugar crystals formed, interrupting my smooth caramel. I never did get it right – on the last attempt, there were only a few crystals in the liquid, and I decided that it would be a good learning experience for me to see what a screwed-up caramel was like. (How’s that for justification?) It turns out that screwed-up caramel is opaque and looks milky instead of being shiny and amber-colored and jewel-like. The taste was fine though, and I was grinding a good portion of it into paste anyway.

Everything else went smoothly. This was my most successful experience with these light egg-leavened cakes. But cutting the cake into layers created a lot of crumbs. I think I’ve heard that if I refrigerate or partially freeze the cake (wrapped well with plastic, I assume), it makes this process easier with no detrimental effects on the cake? Is this true?

This is the first time I’ve covered a cake with chocolate ganache. It’s not as smooth on the sides as I’d prefer, which I think is because my cake had fallen in the middle just a bit, so a lot of the ganache pooled there and there wasn’t as much to cover the sides. Even with my less-than-perfect coating, I think ganache makes for an impressive presentation.

Dave and I both enjoyed the flavor of the cake as well. The unsweetened whipped cream in between layers kept the cake from being too sweet, and the bittersweet chocolate was the perfect contrast to the sweet cake and buttercream. The cake wasn’t as praliney as I might have liked though. I wonder if I could mix in more praline paste with the buttercream? In the end though, this was a great learning experience and a lot of fun, with tasty results.

Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream (from Great Cakes, by Carol Walter)

Makes 1 10-inch cake, about 12 servings

1 Filbert Genoise
1 recipe sugar syrup, flavored with dark rum
1 recipe Praline Buttercream
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 recipe Apricot Glaze
1 recipe Ganache Glaze, prepared just before using

Filbert Genoise
Because of the amount of nuts in the recipe, this preparation is different from a classic genoise.

1½ cups hazelnuts, toasted/skinned
⅔ cup (2.65 ounces) cake flour, unsifted
2 tablespoons cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 cup (7 ounces) sugar, divided ¼ and ¾ cups
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon grated lemon rind
5 large egg whites
¼ cup warm, clarified butter (100 – 110 degrees)

Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10″ X 2″ inch round cake pan.

Using a food processor, process nuts, cake flour, and cornstarch for about 30 seconds. Then, pulse the mixture about 10 times to get a fine, powdery mixture. You’ll know the nuts are ready when they begin to gather together around the sides of the bowl. While you want to make sure there aren’t any large pieces, don’t over-process. Set aside.

Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, and beat until thick and light in color, about 3-4 minutes on med-high speed. Slowly, add ¾ cup of sugar. It is best to do so by adding a tablespoon at a time, taking about 3 minutes for this step. When finished, the mixture should be ribbony. Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind. Remove and set aside.

Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl of the electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed, until soft peaks. Increase to med-high speed and slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so. Continue to beat for another ½ minute. Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.

Pour the warm butter in a liquid measure cup (or a spouted container). Put the nut meal in a mesh strainer (or use your hand – working quickly) and sprinkle it in about 2 tablespoons at a time – folding it carefully for about 40 folds. Be sure to exclude any large chunks/pieces of nuts. Again, work quickly and carefully as to not deflate the mixture. When all but about 2 tablespoons of nut meal remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter. Then, with the remaining nut meal, fold the batter to incorporate, about 13 or so folds.

With a rubber spatula, transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the spatula or back of a spoon. (If collected butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter! It will impede the cake rising while baking.)

Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is springy to the touch and it separates itself from the side of the pan. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a cake rack sprayed with nonstick coating, removing the pan. Cook the cake completely.

*If not using the cake right away, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap, then in a plastic bag, then in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If freezing, wrap in foil, then the bag and use within 2-3 months.

Sugar Syrup
Makes 1 cup, good for one 10-inch cake – split into 3 layers

1 cup water
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum or orange flavored liqueur

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the liqueur. Cool slightly before using on the cake. *Can be made in advance.

Praline Buttercream
1 recipe Swiss Buttercream
⅓ cup praline paste
1½-2 tablespoons Jamaican rum (optional)

Blend ½ cup buttercream into the paste, then add to the remaining buttercream. Whip briefly on medium-low speed to combine. Blend in rum.

Swiss Buttercream
4 large egg whites
¾ cup sugar
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1½-2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or liqueur of your choice
1 teaspoon vanilla

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a electric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Then, whisk in the sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoons of sugar at a time over a minutes time. Continue beating 2-3 minutes or until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved. The mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows.

Remove from pan and with either the paddle or whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and sugar on medium-high speed until it’s a thick, cool meringue – about 5-7 minutes. (Do not overbeat). Set aside.

Place the butter in a separate clean mixing bowl and, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium speed for 40-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. (Do not overbeat or the butter will become too soft.)

On medium-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 tablespoons at a time, over about 1 minute. Add the liqueur and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy.

Refrigerate 10-15 minutes before using.

Wait! My buttercream won’t come together! Reheat the buttercream briefly over simmering water for about 5 seconds, stirring with a wooden spoon. Be careful and do not overbeat. The mixture will look broken with some liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Return the bowl to the mixer and whip on medium speed just until the cream comes back together.

Wait! My buttercream is too soft! Chill the buttercream in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes and rewhip. If that doesn’t work, cream an additional 2-4 tablespoons of butter in a small bowl – making sure the butter is not as soft as the original amount, so make sure is cool and smooth. On low speed, quickly add the creamed butter to the buttercream, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or can be frozen for up to 6 months. If freezing, store in 2 16-oz. plastic containers and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for several hours.

Praline Paste
1 cup (4½ ounces) hazelnuts, toasted/skinless
⅔ cup (4.65 ounces) sugar

Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and lightly butter.

Put the sugar in a heavy 10-inch skillet. Heat on low flame for about 10-20 min until the sugar melts around the edges. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals. If the sugar in the center does not melt, stir briefly. When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides. Cook until the mixture starts to bubble. (Remember – extremely hot mixture.) Then onto the parchment lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible. As it cools, it will harden into brittle. Break the candied nuts into pieces and place them in the food processor. Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container and store in a cook dry place. Do not refrigerate.

Apricot Glaze
Good for one 10-inch cake

⅔ cup thick apricot preserves
1 tablespoon water

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and preserves to a slow boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add water as needed.

Remove from heat and, using a strainer, press the mixture through the mesh and discard any remnants. With a pastry brush, apply the glaze onto the cake while the cake is still warm. If the glaze is too thick, thin to a preferred consistency with drops of water.

Ganache Glaze
Makes about 1 cup, enough to cover the top and sides of a 9 or 10 inch layer or tube cake

6 oz. (good) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, like Lindt
6 oz. (¾ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier, Cointreay, or dark Jamaican rum (optional)
¾ teaspoon vanilla
½ – 1 teaspoon hot water, if needed

Blend vanilla and liqueur/rum together and set aside.

Break the chocolate into 1-inch pieces and place in the basket of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer into a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Heat the cream and corn syrup in a saucepan, on low, until it reached a gentle boil. Once to the gently boil, immediately and carefully pour over the chocolate. Leave it alone for one minute, then slowly stir and mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Carefully blend in vanilla mixture. If the surface seems oily, add ½ – 1 teaspoon hot water. The glaze will thicken, but should still be pourable. If it doesn’t thicken, refrigerate for about 5 minutes, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold!

Assembling Cake

Cut a cardboard disk slightly smaller than the cake. Divide the cake into 3 layers and place the first layer top-side down on the disk. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 3-4 tablespoon of warm sugar syrup. Measure out 1 cup of praline buttercream and set aside.

Spread the bottom layer with a ¼-inch thickness of the remaining buttercream. Cover with ½ of the whipped cream, leaving ¼-inch border around the edge of the cake. Place the middle layer over the first, brush with sugar syrup, spreading with buttercream. Cover with the remaining whipped cream.

Moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake. Gently, press the sides of the cake to align the layers. Refrigerate to chill for at least 30 minutes.

Lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. Holding a serrated or very sharp night with an 8-inch blade held parallel to the sides of the cake, trim the sides so that they are perfectly straight. Cut a slight bevel at the top to help the glaze drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with warm apricot glaze, sealing the cut areas completely. Chill while you prepare the ganache.

Place a rack over a large shallow pan to catch the ganache drippings. Remove the gateau from the refrigerator and put it the rack. With a metal spatula in hand, and holding the saucepan about 10 inches above the cake, pour the ganache onto the cake’s center. Move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance. The ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. When the ganache has been poured and is coating the cake, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (Work fast before setting starts.) Patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top after the “bang”. Let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.



  1. Good call on the praline! It does’t really matter if it doesn’t look right. 🙂 The cake can indeed be frozen– the loss of moisture is okay since you’re adding syrup to it anyway. You’re way too modest, it looks like you’ve been baking for ages! Great job!

  2. Beautiful cake bridget! I love how you decorated it.

  3. Your photos are downright gorgeous, Bridget!

  4. What a beautiful cake! I have decoration envy!

  5. I think it looks perfect – and I can’t believe you did it all in one day. That’s dedication!!

    And, as always, your pictures are to-die-for!

  6. A lovely cake. Regardless of the hazelnut praline outcome, you did a great job on the challenge. I skipped that step altogether due to *anger* 😉 Congrats!

  7. Your cake looks beautiful. Your pictures are so pretty and I love the way you decorated it.

  8. You are so clever with the decoration. The strip of nuts along the bottom is brilliant. Mine took a beating and got a little banged up because I had to travel by car with it. The nuts along the bottom would have masked the flaws. Great job!

  9. Very pretty cake. Wonderful photos. I agree, this was a lot like the opera cake.

  10. Hmm – I’ve never seen caramel do that! I agree that this was just like the opera cake – too much like it for me!

  11. I think your cake looks great!

  12. It looks beautiful. Great job!

  13. Freezing or refrigertaing the cake really does help cut it more evenly; just make sure you cover it well with plastic wrap. Some of it is also practice and technique though; you’d have to use a long serrated knife to slice the cake, and then use a sawing motion to slice into the cake, but while at the same time keeping the knife in the same position. This can be achieved by turning the cake instead of the knife. I usually hold the knife in my right hand while turning the cake anti-clockwise with my left hand. I don’t know if I’ve explained it well enough but if you have any questions feel free to ask.

    Love your photos, and don’t we love our canon rebel cameras??!! Love what you did with the chopped nuts on the side of the cake!! Beautiful!!

  14. Superb. It really looks great.

  15. Your cake is gorgeous! Mine wasn’t as smooth on the sides as I would have liked, either, but I had a hard time making the cake smooth because there were so many crumbs. Great job!

  16. Mmmm, your cake looks fantastic and delish! I wish I would have used the whipped cream… it looks so nice layered in there.

    Nice work!