It’s a riddle worth solving and sampling. Expecting guests this weekend, I decided to continue testing my cake recipes for The Lobanovsky Family Table. Here’s the cake, complete with memories:”I treasure the three recipes I have for ‘Mrs. Amo’s’ wonderful tortes. While the other two were barely legible notes scribbled on slips of paper, I found this one in my recipe box complete and typewritten when I was selecting my favorite cakes to include in The Lobanovsky Family Table. It’s a mystery and an amazing stoke of luck as to how that happened.
I attended George Washington High School with Zora’s son, Alex, daughter, Tania, and a number of other Russian kids from the Richmond District. It was during our lunch breaks that we would trade food. Everyone wanted Tania’s dessert because her mother made these amazing cakes. As for Zora’s nickname, Val Alexeeff was the one in our crowd responsible for affectionately calling her “Mrs. Amo,” and the name stuck.
Having sampled Zora’s cakes in school, I took advantage of my sessions with her to get her recipes and baking tips. Zora was an expert seamstress and sewed for many women in San Francisco’s Russian community. I loved Vogue patterns. It was the era of Paco Rabanne, Courrèges, and Valentino. On occasion my adventures into haute couture would drive my normal seamstress, Mama, straight into the stratosphere. Some Vogue patterns were very complex and beyond my mother’s willingness or patience. So off to see Mrs. Amo we’d go. She would either rescue (translation: finish) the outfit my mother began or in rare cases, sew the whole thing, like my Valentino strapless formal for the Invalids’ Ball. While Zora was pinning me during a fitting, she also served as my pastry coach and my other’s therapist, as they chatted about how ridiculous were the directions for this particular dress or gown. Most likely my notes were jotted down during these visits to the Amochaev home.”
CAKE RECIPE: 1 1/3 cups egg whites, 3 cups sugar, superfine if available, 1 teaspoon vanilla or 1 vanilla bean, scraped, 3 cups finely ground walnuts, Butter to grease three pans
Grease 3, 9” round cake pans and line with a round of wax paper. Grease again and flour lightly. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Beat whites to soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar a tablespoon at a time and beat until stiff. Fold in the vanilla and the nuts.
Divide batter equally among the pans. Bake for 25 minutes; reduce the temperature to 225 degrees, and bake another 30 minutes. The cakes will rise and then fall. When done, cool the pans on a rack for 10 minutes; then remove the layers from the pans and cool thoroughly.
The cake may look pretty gnarly. The top of each layer will be crunchy and dry. Inside the cake will be moist and chewy. It’s best to slide each layer onto a piece of wax paper for easier handling and assembly. However, if the cake starts falling apart during the process, gently push a layer together and glue it together with the filling if necessary. No one will care. I guarantee it!
Chocolate Mousseline Filling: 3 egg yolks and 2 whole eggs, 5 heaping soup spoon full’s of sugar (about 8-10 measuring tablespoons), 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, Baker’s or Valrhona, 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract or 1 bean, scraped, 2 cubes (8 ounces) sweet butter, softened, 1-2 Tablespoons rum, optional
Beat the eggs and sugar together until fluffy and pale yellow. Transfer the mixture to the top of a double boiler and cook for 8-10 minutes over simmering water, stirring constantly. When the eggs thicken and expand forming a custard that won’t easily drip from a spoon, remove them from the heat. Break the chocolate into small pieces and add it to the hot eggs. Stir until the chocolate melts and blends in evenly. Stir in the vanilla and allow the filling to cool completely.
In a mixer, beat the butter until very fluffy and white, about 10-15 minutes. Combine with the cooled chocolate mixture, adding a few tablespoons at a time until all is incorporated. Lastly, stir in the rum, if desired.
The cake layers are likely to be uneven and gnarly looking. If necessary as you are assembling the cake, trim them to be as even as possible, saving the crumbs to decorate the cake top. Fill the layers with the chocolate cream, turning the last layer upside down, flat side up. Cover with the remaining cream and sprinkle with trimming crumbs. This recipe makes enough filling to generously frost a three-layer cake and sides. You may also opt to leave the sides “naked.”