For the Sponge:
½ cup milk (you'll have to use whole milk for this, there is no substitute)
3 teaspoons yeast
¾ cup all purpose flour
For the Dough:
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 ¼ cups all purpose flour
For Almond Topping:
6 tablespoons butter
¼ honey (any kind will do, though Wildflower or Orange Blossom are particularly excellent in this application)
¼ cup sugar
1 cup sliced almonds (save yourself some brain damage and just buy them sliced, I do)
For the Pastry Cream:
1 cup milk (again it has to be whole milk)
¾ cup sugar
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons corn starch
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 tablespoons of butter, at room temperature
Equipment - 1 10" cake pan, a spatula, a bread knife
This recipe requires some organization, so I am going to give it to you in the order you should make things to assure that you're not waiting around for something to chill when you get the next step.
Start with the sponge. Heat your milk to about 110 degrees, do it in a small pan over low heat.
Transfer the warm milk into a small bowl and whisk in the yeast. Then whisk in the flour. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set aside for 30 minutes.
The sponge will have grown and foamed up nicely by this time. Now to make the dough.
In you large bowl or the work bowl of your stand mixer, cream the butter until it is light and fluffy (if you don't have a stand mixer you can do this with your hand held electric mixer or even by hand with a wooden spoon if you have the endurance).
Beat the sugar, salt and one egg. Now it is time for that spatula. You will want to scrape down the sides and make sure everything is well mixed before adding 1 cup of the flour. Beat this in until it is completely absorbed by the dough.
Add the second egg and beat it into the mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the remaining 1 ¼ cups of flour. Beat until it is completely absorbed. You will have a fairly thick batter at this point.
Pour in the sponge into the bowl and beat until the dough is all one color and consistency, about 3 minutes.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise until it has doubled in volume, about 1 ½ hours.
Now it is time to chill the dough. Get a new bowl and liberally butter the sides. Place the dough into it, and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. You will want a bowl that will allow the dough to keep rising until the butter in it solidifies again.
We do this step because the dough would be very hard to work with unchilled. It will need to chill for at least 2 hours.
While the dough is chilling, it is time to make the pastry cream.
In a medium sauce pan, combine ¾ cup of the milk and the sugar. Place over medium heat and allow it to come to boil.
In a medium sized bowl, whisk together the rest of the milk and the corn starch. Then whisk in the egg yolks.
When the milk has just come to boil, whisk it into the egg-milk mixture, in a stream. If you have a second person around for this to pour the milk in a thin stream it will be easier but even a first-time baker can do this, don't panic, don't get flustered.
Return the mixture to your pan and cook whisking until it thickens. About 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla.
Cut the butter into 8 pieces and whisk them in one at a time, adding the next when the last has been completely melted. You now have a lovely pastry cream.
Pour the pastry cream into a bowl. Cover it with plastic wrap,, but be sure press the plastic wrap onto the surface of the cream, this will keep it from developing a skin.
Chill for at least 2 hours.
When the dough is chilled it is time to form the cake. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead gently to press out any air bubbles. Form the dough into a nice tight ball and cover with a clean tea towel. Allow it to rest for 5 minutes.
While the dough is resting, butter your cake pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper.
Set the dough in the middle of the cake pan and using your fingers press it out until it fills the pan. The best way to do this is go around the edge of the dough in so it is spreading out evenly. Then when there is mound in the center press it with your palm. After that just keep going around the dough about 1" from the edge pressing it, moving in a circle. It will take about 3 minutes to get the dough completely spread out, take your time this is not a race.
Cover the pan with a clean tea towel and allow it to rise, at room temperature for 50 minutes.
While it is rising make the topping. In a small sauce pan, combine the butter, sugar and honey. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it comes to a boil. When it boils stir in the almonds, then remove from the heat. Pour into a small bowl and allow it to cool to room temperature.
Then put it back in the refrigerator for 20 minutes to chill again (I did tell you this recipe has a lot of chill time, didn't I?).
Set a rack in the middle of your oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. When the dough is chilled, remove it from the 'fridge. Spread the topping evenly over the top of the dough. Slip the pan into the hot oven and bake for 1 hour.
Check on how brown the topping is getting at about 40 minutes. If it is already dark brown place some tin foil on top.
Remove the cake from the oven and set it, pan and all, on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. This will help the cake release from the sides of the pan.
Place a large plate or a cutting board over the top of the pan, then turn the whole thing (cutting board, cake pan and wire rack) upside down. Remove the wire rack, remove the pan, remove the paper. Place the cooling rack on the cake then invert again. Now you will have your cake sitting right side up on the wire rack. Let it cool completely (about 2 hours).
Now it is time to assemble you cake. If like me your bread knife is not long enough to cut through the whole thing, don't sweat it. Place your cake on a cutting board and using a large knife cut it in half. Now use your bread knife to cut each half into an upper a lower level.
Now, we are going to fill this with pastry cream. The problem is that if we fill it then slice it, all the cream will squirt out. So to avoid this, were going to use our large knife to cut it into 8 pieces. Do this buy just cutting a cross (using the slice you already made as on of the cuts) into the cake, then cut another cross rotated 45 degrees to the first.
Now take the top pieces off and set on a plate in the order they were on the cake (this will make sure that all the tops match the bottoms). Then place your bottom sections on a serving platter, fit them tightly together.
Take the pastry cream from the 'fridge. Give it a good stir with a spoon to make it even and spread it evenly over the bottom section. Place the tops on forming a nice tight fit and you are done!
Now you can serve this wonderful cake with a spatula and each piece will look lovely and appetizing!
Here is what it will look like on a plate.
The flour is yours!