Gateau russe revisited – meet the Ivanovitch!

  • Fair to say, it’s been a busy weekend in karuski land…

It was my dad’s birthday last week, a BIG one! He’s not one to celebrate anything, really, so that’s just water off a canard’s back, but I wanted to mark the occasion all the same. Most of my gianormous elaborate cakes tend to be for the office, as I just can’t justify to make such monsters for a relatively small bunch, and I don’t seem to be able to work on a smaller scale. My dad has a serious sweet tooth, quite the cake lover, and with neighbours who used to be the best patissiers in my hometown of Toulouse, a seriously DISCERNING cake over at that. So I went big and bold and sweet, like a massive sugary hug from his only daughter.

So what is a gateau russe? It’s a dacquoise biscuit (which is itself a fancy name for an almond/ hazelnut meringue), filled with praline buttercream. The only Russian thing about it is apparently that the almonds used in the original cake were from Crimea. This cake was created in the 19th century and at the time, this was the top spot for fab almonds. The cake is also known as a Napoleon outside of France (irony?) – and might have been created in homage to the man, or at a time where France and Russia were diplomatically in bed together.

Gateau russe

That’s all well and good and fancy, but I just thought this wasn’t quite mutting the custard (scuse me!) for the occasion – and so I decided to add a layer of ganache to the mix. No, this blog shouldn’t quite yet be renamed karuski’s little shop of ganache blogging, I know it’s been included a lot in latest posts, but let’s say it’s a PHASE. I’ll get over it. It’s just sinfully delicious, alright?

Dacquoise biscuit

For the dacquoise recipe, I referred to this true bible of French baking, ‘Patisserie’ by Christophe Felder. Merci encore!!!

You will need:

  • 160g whole hazelnuts
  • 165g ground almonds
  • 320g egg whites
  • 315g caster sugar

What to do:

  1. Pre-heat your oven at 180 degrees.
  2. Grind the hazelnuts and ground almonds together to a powdery mix (you can roast the hazelnuts first if you want, but optional).
  3. Whisk up the egg whites with just a couple of spoonfuls of caster sugar.
  4. Once risen and firm, add the rest of the sugar while still whisking (your life will be made infinitely easier with a kitchenaid).
  5. Add the nuts and mix gently with a spatula (no more whisking at this stage or the whole thing will collapse and your hard work will be ruined).
  6. Pipe 3  largish circles (mine were about 25cm in diameter) over non greased baking sheets
  7. Bake for 15-20 minutes (till slightly coloured and a little firm), take out and leave to cool completely.
  8. Put a place over the cake and turn it upside down, then peel off the baking sheet fairly gently.

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Praline paste

This is the stuff of the gods. Simple. If you are a Nutella nut, you will understand. Except this is fifty times nicer. Pretty easy to make too. You can use this to make your own nutella, eat it straight off the spoon (try and stop yourself!) or use it as a flavouring.

You will need:

  • 100g whole hazelnuts
  • 100g caster sugar

Remember this is a simple ratio, equal weight if you want to change quantities!

What to do:

  1. Roast the hazelnuts in the oven at 180 degrees for 15-20 minutes until they get coloured (you will be able to smell them too!).
  2. One fiddly step: you’ll need to remove the skins (best to have them on as they will protect the hazelnuts when roasting) – easiest thing is to put them in a bowl and use a clean kitchen towel to rub them roughly. They should mostly fall off, but some will give you a little more work and will need to be done individually. Some will just plain refuse to peel. It doesn’t really matter, I tend to include them anyway.
  3. Put the hazelnuts on a baking sheet in a single layer.
  4. Make a caramel – again for the easiest method: pour your caster sugar in a completely dry pan (any traces of water could actually work against you here), and on the hob. That easy. The sugar will melt by itself in a few minutes. keep an eye on it, as the edges will go caramelly first, and you might want to give the pan a little swirl. You could even use the thin end of a wooden spoon to help the sugar melt (never metal if you don’t want to burn yourself!) – unlike regular caramel, this version is much kinder to handle (mix normal caramel and risk it crystallising!).
  5. Once all melting and amber and delicious looking,  pour the caramel over the hazelnuts and leave it to cool.
  6. Bash in pieces and put in a food processor. Blast for 30 seconds to a minute, and you will get praline (grainy bits, great for adding a little crunch). Reserve 5 tablespoons.
  7. Whiz some more, for a few minutes this time. You will see the mix starting to change colour and texture: this is the natural oil in the hazelnut coming out and transforming the dry nut mixture into a paste. The more you blast the paste, the runnier it will become, so make sure you check it for the consistency you’re after. For mine, I wanted it to be, well, quite nutella like.
  8. Reserve.


Praline buttercream

Here I differed from the Felder recipe, which called for an Italian meringue – this requires a sugar syrup and I find it a bit too much faff. So instead I opted for my favourite ‘light’ buttercream, which is a swiss meringue one. It’s still a meringue base, so it’s not just a slab of butter and sugar with flavouring, and it takes flavour beautifully. I talked about this in my Salted Caramel cake – and I can also happily send you to Sweetapolita, which is a very lovely detailed step by step guide to this wonderful substance. I do want to make a special post just on this, but today is not the day. I will, I promise, I will – here is at least a summary

You will need

  • 150g egg whites
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 340g butter

What to do:

  1. Mix egg whites and sugar
  2. Heat over bain-marie until reached 70 degrees celsius
  3. Cut up and bring your butter to room temperature by putting it in a bowl of lukewarm water (thank you Mary Berry!)
  4. Whip up the egg and sugar mixture until cool
  5. Add your praline paste.

So, cheating here – but go with me… make a batch, add 150g praline paste and marvel.

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I had some spare egg whites and thought the cake could do with a little extra crunch for texture. It’s otherwise a very dense creamy cake. Recipe is covered here. Yes yes, more shortcuts, but I just want to show you the CAKE, people of cakeland!


See here.

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Bringing it all together

Once you have your biscuit base, your ganache, praline buttercream and meringues, it’s down to assembling the beast.

  1. Start with a layer of biscuit – either directly on the cake plate you will serve this on, or on baking paper if you need to move the cake.
  2. Layer 1/3 of your ganache mix on top (my dad asked for a thick layer, so it was about 5mm there, but it could be thinner and subtler).
  3. Layer 1/3 praline buttercream (more like a good inch)
  4. Sprinkle with some of your reserved crushed praline
  5. Add another biscuit round
  6. Repeat steps 2-4 again and then again with the last biscuit layer, but no crushed pralines.
  7. Put in the fridge to set for at least an hour or overnight.
  8. Before serving, add the meringues on top (last minute is better to avoid any sogginess as they are little moisture sponges!) and maltesers/ chocolate sprinkles/ dusted cocoa…

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Happy papa actually said he wished he was 75 more often…..


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