In May of 1951, diner owner, Bea Turner, was asked to make a birthday cake for Toby Bruce Robishaw who was turning one. Toby’s mother, Liv, was an extravagant woman who loved to make a show of everything she did. Her son’s first birthday party was no exception.
The people Liv invited to Toby’s party were simple folk living in the hills of West Virginia. They had simple tastes and probably expected a simple dessert such as Crazy Cake. However, Liv used the occasion of her son’s birthday to show off yet again. The cake she came up with is lovely, but it was completely lost on the birthday guests.
The following recipe is the one I had in mind for the above-mentioned scene taking place in my novel, The Secrets of Dr. John Welles. By tweaking portions of other recipes, I created a cake suitable for the splashy tastes of Liv Barrette Robishaw.
Now don’t get me wrong; the cake is delicious. It’s not what one would serve at a child’s party. Here’s a passage from my novel describing exactly what Liv requested of Bea:
Three, double-layer cakes were divided by pillars with plastic circus animals placed in the space between. Red and blue icing crisscrossed the edges of the cake in every direction. A handful of colorful flags exploded out of the top layer. Every inch of the cake not already taken up with decoration had a piece of candy pressed into the icing like a gingerbread house.
Liv’s outlandish request is what prompted Bea to say, “It’s what Liv ordered.” Bea’s statement was offered as an explanation and apology to the townsfolk who understood completely.
The quantities listed below will make one layer of the cake I described above.
12 oz. hazelnuts
2 t baking powder
6 egg yolks
5/8 c white sugar
6 egg whites
Toast the hazelnuts in a 350° oven for 10–15 minutes or until lightly golden in color. Cool completely. Remove the skins from the toasted nuts by placing in a tea towel and briskly rubbing them together or place them in a colander and swirl them around to remove the skins. Grind the hazelnuts until very fine. Add baking powder and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 325°. Thoroughly grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan.
In a large mixing bowl, use a hand-held electric mixer to combine the egg yolks with the sugar until pale yellow in color. Beat in the ground hazelnuts. This mixture will be extremely heavy and sticky.
Wash your beaters to remove any traces of fats. In a separate bowl, beat room temperature egg whites until stiff peaks form. Carefully whisk 1/3 of the egg whites into the yolk mixture to lighten the batter. Fold in another 1/3 of the egg whites taking care not to delate them. Fold in the remaining 1/3 of the egg whites until no streaks of batter remain.
Gently pour into the prepared 9-inch springform pan. Bake in a preheated oven for 60 minutes or until the top of the cake springs back when lightly tapped. Cool completely on wire rack.
Cinnamon Crème Filling
1 c heavy cream, chilled
1 c powdered sugar
1 ½ t ground cinnamon
1 t vanilla
Chill a metal bowl and the beaters of a hand-held mixer in the freezer for ten minutes. Pour the heavy cream into the chilled metal bowl and beat on high speed with a hand mixer until the cream is frothy. Slowly add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla. Continue beating until stiff peaks form.
Place the bowl of cinnamon crème filling in the refrigerator until needed or use immediately.
Whipped Buttercream Frosting
3 c powdered sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 T heavy cream
2 t vanilla
Beat the butter, heavy cream, vanilla, and one cup of powdered sugar with a hand mixer until they are completely combined. Add the remaining two cups of powdered sugar one cup at a time. Blend well after each addition. The lighter weight of this buttercream frosting is perfect for the delicate hazelnut cake.
You can use this frosting immediately or chill for later use.
Assembling the Cake
Once the cake has cooled completely, cut it in half horizontally. Place the bottom half (cut side up) on a cake stand and spread the Cinnamon Crème Filling generously over the top with a spatula or knife to within ¼ inch of the cake edge. Place the top layer of cake (cut side down) over the filling, taking care to position it correctly.
Using a knife or spatula, ice the top of the cake with the Whipped Buttercream Frosting. Do not drag the frosting too hard across the cake. Level the top with icing and proceed to ice the sides until they are completely covered. Wipe any icing smears from the edge of the cake stand with a clean, damp cloth. Chill for at least an hour before serving.
SIDE NOTE: If you’ve never folded egg whites into batter, I strongly suggest you watch the video I’ve provided. It’s a delicate process, but don’t be daunted by it. Regardless of how you whip your egg whites, it’s the folding process the chef demonstrates that is of the utmost importance.
The Art of Folding