Any Excuse to Cook: Birthday Edition

Yesterday was my birthday, and I got the best cake ever. Still, I take any excuse to cook or bake, so I also made a cake. I can’t compete with chocolate-jimmy chest hair, but there was a flavor-combination I’d been meaning to try, so off to the kitchen I went.

Last Spring, I was at a first communion party for some friends’ children. Said friends are from Argentina and Cuba, and one of the Argentine Aunties runs an unofficial bakery out of her home kitchen. She brought a cake with the most delicious filling imaginable. It was a mixture of apricot preserves and dulce de leche. The tanginess of the apricot balanced the heavy sweetness of the dulce de leche perfectly, and I’ve been dying to reverse-engineer it ever since.

I decided to make a jelly-roll cake, as it is one of the fastest and easiest cakes you can make (especially if you have an electrified egg-whisking contraption of some sort).

As for decoration—it’s been a tough year, but now it’s a new one, for me and for everyone else too. So I went with the legend of the salamander, emerging from the fire. Duff Goldman has nothing to fear from me, but I had fun and the flavor is amazing.

The cake is filled and glazed with the apricot-dulce de leche mixture, then dusted with dutch-process cocoa power sifted from a tea ball. The salamanders are cut from cake scraps using a copper gecko cookie cutter from Williams-Sonoma. They are decorated with more of the filling (colored orange with a drop each of red and yellow food color) and red spots from a store-bought tube of red decorating gel. Currants for the eyes, of course. The "fire" is gold candy-wrapping foil left over from Christmas.

The cake itself is based on one from Jaques Pepin's Complete Techniques, which is a wonderfully useful book. Recipe below the fold.

For the cake:
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 egg yolk
½ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted

simple syrup with rum for moistening the cake before filling (I keep a few vanilla beans in my rum bottle, but vanilla extract will work too).

For the filling:
¼ cup dulce de leche*
½ cup apricot preserves

* Dulce de leche is available in jars or cans in Latin American groceries and some specialty stores.

Preheat over to 330 degrees. Prepare a 16 x 12-inch rimmed cookie sheet by placing a few dots of butter on the surface and covering with baking parchment or wax paper (the butter helps the paper to stick in place). Butter and flour the paper.

Place the eggs, egg yolk, sugar and vanilla in a mixing bowl and place over boiling water, just until mixture is lukewarm. Remove from heat and beat on medium or high speed (one speed if all you have is a hand blender with a whisk attachment, as I do) for 5 to 6 minutes. Add the flour by sifting it over the surface of the egg mixture while folding it in. Add the melted butter in the same way, folding and mixing very gently just until well combined.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan and bake at 330 degrees for 11 to 13 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and let it set for 5 minutes. Place a piece of wax paper on the table and invert the cake on top of it. Remove the paper which covered the bottom of the cake and loosely place it back on the cake.

Let the cake cool to barely lukewarm; then, roll it up between the two sheets of paper and store it in a plastic bag until you are ready to fill it.

This cake makes a great breakfast too. Have you ever seen a more plaintive currant gaze?

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