Ages ago, when we had almost unlimited time on our hands and the living was easy, a friend suggested this recipe to me as “quick and simple, but very impressive”. I trusted her awesome baking skills and made an attempt at one first chance I got — someone’s birthday was just around the corner, and I used it as an opportunity to impress (never miss one, as you may have already figured out).
It is, indeed, very simple: you whip up a dough quickly, divide, roll out into strips; put one row of berries over a strip of dough, roll the strip up into a long pipe; repeat 15 times. You bake the pipes for about 20 minutes, cool off, layer with very simple sour cream frosting and leave in the fridge overnight. What you end up with in the morning is nothing short of wonder — an incredibly moist, fragrant and refreshing construction which, upon cutting it cross-wise, reveals an enticing multicolor mosaic of berries peeking out from a white triangle.
I love this cake’s irregularities, love the fact that the dough is soft and you never end up with perfectly round facets — they are all slightly misshapen — but it renders the impressive look even more charming. This dessert is perfect for summer, when berries are at their peak ripeness and there are many varieties available. I love that it shows of the skill, not the fancy ingredients, and that it takes time to do right, so that you can forget your worries and enjoy the process for an hour or two.
One of my favorite things about this cake is the dough — it’s honey based, which gives it nice plasticity and warmth. It never gets crunchy, and it bakes quickly and evenly. It also soaks up the frosting like a sponge, which is one of the objectives.
If you ever have a strong urge to impress your friends who’ve seen it all, this is surely one to try. Pay close attention to detail and you’ll do great!
The Pyramid Cake
Feeds 16 hungry Egyptians
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
- 3 large eggs
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 tsp baking soda
- pinch of salt
- 4+ cups of all purpose flour
- 2 lbs of natural sour cream (no low fat, please)
- 1-1/2 cups sugar
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- fresh ground nutmeg
- 3-5 varieties of different color berries and/or fruit, 1-1/2 to 2 cups each.
Some examples are blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, currants, gooseberries, kiwi, apricots, nectarines, peaches. If using large fruit, chop it up to match berries in size (see photo of the chopped up nectarines above)
- coconut shavings or slivered almonds work best for both look and flavor, but you can use anything that tickles your fancy — from non-pareil sugar to berries, to chocolate shavings, to confectioner sugar. I used coconut shavings.
Prepare two baking sheets — line them with parchment. Preheat the oven to 400F.
Prepare double boiler, or simply find two saucepans that loosely fit inside one another — you’ll only need them for a few minutes, so holding one saucepan above the other will work just fine. Boil water in the lower pan. Meanwhile put eggs, sugar, honey, and butter into the upper sauce pan. When water boils, reduce it to low, place the upper pan over the boiling water and whisk all ingredients together until sugar dissolves and butter is completely melted.
Sift 3 cups of flour into a bowl, add salt and baking soda and mix in quickly with your fingers. Add warmed up mix into the flour mix and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. You’ll end up with a sticky gooey batter. Continue mixing in the remaining flour little by little, until batter becomes very sticky dough. Fold the dough out onto a liberally floured surface and continue kneading until soft and very slightly sticky dough forms. Use knife or dough scraper to get the dough off the board if necessary. You may have to use a bit more or a bit less flour, depending largely on the size of the eggs and the butter quality.
Divide the dough into 15 parts. Best way to go about it is to divide the dough initially into three parts, and then cut those into five each. Roll the dough chunks into balls between your palms — if you feel like some are larger or smaller than others, redistribute some of the dough and re-roll. Avoid rolling the balls on a floured board, because they may take in too much flour in a process.
One by one, work with the balls of dough in the following manner (use photos as your guide, if you wish):
– roll the ball between your hands into a hot dog like shape
– using a rolling pin, roll the “hot dog” into a long and narrow strip, about 3-1/2″ x 16″. it will be quite thin
– use one variety of fruit per strip. Arrange fruit into a long 1″ wide row in a middle of the strip. If fruit is juicy, like kiwi, try to leave the juice behind in the bowl, don’t squeeze the fruit too much when arranging on the strip.
– carefully wrap the dough around the fruit, roll it seam side down forming a tube, pinch the ends and carefully slide onto the baking sheet, leaving at least 1/4″ space between the tubes.
Repeat for the remaining strips of dough. The dough will get slightly tougher as it cools down, but it will still be elastic enough to roll without tearing.
Place the baking sheets in the oven on middle rack(s). Bake for about 16-20 minutes, rotating the sheets once if they are on different racks. The dough will be golden brown on top and bottom and fruit will just soften and may start leaking out, that’s not a problem.
Let the tubes cool completely on baking sheets.
Mix all the frosting ingredients, cover with plastic sheet and refrigerate until ready to use.
Arrange five different fruit tubes side by side on a final serving tray. I found myself having no trays of suitable size, so I wrapped a baking sheet in parchment paper and turned it upside down. Not very marthastewartly, but it worked for us. If any of the tubes break during the transfer, that’s not a big deal, just try to lay those toward the middle of the cake, not on the edges or on top.
Using a spatula, spread liberal amount of frosting over the tubes, making sure to fill in the crevices. This frosting isn’t very stiff, and may ooze or leak a little, which is not bad at all. Just beware and catch all the leaks.
Arrange four different fruit tubes side by side on top of the first five. Add more frosting.
Arrange three different fruit tubes side by side on top of the four. Add more frosting.
Arrange two different fruit tubes side by side on top of the three. Add more frosting.
Finally lay the last roll on top of the two. Spread all but the 1-1/2 cups of frosting all over the cake as evenly as you can, making sure all crevices are filled in. Smooth the frosting over the sides of the cake. You should end up with a long cake with sloped sides, which would form a nice triangle when cut crosswise. At this point the cake will be quite messy looking (see photo). Cover the cake with plastic sheet. Using your hands, cardboard, or a small cutting board, smooth the sides of the cake over the plastic to straighten them out and force the even sloping as much as you can. Apply gentle pressure if needed.
Refrigerate both cake and remaining frosting overnight with plastic on. The cake will stiffen and should retain its shape without a problem.
In the morning, take the cake out. Remove the plastic sheet. Using a sharp narrow knife (carving knife is best, but bread knife will work as well), cut off the irregular portion of the cake’s ends.
Important: Use the cutoffs as your personal “sneak preview” of the cake and eat them quickly before the rest of the family wakes up. This way no one needs to know anything and no one gets hurt. Don’t smack your lips too loud, you may wake the family by accident.
Carefully spread the remaining frosting over the cake, covering the imperfections, smoothing over with a spatula. I left the cut ends open, but you can cover them up with the frosting as well.
Sprinkle your finishing materials over liberally. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Slice at least 3/4″ thick and lay flat on a serving plate. The cake won’t stand up on its own unless it’s at least 1″ thick. It’s also easier to eat when it’s laying flat.