It wasn’t until I travelled to Charleston SC that I thought of praline being anything more than the chocolate seashells that Mr Colonial Cravings receives for Christmas every year. But in Charleston we tried some very tasty crunchy little clusters of caramelised pecans. I think the European ones are usually made from almonds or hazelnuts and ground very finely before they become those little chocolatey indulgences. The caramelised pecan version are what I associate with praline and cream ice cream, the inspiration for this cake!
I’ve shamelessly hijacked the decoration idea from the mojito cake that Jax shared with us all this summer (although hers was far neater than mine!)
350g plain flour
1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
50g cocoa powder
120g butter (softened)
pinch of salt
375g icing sugar
3 tbsp cream
Start by making the praline so that it has plenty of time to cool and become crunchy. Cover a sheet pan with oiled foil or a silicone mat and set it aside. Put the sugar in a wide non-stick pan and gently heat it until it melts and caramelises. If you want to decorate the top of the cake with any whole pecans then set them aside now and roughly chop the rest. Carefully stir these into the caramel and immediately pour them out onto the prepared tray. Leave these to cool and harden whilst you bake the sponge.
Pre-heat the oven to 190°c and grease and line three 18cm (or similar) sandwich tins. Sift together the flour, baking powder and cocoa in a large mixing bowl and then whisk in the sugar and salt. Beat the butter into the mix.
In a separate jug whisk together the eggs and milk. Beat the liquid into the dry ingredients in two batches and then divide the batter between the three prepared tins and level off the tops. Bake the sponges for 20 minutes, by which time they should have risen nicely. Let them cool in the tins for a couple of minutes and then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Soften the butter for the frosting by beating it a little. Add the icing sugar and cream and beat again until you have a thick fluffy frosting. Now to crack on with the cake construction!
If necessary trim the sponges to give them nice level tops and then sandwich them together with about a quarter of the buttercream between each layer. Use the remaining buttercream to coat the top and side of the cake. Make the top nice and smooth but don’t worry about the side too much as long as there’s enough frosting coating them for the praline to stick.
Put the caramelised pecans into a food processor and pulse them until they are quite finely chopped. Gently pat them into the sides of the cake, making sure that they stick in a nice even layer. Decorate the top of the cake with any pecans that you set aside earlier or just leave it plain.