I wish I could bottle that giddy, anticipatory feeling that birthdays can ignite with the simple lighting of a candle; that youthful exuberance of a child -- unfettered by the ticking of time and simply eager for the promise of festivities and the carefree unwrapping of what lies ahead.
While I'm yet to achieve this wish, I think we attempt to promote the celebratory nature of birthdays with what I call countdown wishes... "happy
one week before your birthday," happy three days before your birthday," and so on. The key is not to establish a pattern, but to simply extend a random wish or two before the big day. I'm not sure when we started this tradition but I suppose it was prompted years ago when our girls were young and began asking when their birthdays were due to roll around. Once they got old enough to know and no longer asked, we initiated this countdown to capture and hold a bit of that simple joy.
Now I can totally relate to how the excitement for a birthday can ebb as one becomes more mindful of the clock. However, I DO think it is important to embrace these days -- whether wholeheartedly or with reluctance. The simple fact is that time will continue to tick, so we might as well take advantage of those times when we can fill it with some balloons, a few silly cards, a couple of thoughtful gestures (maybe even some that are wrapped!)... a countdown, if you'd like... and, definitely, cake!
This particular cake was made to mark the special day of a special friend. It's a cake inspired by a recipe that has been in my files for more than 10 years... and never made! Though I know it's not advised to go with a new, untested recipe for a special occasion I just couldn't ignore how beautiful this cake looked. And after reviewing the ingredients, couldn't get my mind off of chocolate-dipped, candied orange peel.
There's no hint of this flavor combination in the original recipe, mind you, it just sounded like it would be a good path to take... a carefree one, perhaps.
Fortunately this beautiful cake made for a perfect ending to an outstanding meal -- offered up by 10 very talented women; a tasty, subtly-chocolate, hint-of-orange, nutty-topped, and decadently-drizzled close to a great birthday celebration. Happy one week after your birthday, Deb!
Chocolate-Chip Orange Chiffon Cake with Orange Zest Glaze and Almond Chocolate-Chip Crunch Topping
adapted from a Fine Cooking recipe, April/May 2000
serves 12 to 14
For the almond crunch:
1 large egg white
2 cups sliced almonds
2 tablespoons sugar
For the cake:
1 12-ounce bag mini semisweet chocolate chips, divided
2 1/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 cups sugar, divided
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup canola oil
7 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
For the glaze:
2 cups confectioners' sugar
4 tablespoons 2% milk (more if needed)
1 tablespoon freshly grated orange zest
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees F. In a medium bowl, beat egg whites with a hand whisk until foamy, about 30 seconds.
Add sliced almonds to beaten egg white and stir until evenly coated. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over nuts and stir until well distributed. Pour mixture out onto an ungreased, nonstick baking sheet and spread out into a single layer. Bake in oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven and stir nuts with a wooden spoon to loosen from pan, again arranging nuts into a single layer. Return nuts to oven and continue baking for another 3 to 6 minutes, watching them carefully to avoid burning. Remove pan from oven when nuts are baked until golden. Loosen nuts from pan with a wooden spoon and set aside to cool. They will crisp once cooled.
2. Keep oven at 325 degrees F. Have ready a 9 1/2 inch to 10 inch tube pan with sides at least 3 3/4 inches high. In a food processor, pulse 1 3/4 cups of mini chocolate chips until some are finely grated and the rest are small crumbs.
3. In a large bowl, sift together cake flour, 1 cup sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center of mixture and add oil, egg yolks, orange juice, orange zest, vanilla extract, and almond extract. Beat mixture on medium speed until smooth and thick, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Fold in processed chocolate chips that you set aside earlier.
4. In a separate large bowl, using clean beaters, beat egg whites and cream of tartar on medium speed until white are foamy. Increase speed to high and beat whites until beaters form lines in mixture. Slowly pour in remaining 1/2 cup sugar, a few tablespoons at a time, and continue beating until soft peaks form.
5. Using rubber spatula, add one-third of the egg white mixture to the yolk mixture, gently folding in to avoid deflating whites. Continue folding remaining whites in thirds, until no white streaks remain in batter. Pour batter into tube pan, spreading evenly. Bake until you can gently press your finger on top of cake and it feel firm, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Check cake a few times after initial hour of baking; my cake was done at 1 hour, 5 minutes. Any cracks that form on top of cake should appear dry.
6. Invert cake pan (over thin-necked bottle or directly over cooling rack if it has little feet on it to keep it raised above rack). Let cake cool completely, about 1 to 2 hours. Once cooled, use a small, sharp knife to loosen cake from the sides of pan and center of tube. Remove cake from pan and, using same knife, loosen removable bottom. Place cake on serving platter and line edges with strips of wax paper to catch drips that fall during glazing.
7. In a small bowl, stir together confectioners' sugar, milk, and zest. Glaze should be loose enough to cascade over sides of cake but not too loose that it doesn't keep on cake. If need be, add more sugar or milk to adjust consistency. Keep 2 tablespoons of glaze aside for final application. Pour remaining glaze over top of cake, letting it fall over sides and into middle of cake (you may not need all of glaze, use amount that appeals to you; I applied an initial layer of glaze and then thickened glaze with additional sugar to lessen drip). Gently top cake with a ring of almond crunch, being careful to keep topping from falling over sides or center of cake. Drizzle almond topping with remaining 2 tablespoons of icing and a few of the mini chocolate chips not used. (Note: I would suggest adding final chips and drizzle of glaze just before serving to keep crunch from loosing its crispness.) Remove wax strips and let cake stand for 15 to 20 minutes to allow glaze to set before serving.