An Elegant Cake Featuring Sorghum Flour
This fancy little number comes from Alice Medrich’s new book, Flavor Flours. Alice’s newest passion is exploring the wonderful world of alternative flours. They happen to be GF, but Alice’s book presents them to us in all of their unique glory. Here, sorghum’s slightly gritty texture complements the ultra-smooth buttercream that has been enhanced with crunchy caramelized walnuts. Don’t miss our interview with Alice and also check out her Buckwheat Linzer Cookies based on a buckwheat sablé.
Excerpted from Flavor Flours: A New Way to Bake with Teff, Buckwheat, Sorghum, Other Whole & Ancient Grains, Nuts & Non-Wheat Floursby Alice Medrich. Published by Artisan Books Copyright ©2014. Photographs by Leigh Beisch.
This is a subtle but dressy little layer cake, more European in style than American. The thin layers of sponge cake are made with sorghum flour and moistened with bourbon (or rum or brandy) syrup and filled with a new version of classic French buttercream laced with crushed caramelized walnuts. You can make the cake, caramelized walnuts, and buttercream over several days to lighten the load and, once assembled, the cake should rest for a day to allow the flavors and textures to mellow. Keep in mind that buttercream is much richer than ordinary frosting and therefore should be spread very thinly.
8-by-2-inch round cake pan
Stand mixer with whisk attachment
Sifter or medium-mesh strainer
- 5 tablespoons (70 grams) Clarified Butter or ghee
- ¾ cup (90 grams) sorghum flour
- 3 tablespoons (35 grams) white rice flour or ⅓ cup (35 grams) Thai white rice flour
- ⅔ cup (130 grams) sugar
- 4 large eggs
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, but do not grease the sides of the pan.
- To make the cake, put the clarified butter in a small pot or microwavable container ready to reheat when needed, and have a 4- to 5-cup bowl ready to pour it into as well—the bowl must be big enough to allow you to fold some batter into the butter later.
- Whisk the sorghum and rice flours and 2 tablespoons of the sugar together thoroughly in a medium bowl.
- Combine the remaining sugar, eggs, and salt in the bowl of the stand mixer and beat with the whisk attachment on high speed for 4 to 5 minutes. The mixture should be light colored and tripled in volume, and you should see well-defined tracks as the whisk spins; when the whisk is lifted, the mixture should fall in a thick, fluffy rope that dissolves slowly on the surface of the batter.
- Just before the eggs are ready, heat the clarified butter until very hot and pour it into the reserved bowl.
- Remove the bowl from the mixer. Sift one-third of the flour over the eggs. Fold with a large rubber spatula until the flour is almost blended into the batter. Repeat with half of the remaining flour. Repeat with the rest of the flour. Scrape about one-quarter of the batter into the hot butter. Fold until blended. Scrape the buttery batter over the remaining batter and fold just until blended. Scrape the batter into the pan.
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake is golden brown on top. It will have puffed up and then settled level, but it won’t have pulled away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean and dry. Set the pan on a rack to cool.
- At your convenience (the cake can be warm or completely cool), run a small spatula around the inside of the pan, pressing against the sides of the pan to avoid tearing the cake. Invert the pan onto a rack to remove the cake and peel off the parchment liner. Turn the cake right side up to finish cooling before filling, frosting, or storing. The cake may be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature for 2 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.
- To assemble the cake, combine the sugar, water, and bourbon in a small jar. Stir and let the mixture stand until the sugar is dissolved. Cover until needed.
- Mix the buttercream with the Walnut Praline powder.
- If the cake is not level, use a serrated knife to trim the edges. Cut the cake horizontally into 3 thin layers. If the layers are too delicate to pick up without breaking, use a rimless baking sheet or a flexible plastic cutting mat to lift and transfer them. Place the first layer on an 8-inch cardboard round or the base of an 8-inch springform pan to support the bottom. Brush the layer with up to a third of the bourbon syrup—don’t soak it, just make it nicely damp. Spread ½ cup of the buttercream over the layer. Moisten the second cake layer with less bourbon syrup than before (since it will also be moistened on the other side) and place it moist side down on the first layer. Moisten the top of the layer similarly and spread with another ½ cup of buttercream. Moisten the third cake layer with bourbon syrup and put it moist side down on the second layer. Brush the top with the remaining bourbon syrup. Level the cake by pressing gently with the bottom of a pan, making sure the assembly is not at a tilt—press it gently from the sides as necessary to straighten it. Cover and refrigerate the remaining buttercream. Wrap the cake in plastic and refrigerate it for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.
- To finish the cake, remove the reserved buttercream from the fridge and soften it. Unwrap the cake and trim the sides evenly with a serrated knife. Put less than half of the remaining buttercream in a separate bowl (to avoid getting crumbs in it) and spread it as thinly as possible over the top and sides of the cake just to smooth and glue on any loose crumbs—this is the “crumb coat” and it won’t be pretty. Chill the cake for 15 minutes to set the buttercream. Frost the top and sides of the cake with just enough of the remaining buttercream to make a thin, smooth layer. Put the cake in a covered container or under a dome and return it to the refrigerator. Remove it from the fridge at least an hour before serving to soften the buttercream and bring out the flavors and aromas. Leftover cake keeps in the refrigerator for a few days.
- Sorghum flour, like some other whole grains, produces a sponge cake with a slightly grainy texture. Such a cake might seem even coarser if paired with a supersmooth filling or frosting. The great trick here is teaming the cake with an element that has even more texture. The fine crunch from the caramelized nuts balances the texture of the cake perfectly—and the flavors all work together beautifully, so the results are both delicious and unexpectedly refined.