White Almond Cake with Cherry Cheesecake Filling

IMG_4980James and I recently celebrated our second wedding anniversary. This year, we made it a point to do something special rather than repeat last year’s forgettable celebration. What did we do last year? Neither of us can remember — isn’t that terrible? I can only speculate, but I assume we were still hard at work researching properties, juggling work schedules, and trying to plan what we could only hope would be our inevitable migration. We probably wound up having a last-minute dinner at some restaurant near the apartment. Special, in other words, but not necessarily memorable.

Moving to Northern Michigan has been such a great experience, so far, but it’s sad to think of our wedding anniversary ever being overshadowed. Our wedding was a very special day — one of those moments when you’re surrounded by so much love and support you feel you’re on the set of some romantic comedy. As if you’ve walked on the set during the last few scenes where everything has come together perfectly and all of the hilarious and clumsy moments melt together with heartwarming sentiments and a soundtrack that is lush with poignant strains fading into a hit song about being in love forever and ever (James and I selected The Beatles’ “When I’m 64” as our recessional for the string quartet).

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In all sincerity, looking back on that day feels as though I’m watching it on the big screen, somehow. All our friends sitting there wiping their eyes, smiling at us, wishing us well. The perfect liturgy that James and our dear friend, April, put together. My getting to perform some of my compositions and arrangements with a real live string quartet. Ultimately getting to IMG_4956declare for all the world — and especially to my beloved — that this was a forever kind of thing. How could one day hold so many wonderful moments?

The reception following the ceremony was like having ascended to Cloud 9 to find all your friends and loved ones there and all the while being surrounded by the tastiest food. It was something James and I had insisted upon: our reception needed to be a tribute to our guests, a way of saying “thank you for being here to support us on our big day”.

Likewise, James and I (being dessert devotees at heart) knew our wedding cake was not to be the same deceptive wonder — a towering train wreck of tiers, folds of fondant, sugary rosettes, and tasteless cake — that greets guests at so many wedding receptions. Instead, we told prospective bakers we wanted a cake that would be known for its taste rather than its appearance — something our guests would not refuse assuming it was the “typical” wedding cake. Many of them balked at the mere suggestion of an elegant cake decorated simply. At last, however, we found the right baker. After presenting us with some ideas, she came up with a cake that many of our guests are still talking about two years later: a white cake infused with almonds, sandwiching a rich cheesecake layer IMG_5180surrounded by tart cherries, all covered in an almond buttercream with a texture so creamy and rich, it was like putting pats of butter in your mouth.

Instead of being saddled with tons of leftover cake, we were able to watch blissfully as guests had more than one serving and many of them carried away a few slices for the trip home. In fact, James’ sister threatened to not board her return flight if the TSA tried to confiscate the cake she had tucked under her arms. Thankfully, for their sake, they did not attempt it. In other words, this was cake that inspired strong feelings in all who partook of it. And so, as a way of marking our second anniversary and perhaps starting a tradition, I decided to attempt replicating that fabulous wedding cake.

I had some studying to do!


I knew the basic components of our cake: white cake, cherry filling, buttercream, and a cheesecake layer. But what recipe for white cake would give the right texture and flavor? How do you make a cherry filling for a cake that’s not too soupy and yet not syrupy and cloying like pie filling? It was no ordinary buttercream on our cake — how did she IMG_5093do that? And the most baffling question of all: how the heck do you get a cheesecake into the middle of a cake?

I decided to tackle the hardest question first. Since our wedding, in fact, I’d done several searches on the internet for “cheesecake filling”, “cheesecake layer in a cake”, etc. I was coming up empty. The closest I could find were recipes for a slightly modified cream cheese frosting added to the center of a cake. This was not frosting, people! It was a layer of cheesecake! Amazingly, just a little over a month before our anniversary, this year, I tried searching the internet again and found my answer at Erin’s Food Files. I had never suspected it was as easy as making a crustless cheesecake and then freezing it. Genius!

For the cake, I pored over my cookbook collection for weeks looking IMG_5088for not only recipes but descriptions of the cakes the recipes made. I didn’t have time to bake several cakes and pick the best one. I needed a cake that could withstand the pressure of a cheesecake layer being piled on top of it and yet be delicate enough to boast almond flavor. I managed to find inspiration in two white cake recipes from Cook’s Illustrated. By doing some calculations and conversions, I put together an amalgam of the recipes that I hoped would deliver.

For the cherry filling, I was coming up empty. No one — not in my cookbook collection or in the whole of cyberspace — seemed to be interested in using tart cherries in a cake except for a zillion and one recipes for Black Forest Cake. The filling recipes were either cherry pie filling straight from the can (blech) or were obviously not the right texture I was looking for. I needed a cherry filling that had the texture of cherry preserves minus the tamed-down cooked flavor — almost like biting into a spoonful of cherries only not so juicy as to saturate the cake. I couldn’t find any answers at all, so I had to pull the concept completely out of my noggin.

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The buttercream, as it turns out, was the simplest component of my quest. In my research, I discovered that there are many frostings that go by the name buttercream and yet they differ widely in preparation, taste, and texture. I already knew the easiest and most common buttercream (a quick blending of butter, vanilla, and confectioner’s sugar known as American Buttercream) was not the right one. I read about French Buttercream and Italian Buttercream and was intrigued. Descriptions of their taste and texture, however, were not convincing me, so I looked at tons of pictures of frosted cakes — zooming in, trying to see if the frosting was creamy, fluffy, or smooth ‘n buttery. I was hoping for the latter and finally placed my bets on Italian Buttercream. After another tour through my cookbooks, I found a streamlined method for preparing the necessary egg whites in Cook’s Illustrated.

In the end, I realized that this was no ordinary cake that had been created for us. In all likelihood, it was the work of at least two dedicated bakers who were professionals to say the least. As I gathered the recipes for the components of the cake, I began to get nervous. I am but one person and this was a one-shot deal. This was either going to be the dream cake or a disaster. All of my researching done, there was nothing left to do but begin. I knew I needed a game plan:

Day 1:
Prepare cheesecake layer
Bake cake layers while cheesecake cools
Chill cheesecake while cake layers cool
Individually wrap and freeze cheesecake and cake layers

Day 2:
Prepare cherry filling
Prepare buttercream
Assemble cake
Decorate

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White Almond Cake

with Cherry Cheesecake Filling

A Tales of Thyme & Place Original
Serves 16

    Cheesecake:
    3/4 cups granulated sugar
    1 teaspoon lemon zest
    20 ounces cream cheese, softened
    1/2 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
    1/2 teaspoon almond extract
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    2 large eggs, at room temperature
    1/2 cup sour cream, at room temperature

    Almond Cake:
    1 cup lowfat milk, at room temperature
    6 large egg whites, at room temperature
    2 teaspoons almond extract
    1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    2 1/4 cups unbleached cake flour (plus a bit more for dusting pans)
    1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
    4 teaspoons baking powder
    1 teaspoon salt
    12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened but still cool (cut into 1/2-inch pieces)

    Cherry Filling:
    1 pound frozen tart cherries, thawed, juices reserved
    1/4 cup granulated sugar
    1 pinch ground cardamom
    1 pinch salt
    1 teaspoon almond extract
    1 teaspoon water
    1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
    4 teaspoons cornstarch

    Almond Buttercream:
    4 large egg whites
    1 cup granulated sugar
    1 pinch salt
    1 pound unsalted butter, softened but still cool (each stick cut into 6 pieces)
    1/4 cup amaretto liqueur

    Optional Garnish:
    1 1/2 cups sliced almonds

    For the cheesecake: Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with a parchment round. Using two sheets of aluminum foil, wrap the outer sides and bottom of the pan. Preheat oven to 325-degrees and bring a large kettle of water to a boil. Meanwhile, place the granulated sugar and grated lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor; pulse in 2-second pulses until zest is completely incorporated into sugar and no strings of zest remain, set aside. In a medium bowl, beat cream cheese with a hand mixer at medium speed until fluffy; scrape down sides of bowl as needed. While beating, gradually add sugar mixture; beat until incorporated and fluffy. Beat in lemon juice, almond extract, and salt. One at a time, beat in the eggs, continuing to scrape down the sides of bowl as needed so there are no thick cream cheese lumps. Beat in sour cream until thoroughly incorporated.

    Pour filling into prepared springform pan and place inside a large roasting pan; pour boiling water into roasting pan until water comes halfway up sides of the springform pan. Bake at 325-degrees for 45-50 minutes or until cheesecake is set in the center (when springform pan is giggled gently, the center remains firm). Carefully remove from oven, place springform on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes. After the initial cooling, carefully remove foil wrapping and — while cheesecake is still warm — run a paring knife or small offset spatula around the edges to separate the cheesecake from the pan (this will prevent cracks and tears as the cheesecake finishes cooling); allow to cool completely (about an hour). Cover top of the pan with foil; chill 8 hours or overnight. Remove sides of springform; leaving pan bottom in place, wrap cheesecake in two layers of plastic wrap. Freeze until completely solid.

    For the almond cake: Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Using two teaspoons of additional butter or oil, grease bottoms and sides of two 9-inch round cake pans. Place a parchment round in the bottom of each pan, grease the parchment with butter or oil from sides of the pans; dust bottom and sides of pans with flour, tapping out the excess.

    In a small mixing bowl or 2-cup measuring cup, whisk together milk, egg whites, and extracts until well blended. In a large mixing bowl, combine cake flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, and salt with a whisk. Add softened butter; with a pastry blender or fork cut into the flour mixture until mixture resembles moist crumbs and there are no powdery pockets.

    Add all but 1/2 cup of milk mixture to the flour mixture; beat with a hand mixer at medium-high speed for about 1 1/2 minutes until batter comes together nicely and is no longer lumpy. Scrape down sides of the bowl and add remaining milk mixture; beat for an additional 30 seconds or until thoroughly incorporated. Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans; using a rubber spatula, spread batter to the pan walls and smooth the top. Bake at 350-degrees for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, remove parchment, and reinvert onto wire racks to cool completely. For ease in assembling the cake, you can use a knife or cake leveler to level each cooled layer then wrap each in plastic wrap and freeze overnight before proceeding.

    For the Cherry Filling: Drain thawed cherries, reserving 1 cup of juices. Place cherries in the bowl of a food processor; pulse until cherries are coarsely chopped, refrigerate until ready to assemble cake. In a small bowl, combine the almond extract, water, lemon juice, and cornstarch. In a small saucepan, combine the reserved cherry juices, granulated sugar, cardamom, and salt; bring to a boil. Stir in the cornstarch mixture and simmer until thickened; remove from heat, cool to room temperature.

    For the Almond Buttercream: Place a small saucepan filled halfway with water over medium heat; bring to a simmer. Combine egg whites, granulated sugar, and salt in a large stainless steel mixing bowl; set bowl atop the simmering water (creating a double boiler) making sure bottom of the bowl does not make contact with water. Whisk egg white mixture constantly until opaque and warm to the touch (around 120-degrees), about 1-2 minutes. Remove mixing bowl from the double boiler. With a hand mixer at medium-high speed, whip mixture until barely warm (about room temperature) and it begins to get glossy and sticky (about 7 minutes). Reduce speed slightly and beat in butter one piece at a time, beating until incorporated before adding the next piece. The mixture will deflate as more butter is added and will begin to curdle as nearly all of the butter has been added. After incorporating all of the butter: stop mixing, scrape down the bowl, add the amaretto. Continue beating at medium speed until mixture goes from a curdled mess to a very uniform and smooth consistency (up to 5 minutes, but do not overmix). Buttercream can be kept refrigerated in a covered container for several days or frozen for up to a month, if desired.

    To assemble the cake: Place about a tablespoon of buttercream in the center of a cardboard cake round. Place a cake layer right-side up on the cake round. Spoon about 1 1/2 cups of buttercream into a pastry bag (or a zipper storage bag with a corner snipped off to create a 1/4-inch opening); pipe a dam of buttercream along the top edge of the cake layer (this will keep cherry filling in place). Spread enough of the thickened cherry juices over cake layer to a thickness of about 1/8 inch (don’t use too much). Remove chopped cherries from the refrigerator, drain away any accumulated juices. Spoon half of the chopped cherries atop cake layer; spread evenly into the thickened juices. Remove cheesecake from the freezer; unwrap, remove springform bottom, and carefully peel away parchment round. Using plastic wrap as a barrier, place the cheesecake atop the cake layer making sure it makes full contact with buttercream dam. If cheesecake is larger in diameter than the cake layer (and it probably will be), allow cheesecake to thaw in place 10-15 minutes at room temperature. Using the sides of the cake layer as a guide, with a sharp knife cut around the cake, removing the excess cheesecake. Pipe a dam of buttercream along the top edge of the cheesecake layer. Spread on enough of the remaining thickened cherry juice to coat cheesecake top with about 1/8 inch thickness (you will probably not need all of the juices). Spoon remaining chopped cherries atop the cheesecake; spread evenly. Place remaining cake layer bottom-side up on cheesecake layer. Frost top and sides of cake with buttercream reserving some for decorations, if desired. Pour sliced almonds into a large bowl. Holding assembled cake carefully by the cardboard round with one hand, use the other hand to press handfuls of almonds into the frosting on sides of the cake letting the excess fall back into the bowl. You can use remaining almonds to make fleur-de-lis or other designs on top of the cake. Refrigerate assembled cake. If desired, the cake can sit at room temperature for up to 30 minutes before serving.

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I won’t lie to you. This is not a recipe for beginners. It’s not something you’d whip up on the spur of the moment or enter into on a whim. Then again, neither is a marriage! So, in a way, what cake would be more appropriate?

I have to admit, I didn’t wait until slicing the cake to see whether or not I’d managed to come close to the original. James and I took scraps of cake I’d cut off for leveling, scraps of the cheesecake cut off the sides for shaping, and bits of leftover cherry filling and buttercream and turned them into mini cake samples. One look at his face and I knew I’d not missed the mark! We both smiled at each other as we savored the scraps of what was hopefully a big treat awaiting us.

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Slicing the cake was not as challenging as I would have thought, but slicing it into rectangles rather than wedges is probably the way to go for ease and neatness. I sank my fork into the cake and it was like reliving that special day all over again in a single taste. The richness of the cheesecake surrounded by the moist, nutty cake with the tartness of the cherries singing through — and that buttercream… (angelic choirs singing) sigh.

Though it was certainly a lot of work, this cake made quite the impression on our anniversary celebration — one we’re sure to remember next year when I may pull out the recipe and give it another go. It’s a cake with a one-of-a-kind taste that is now forever tied to a special day we’ll never forget.

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(Our wedding photos were taken by the fabulous husband-and-wife duo at Harle Photography. The original wedding cake was the creation of Not By Bread Alone with lovely flowers by Petal Pusher.)

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~ by Jason on June 26, 2012.

29 Responses to “White Almond Cake with Cherry Cheesecake Filling”

  1. Congratulations on your anniversary. That cake sounds like a piece of heaven. I bookmarked it!

    • Thank you — it really doesn’t seem like two years have gone by already. Then again, I could say that it seems like it’s been longer than two years just as easily (in a good way, thankfully). Let me know if you try the recipe — especially if you have any questions or notice a typo or omission. πŸ™‚

      • I might try this for my sister’s birthday next month. I will let you know and make a post if I do! (If I can wait that long) Maybe I’ll have to give it a test run first. πŸ™‚

  2. The cake is gorgeous! And it was a great day, celebrating with you both. And Vince is sad to have missed the cake for a second time! Sending you lots of love.

    • Thanks, April. You know how I hate cake decorating… so you know I must’ve been pulling out all the stops for this cake! Love you guys too!

  3. Jason,
    This sounds simply heavenly.

    • Thanks, Lisa. It really is an interesting blend of flavors and textures. I’m ordinarily someone who enjoys homogenous desserts — I even stir my ice cream up until it’s all the same consistency. But, this cake is a different experience — so many combinations all in one slice!

  4. Well….Let me tell you… the cake was FABULOUS! We were privileged to share in the anniversary celebration and the cake. We took some home too! To Jason and James…. we are glad to have you here in God’s country… to years of marriage and sharing your lives with us!

  5. Anniversary #3: (spoiler alert) we figure out a way to make that cake combo into CUPcakes! Or I go up there and you bake and I’ll assemble and decorate.

    • The only reason I’d consent to turning this cake into labor-intensive cupcakes would be because it would mean spending hours noodling in the kitchen with my favoritest culinary cohort. πŸ˜› Either way, you will be here next year!

  6. Happy Anniversary… The cake looks so beautiful and what a lovely way to remember your day!

  7. Starting this one tomorrow. Wish me luck! (I’ll need it) 😯

  8. […] White Almond Cake with Cherry Cheesecake Filling (This link will bring you to the recipe) […]

  9. It’s done! That was a lot of work. I can’t wait to try it. Thank you so much for sharing this recipe!

  10. Just wanted to let you know my brother found out about the cake and arrived on our door step with a tupperware container for a piece. He was with a friend of his and I gave him a piece to take home too.
    My brother showed up today and said that guys wife asked if I would bake one for her! He said they (the friend and his wife) were fighting over it.
    That’s how great your recipe is! πŸ™‚

    • It is a loaded compliment, isn’t it? — that people will fight over something you created. The implication being not only that you did a great job, but that you’ll have to continue doing a good job. πŸ˜‰

      Thanks for trying the recipe.

      • You did all the foot work to put this recipe together. All I had to do was follow it. πŸ˜‰ But I don’t see myself making another one any time soon. Very special occasions only! It’s something to be looked forward to. πŸ˜‰

  11. Hi! I dont know if you will reply to this so late after the original post but…how did you thaw the cake layers? did you assemble them while they were still frozen? Thanks!

    • Hi Hira. Thanks for reading!

      The cake layers actually thaw so quickly that it’s best to just assemble the cake and decorate it while the layers are frozen. You’ll find the layers are easier to work with and also easier to decorate while they’re still fresh from the freezer, too. By the time you assemble and decorate the cake, the layers will be almost completely defrosted and ready to serve.

      I let the cake stay in the fridge for about 2-3 hours after it was decorated and the layers were perfectly defrosted.

  12. OMG I totally did not expect a reply! Wow! Thanks so much! So you just took them out of the freezer and started layering them with the filling and cheesecake? Hm…I just got so confused because I read stuff about the cake getting soggy/mushy if not thawed properly. I was afraid because I’m making it for my 7th anniversary and I didn’t want to mess up. Haha…thanks for letting me know what worked for you! I will definitely try it your way! I am making my own spin on this cake. Maybe I can upload a pic when I’m done!

    p.s. I have to admit, I’ve been obsessed with this cake post for at least a month….lol….my own anniversary is the perfect time to make this cake! Wish me luck! πŸ™‚

    • You shouldn’t have any issues with sogginess since you won’t be freezing a frosted cake.

      Best of luck to you as you take on this rewarding cake project. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as we and a few others who’ve made it have.

      For me, I think the scariest part was making the buttercream: temperature and measuring accuracy are so important, and it also doesn’t start to look like buttercream until you’ve been whipping it for quite some time.

    • OH — and Happy Anniversary! πŸ˜€

  13. Thanks! And the cake was awesome! πŸ™‚

  14. I actually got conflicting information from a few different sources, so I hesitated to assign a “nationality” to any of the buttercream varieties I came across, but I eventually settled on one that seemed to be in agreement with a few older cookbooks I had.

    I think, sometimes, names or origins are applied to things long after their invention. For example, the English horn is neither English nor a horn. To remedy this, modern scores call the instrument “cor anglais” which is French and translates as English Horn. Somehow, making it French smoothes over the misnomer. πŸ™‚

  15. Yummy! Well since I had to miss the big day….maybe you can whip up one of these when we come up and then ur mom, grandmother and two aunts can all partake of its yumminess! It looks absolutely divine! Can’t wait to see y’all and the gorgeous surrounding, pick some fruit and eat your tasty creations!

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