Nut brittles are so delicious, but often they are merely the supporting act or final flourish, never allowed to be the main event. This cake showcases shards of light-catching mixed nut brittle as well as a crumbly praline, and it is every bit as tasty as it looks. I use My Favourite Vanilla Cake recipe, swapping some of the sugar for soft brown instead of caster, which gives the sponge a subtle caramel flavour that goes with the rest of the cake.
Recipe from TWIST, Martha Collison, Harper Collins, Photography by Tara Fisher
- FOR THE VANILLA CAKE:
- 120g unsalted butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing
- 125g caster sugar
- 250g soft light brown sugar
- 300g plain flour
- 3 tsp baking powder
- ½ tsp salt
- 300ml whole milk
- 3 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
- FOR THE ALMOND SYRUP:
- 70g caster sugar
- ½ tsp almond extract
- 25ml almond liqueur (optional)
- FOR THE BUTTERCREAM:
- 200g unsalted butter, softened
- 400g icing sugar
- 2 tbsp milk
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
- ½ tsp almond extract (optional)
- FOR THE BRITTLE:
- 200g roasted nuts of your choice, roughly chopped (I use a mix of almonds and salted peanuts)
- 300g caster sugar
Grease three 18cm tins and line with baking parchment. Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4. I use smaller tins to give extra height so the assembled cake looks more impressive.
To make the cake, put the sugars, flour, baking powder and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Use your fingers to break up any large lumps of brown sugar in the mixture. Add the butter in cubes and then mix on low until it is rubbed into the dry mixture and has a sandy texture. Alternatively, rub the butter into the dry ingredients by hand as if you were making pastry.
In a small jug, beat together the milk, eggs and vanilla. Pour down the side
of the bowl with the dry ingredients and beat until everything is mixed together. When all the liquid has been added, beat on high speed for 2 minutes until really well combined and smooth. Alternatively, use an electric hand-held whisk. Divide the mixture evenly between the tins and bake for 25-30 minutes until golden brown.
While the cake is baking, make the almond syrup. Put the sugar into a small saucepan with 50ml of water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 2 minutes then remove from the heat. Stir in the almond extract and liqueur (if using). Pour into a jug and allow to cool.
Remove the cooked cakes from the oven and leave to cool in their tins for 10 minutes. Use a skewer or toothpick to make small holes all over the top of the sponges then use a pastry brush to liberally cover in syrup. This helps the sponge to stay moist and injects nutty flavour throughout the whole cake. Leave to cool completely.
To make the buttercream, beat the butter in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or with an electric hand-held whisk, for a few seconds to soften further then add half the icing sugar. Beat on a low speed until all the sugar is combined then add the remaining sugar followed by the milk. Turn the mixer up to high speed and beat for at least 5 minutes, preferably longer, to whip in plenty of air which creates a lighter buttercream. Mix in the vanilla and almond extract (if using) towards the end of the whipping.
To make the brittle, line a baking tray with baking parchment. Spread the nuts evenly over the parchment. Put the sugar into a medium saucepan with 100ml of water. Heat gently over a low heat until all the sugar has dissolved. When you can no longer see grains of sugar, stop stirring immediately and turn up the heat. Allow to boil until the caramel reaches a dark amber colour before removing and pouring over the nuts.
Use a palette knife to spread the caramel and nuts into an even layer then leave to harden.
Use a palette knife to spread some of the buttercream onto each cake then stack the layers on top of each other.
Thinly cover the whole cake with a small amount of buttercream. This is called a crumb coat as it locks in the crumbs and stops them showing on the final cake. Put into the fridge for 30 minutes to harden.
Take half of the hard brittle and blitz in a food processor until dusty and in much smaller pieces. Alternatively, you could put the brittle into a sealable plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin to get a similar consistency. Break the rest into shards.
Cover the whole chilled cake with the remaining buttercream using a ruler or large palette knife to achieve a smooth finish on the sides. Press the crumbled brittle around the bottom third of the cake, arrange the shards on top and sprinkle over smaller pieces of brittle to finish off.