Well, all I can say is thank-the-cake-fairies that Neapolitan will never be oh-so-vanilla. It’s nearly impossible to get tired of making, serving, seeing, or eating anything with the beloved trio of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. But since it’s such a classic, and many bakers love to create Neapolitan-themed treats, it never hurts to put a new spin on things. I’ve had some fun with this idea before with the Inside-Out Neapolitan Cake, which was a combination of chocolate butter cake with a trio of strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla Swiss meringue buttercream flavours. I’ve also made it with a more classic flavoured cake layers variation with the Neapolitan 5-Layer Birthday Cake with Strawberry Frosting, which is perfectly delightful, but this time I wanted to kick it up a notch and make it a bit more unique and decadent. And since that’s what I love to do, I did!
This time I opted to split the layers into 6 (one of the easiest ways to add instant wow-factor to a cake), fill them with dark chocolate ganache, strawberry Swiss meringue buttercream, vanilla Swiss buttercream, and whole neapolitan macarons. I frosted the entire cake with chocolate Swiss meringue buttercream, and then added a pink glaze for drama and topped with more of the macarons and a few small pink sugar beads. As with this lemony blueberry cake I made awhile back, the macarons add the most amazing texture inside the cake, as well as a unique visual when the cake is sliced. The distinct macaron crunch & chew factor is the perfect match for the rich and decadent ganache, satiny buttercream frosting, and of course the deep, dark, and moist chocolate cake.
Okay, so let’s talk macarons. I know if you’ve had any type of macaron failure, like I had over the years, you might be somewhat traumatized and avoid them at all costs. Or, maybe you’ve never tried them but the baking world has freaked you out with all of this talk about how hard they are to make. Either way, I’m here to tell you that not only are they totally doable, but they are so quick to make as well. And while these facts are, well, facts, there is a trick to it. After trying many, many macaron recipes, I’ve discovered what works each and every time.
I’ve included the recipe below, but I thought it might be easier if I followed this post with one devoted to macarons. I will go ahead and make a little video as well, just to make it a little more visual. If you are comfortable with making macarons, and you’ve never made a neapolitan version, I know you will adore these! Dark chocolate macaron shell (which tastes just like a chewy brownie with a hint of almond) paired with strawberry macaron shell filled with vanilla buttercream. Simple and splendid.
For such a quick and easy step, I love how much drama the pink glaze adds. Of course you could use this technique for any cake and have fun with other color palettes. A simple whisk of confectioners’ sugar and milk and you’ve got yourself a sweet and versatile white glaze, or of course you could have fun with other colors, play with adding extract or flavor oil, and use this technique for any cake (just remember to chill the cake first, so that the frosting is firm to the touch).
We ♥ neapolitan.
And while this cake does have several components, most of them can be made ahead (see Sweetapolita’s Notes), making this recipe much less daunting. I promise.
In other news, I’m so thrilled about the upcoming launch of my new & improved site coming early September! While the new design makes me giddy, one of the things I’m most excited about is the visual recipe index–finally! So all of my recipes are grouped with images, and not just the recipe names, and the index categories are easy to navigate and super functional. There are many other updates and changes in the new design, and I can’t wait to show you. My graphic designer, Melissa, did such an amazing job, and I just know you will adore what we came up with. I can’t stop looking at it. Counting the days until the launch! ♥
And if you missed my update in my last post, Birthday Party Ice Cream Cake, my first book, The Sweetapolita Bakebook, hit shelves April 7th, 2015, but it is already on pre-order on Amazon, Indigo, and many other online retailers. Yay! (Just thinking that this would be a good time for me to grasp that this whole book thing is actually happening. Oh my!) The book’s cover will soon be added to the listing, and I can’t wait to share it here on the blog when it’s ready to go.
So here’s the recipe for this towering delight:
- 8 large fresh egg whites
- 2 cups (400 g) superfine granulated sugar
- 2 1/4 cups (510 g) unsalted butter, softened, cut into cubes
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 10 ounces (300 g) best-quality dark chocolate, chopped
- 2 tablespoons strawberry puree OR preserves
- Few drops pink gel colour
- 135 g almond flour (I use Bob's Red Mill)
- 125 g confectioners' sugar
- 105 g egg whites, room temperature
- 105 g superfine OR instant dissolving sugar (see Notes)
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 teaspoon strawberry flavor oil (I use Lorann)
- Few drops AmeriColor Soft Pink gel paste
- 1 recipe Strawberry Macarons (above) but omit the flavor oil and pink food color, and add 3 tablespoons dark cocoa powder
- 10 ounces (300 g) best-quality dark chocolate, chopped
- 1 1/4 cups (300 ml) heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon corn syrup
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 3/4 cup (170 g) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 cups (440 g) packed light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
- 3 eggs, room temperature
- 1-3/4 cups (220 g) all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup (90 g) unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1-1/2 cups (360 ml) buttermilk, at room temperature
- 1 cup (125 g) confectioners' sugar
- 2 tablespoons milk
- Drop AmeriColor Soft Pink gel paste
- Wipe the bowl of an electric mixer with paper towel and lemon juice, to remove any trace of grease. Add egg whites and sugar, and simmer over a pot of water (not boiling), whisking constantly but gently, until temperature reaches 125°F, or if you don't have a candy thermometer, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the egg whites are hot.
- Place bowl back on mixer and fit with whisk attachment. Whip until the meringue is thick, glossy, and the bottom of the bowl feels neutral to the touch (this can take up to 15 minutes, or longer). Switch over to paddle attachment and, with mixer on low speed, add softened butter in chunks until incorporated, and mix until it has reached a silky smooth texture (if curdles, keep mixing and it will come back to smooth).
- Add vanilla and salt, continuing to beat on low speed until well combined. Keep in airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 day, refrigerated for up to 7 days, or frozen for up to 2 months.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicon baking mats. Fit a large pastry bag with a large plain round tip, such as #1A.
- Into a medium bowl, use a fine mesh sieve to sift the almond flour, confectioners' sugar, and salt, twice. It might take a little effort to push through the larger bits of almond flour, for which you can use a wooden spoon. Discard any bits that won't fit through the sieve.
- Wipe a stainless steel bowl and whisk attachment with lemon juice to eliminate any grease (or beaters and bowl if you are using a hand mixer). Whisk the egg whites on low speed until frothy, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to medium and add the superfine sugar one tablespoon at a time. Increase mixer speed to medium-high and beat until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes Add a drop or two of pink color and the flavor oil to the meringue and beat until combined, about 20 seconds.
- Add one-third of the dry mixture to the meringue and fold in with a rubber spatula, but working deflate the meringue at the same time. It should take about 15 stirs/folds (strokes) before the dry ingredients have been incorporated. Add the remaining dry mixture to the bowl and fold/stir/deflate in the same manner until the batter "flows like magma," about 25 more strokes.
- Fill the pastry bag two-thirds full with the mixture and pipe 1-inch circles about 2-inches apart on each tray. Lift and drop the trays firmly on the counter a few times to rid of air bubbles.
- Preheat the oven to 300°F. Let the piped macarons sit while the oven preheats. Bake one tray at a time in the middle of the oven for 15 minutes. Let cool on trays. When completely cool, carefully peel the macarons off of the paper/silicone mat. If you find they are sticking even slightly, use a thin metal spatula to pry them off.
- Repeat the steps for the Strawberry Macarons, but omit the strawberry flavor oil and pink color, and sift 3 tablespoons of dark cocoa powder along with the dry ingredients.
- Pair one of each strawberry and chocolate macaron with the closest in size and pipe a dollop of the vanilla buttercream on the flat side of each chocolate macaron. Sandwich each one with the strawberry macaron. Reserve the "best" macarons that are the most uniform for the top (8-10). For best results, let macarons sit in an airtight container in the fridge for at least a day. Bring macarons to room temperature when ready to use/eat.
- Place the chocolate in a medium saucepan or bowl with tall sides. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the cream, corn syrup, and salt just until the edges start to bubble (watch carefully, as it's easy to scold the cream). Remove from the heat and pour the mixture over the chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute and then use an immersion blender to combine the mixture until glossy and smooth. Add the butter and vanilla and blend until well incorporated. Let sit at room temperature until spreadable, about 2 hours. Refrigerate for up until 5 days. Bring to room temperature on counter, or microwave in 10-second increments until desired consistency is reached.
- Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease three 7-inch round cake pans and line the bottom with parchment.
- In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar and vanilla on medium-high speed until lighter in color and slightly increased in volume, about 8 minutes. Lower the speed to medium and add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until each is fully incorporated before adding the next.
- Sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder into a medium bowl. Add the salt to the dry ingredients after sifting, and whisk dry ingredients.
- Alternate dry ingredients and buttermilk into creamed mixture, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Mix until just incorporated, or finish by hand gently.
- Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. If possible, weigh the batter in each cake pan (about 450 grams per pan, excluding the pans--you will want to tare the scale each time.) This ensures even layers. Smooth with small offset palette knife, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the centre of the cake comes out with only a few crumbs, about 25 minutes.
- Let pans cool on wire rack for 20 minutes, then invert cakes onto racks, gently, peeling away parchment rounds. Let cool completely.
- Spread a small dollop of buttercream onto an 7-inch round cake board. Cut your 3 cake layers each once horizontally with a long, serrated knife, so you have a total of 6 thin layers.
- Transfer about 2 cups of buttercream to a medium bowl and stir in the strawberry preserves and a drop or two of pink gel paste color.
- Place your first layer face-up on the board (or plate) and spread one-fifth of the ganache using a small offset spatula, leaving about 1/2" around the edge. With a clean offset spatula, spread about one half of the strawberry buttercream on top. Place another cake layer to top, face-up, and spread another fifth of the ganache on top, followed by a layer of macarons. Press the macarons gently into the ganache.
- Place another layer on top and spread more ganache, followed by about 1 cup of the vanilla buttercream. Place the next layer on top and spread more ganache, followed by another layer of macarons, gently pushing them into place.
- Place the next layer on top and spread the remaining ganache followed by the strawberry buttercream. Place the final layer on top, face-down. Wrap the cake in plastic wrap and use your hands to wiggle and straighten the cake into place, if necessary. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
- In a medium microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup, melt the 10 ounces of dark chocolate in small increments, about 90 seconds total. Once the melted chocolate cools slightly add it to the remaining buttercream and beat to combine.
- Remove the cake from the fridge and place on cake turntable, if using. Frost the entire outside of cake with a thin layer of the chocolate buttercream to seal in crumbs. Chill until firm, about 30 minutes. Repeat with another layer of frosting, this time working to get the frosting as smooth as possible. Chill again until firm, about another 30-60 minutes.
- Use a small offset spatula to spread the glaze over the top of the cake, pushing it slightly over the edges to allow the glaze to drip down the sides. Top the cake with 8-10 neapolitan macarons, pushing them gently into the glaze to secure. Add sugar pearls or other decorations of choice, if desired.
- You did it! Hooray! Serve cake at room temperature, but keep refrigerated if not serving the day it's made. Cake will keep for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature several hours before serving.
- When making a French meringue, as we do with the macarons (this is a meringue made without heating the sugar and/or egg whites prior to mixing), I splurge on instant dissolving sugar (aka fruit and berry sugar). This is basically granulated sugar that is even more fine than superfine sugar, and it dissolves much quicker than superfine sugar. You can make your own superfine and dissolving sugar by pulsing regular granulated sugar in the food processor for about a minute for superfine, and about 90 seconds for the fineness of dissolving sugar. I have to admit that for dissolving sugar I tend to buy it prepackaged, just to ensure it’s fine enough. For superfine sugar in everyday baking, I use the food processor.
- For the chocolate cake, I used my favourite cocoa powder, Cacao Barry Cocoa Powder – Extra Brute. It’s fabulously dark and lends an intense chocolate flavor to cake and tons of other desserts.
- For the ganache and chocolate buttercream, I used Callebaut Semisweet Chocolate Callets.
- For the macarons, I always use Bob’s Red Mill Flour Almond Meal–since we use such a small amount for each batch of macarons, the splurge is worth it, as this is the only almond flour I’ve had great success with.
- True, having three 7-inch round cake pans on hand might be a bit of a stretch, but if you think you will be baking a lot of layer cakes (especially those from this blog), I do recommend investing in them (I love Fat Daddio’s brand, but any good quality pan would work). They are just the right size to bake up three layers that are easily cut horizontally into 2. If you are eager to make this cake and don’t have access to those pans, you can bake in three 8-inch round pans, but will likely find the layers a bit too thin to cut into two, so you could stick with a 3-layer cake.
- To make this cake recipe a lot less daunting, I recommend making a few of the components ahead of time. Make the Swiss buttercream up to 5 days ahead, or up to 2 months ahead if you freeze; make the ganache up to 5 days ahead; and make the macarons up to 2 days ahead.
- Just a reminder that I will be back soon with a macaron-devoted post!
Good luck & enjoy!