Rasmalai (Saffron, Rose and Cardamom Cream) Cake

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Ah, the constant challenge of what dessert to serve after an all-Indian meal. When one wants to keep it thematic, yet not so traditional. And that means creating something new out of the familiar. Something scented with other than vanilla, something flavoured with other than chocolate, and something spiced, and we sure aren't talking about cumin and coriander :D

Now whether they admit it or not, I am so sure that invitees to our dinners at home will be expecting cake. And it's seriously not a bad thing. I can get away with a hum-drum dinner, possibly bought, but dessert ... dessert is uncompromising!

It was a good two weeks before said dinner, a Diwali dinner at that. And I promised to deliver Sindhi food. The first week was spent combing through recipes, ones I've made, ones I haven't, and ones that I haven't made that I want in the blog. Guess which ones I made ;) But this dessert took a little time to arrive at. I was almost going to make the Saffron and Pistachio Honey Cake again, a lovely Persian dessert that was perfumed with saffron and rose. But only if I wasn't inspired by anything else.

Just 3 days before said dinner did I stumble upon a Cardamom Cream Cake in the NYT Cooking section. As I read through the ingredients, I thought this was it. But again, as with any recipe I 'borrow' from, I end up amping up the flavours considerably, adding saffron, more cardamom, because ... fueling with flavour :)

And so this beauty became a Rasmalai cake. Just as in the Indian dessert, Rasmalai, (the rose and pistachio flavoured pillows floating in a decadent milky syrup), this cake is scented with saffron and rose. The soaking syrup, the ricotta filling, the buttercream ... just about every component is delicately flavoured, bringing the whole greater than the sum of its parts. Both ricotta and mascarpone are instrumental in lending the cake that signature soft and pillowy texture that makes biting into a rasmalai so pleasurable.

It's gotten some pretty good reviews from those fortunate enough to be on the table that evening, so much so that I hardly had any to take pictures of. A quick and easy dessert it isn't, I'm afraid. It is a laborious effort, but tackled in a matter of days in a few easy steps will make it so much worth your time. I can attest to it, because since making it's first appearance, I have made it three more times in two weeks :D

A) Saffron, Rose & Cardamom Syrup
720 ml (3 cups) whole milk
8 cardamom pods, bruised to expose seeds
50 g (1/4 cup) granulated sugar
Pinch of saffron strands
1 tsp rose water

B) Rasmalai Cake
360 ml (1-1/2 cups) whole milk, warmed
Pinch of saffron strands
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 tsp rose water
500 g (4-1/2 cups) cake flour
400 g (2 cups) granulated sugar
30 g (4 tsp) baking powder
1 tsp ground cardamom or cardamom powder
1/2 tsp salt
250 g (2 sticks/8 oz. + 2 Tbsp) butter, at room temperature, cut into 1 cm cubes

C) Rasmalai Ricotta Filling
1 kg (3 cups) ricotta cheese, drained
120 ml (1/2 cup) prepared Saffron, Rose and Cardamom Syrup

D) Rose & Cardamom Mascarpone Buttercream
5 large egg whites, at room temperature
225 g (1 cup + 2Tbsp) granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
340 g (12 oz.) unsalted butter, softened, cut into 1.5cm or 1/2 inch cubes
240 ml mascarpone cheese, cold
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1-1/2 tsp rose water
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

To decorate:
40 g (1/4 cup) pistachios, cut into small pieces
Candied rose petals

A) Saffron, Rose & Cardamom Syrup
1. In a medium saucepan, cook the milk with the cardamom pods.
2. After it reaches a boil, add the sugar, and stir to combine.
3. Lower the heat, add the saffron strands, and continue cooking until the syrup is reduced in volume by a 1/4. Stir often to make sure the milk doesn't scorch on the bottom of the pan.
4. When cooled, strain out the cardamom pods, then stir in the rose water.

Syrup can be made up to 2 days in advance and kept refrigerated.

B) Rasmalai Cake
1. Butter, flour, and line the bottoms of 3 22-cm (9-inch) pans with parchment paper.
2. Preheat the oven to 175C or 350F.

3. Heat the milk in the microwave in a medium-sized heat-safe bowl until it comes to around 70F, then stir in the saffron strands. When cool to touch, whisk in the egg whites and rose water.
4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, ground cardamom and salt, mixing this on the lowest setting.
5. To the flour, add the cubes of butter, and a third of the milk mixture, mixing on low until it resembles a thick dough.
6. Scrape the sides of the bowl to thoroughly combine, then pour the remainder of the milk slowly, beating on medium speed until well incorporated.
7. Beat on medium high speed for a minute to make sure the batter is well mixed.

8. Transfer the batter to the pans and level the surface with the back of a spoon. The batter will be quite thick.
9. Bake until slightly golden and the sides of the cake release from the cake pan. This will take around 30-35 minutes.
10. Leave the cakes to rest in the pan for 15 minutes before removing it to cool completely on a wire rack.

Cake can be made up to a week in advance if wrapped tightly with cling wrap when warm and frozen. Remove from freezer 2 hours before assembling. Otherwise, it is best made on the day of.

C) Rasmalai Ricotta Filling
1. Strain the ricotta with a cheesecloth to make sure it has been drained of all excess water.
2. Stir in the prepared syrup, mixing well to combine.
3. Rest this in the fridge in a covered container until ready to use.

Ricotta filling can be made up to 3 days before assembling.

D) Rose & Cardamom Mascarpone Buttercream
1. In the metal bowl of a stand mixer, combine egg whites, sugar and salt. Set this on a saucepan of simmering water, making sure the water does not come in contact with the bowl.
2. Use the whisk attachment to mix them by hand until mixture becomes warm and sugar has dissolved. Rub a bit between your fingers, it should not feel gritty when done.

3. Return the bowl to the stand mixer, attach the whisk, then start to whisk on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. This will take about 10 minutes.
4. At this time, the meringue should have cooled to room temperature.
5. Reduce the speed to medium-low and start adding the butter a few cubes at a time, mixing well before adding more.
6. Fold in the cold mascarpone cheese, a few tablespoonfuls at a time.
7. Add the rose water and the vanilla and whisk until incorporated.

8. Change the whisk to the paddle attachment and continue to beat for about 3 minutes on low speed. This is to remove the air bubbles that have built up.
9. Scrape the sides of the bowl, beat again on slow speed until completely smooth, about 1 - 2 minutes.

The mascarpone buttercream can be made up to 3 days before and kept in the refrigerator. Remove up to 3 - 4 hours before to bring to room temperature, then beat on low speed for about 5 minutes before using. 

1. Level the top of the cakes so they are flat, brush it with the prepared syrup. Rest for 10 minutes to allow the syrup to soak before assembling.
2. On a cake board, dab a tablespoon of buttercream to secure the bottom cake layer.
3. Using half of the ricotta filling, spread all over the bottom layer, levelling it as best you can.
4. Place the second (middle) cake layer and use up the remaining ricotta filling then place the last layer of cake, bottom side up. It's easier to work with a level surface when frosting.
5. Dab a bit of buttercream around and on top of the cake, levelling it close to the cake to create a crumb coat.
6. Place the cake in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes to set / solidify the buttercream.
7. Remove the cake from the fridge, then continue to frost the whole cake.
8. Decorate with a sprinkling of pistachio pieces and candied rose petals.

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