Fancy Cake – I have been trying to find the recipe for The Four Seasons’ Fancy Cake. I enjoyed it a great many years ago at the New York City restaurant, and even made it myself. My copy of the recipe from a magazine has vanished.
On my only visit to The Four Seasons, in the late 1970s, I remember being wowed by the Picasso curtain and soaring spaces and charmed by the thought of Marilyn Monroe singing “Happy Birthday” to John F. Kennedy there in 1962. I also remember the prices being higher than any I’d ever seen.
The Fancy Cake has been the signature dessert since the restaurant opened in the Seagram building at 99 E. 52nd St. in 1959. It’s a lovely orange chiffon cake with a dome of molded Bavarian cream. That part is relatively easy. What makes it difficult – and expensive – to duplicate at home is the chocolate almond shell that coats the entire cake. The restaurant has machines that roll it into thin sheets.
The recipe here, adapted from John Mariani’s “The Four Seasons: A History of America’s Premier Restaurant” (Crown, 1994), suggests that you can do it in five smaller pieces. I’m sure those with more patience and decorating talent will have no trouble doing so. I gave up and simply rolled the coating thin and cut circles with a biscuit cutter, then circled the cake with them.
The Four Season’s Fancy Cake
33/4 cups milk
3 tablespoons (3 envelopes) unflavored gelatin
6 large eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon salt
11/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup dark rum
1 cup heavy cream, whipped stiff
3/4 cup crushed almond macaroons or vanilla wafers (about 12 cookies)
1/3 cup finely chopped pecans or walnuts
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sifted cake flour
3/4 cup sugar
11/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 egg yolks
6 tablespoons fresh orange juice
11/2 tablespoons finely chopped orange zest
1/2 cup egg whites (3 to 4 eggs), at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped stiff
2 pounds almond paste
2 cups cocoa
Make the cream: Place 2 cups of the milk in a medium bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let stand 5 minutes to soften. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, warm the remaining milk until tiny bubbles appear around the edge.
Beat the egg yolks with the salt and 1/2 cup of the sugar. Stir in the gelatin mixture. Gradually stir in the warm milk. Place the mixture in the top of a double boiler. Cook over hot but not boiling water, stirring often, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat, cool slightly, and stir in the rum. Refrigerate, covered, until the mixture mounds slightly when lifted with a spoon, about 3 hours. (You can speed up this process by placing the bowl over ice water. Stir occasionally until it mounds, about 30 minutes).
Line a 21/2-quart bowl, no wider than 9 inches in diameter, with plastic wrap or foil. Set aside.
In the bowl of a large electric mixer, beat the egg whites on high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 3/4 cup sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Add the cream and the gelatin mixture. Beat at low speed until just combined, about 1 minute. Turn into prepared bowl.
In a small bowl, combine the crushed cookies with the nuts. Sprinkle over the top of the mixture in the bowl and press down gently. Cover and refrigerate for at least eight hours or overnight.
Make the cake: Sift the flour with the sugar, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the center. Add the oil, egg yolks, orange juice and peel. Beat with a spoon until smooth.
Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar on high speed until stiff but not dry. Fold the orange batter into the egg whites. Do not stir. Pour into an ungreased 9-by-11/2-inch round cake pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in heated 350-degree oven, until cake tests done. Place the cake upside down on a dry, clean kitchen towel. Cool completely, about 1 hour. With a spatula, carefully loosen the cake from the pan. Place on serving platter.
Spread the whipped cream over the top of the cake. Invert the bowl of Bavarian cream over on top. Peel off the plastic wrap, to form a dome over the cake. Refrigerate until ready to coat.
Prepare the coating: In a large bowl, knead the almond paste with the coco