Updated Friday, March 5th, 2010
Have all ingredients at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter two 8-inch cake tins and line the bottoms with wax paper.
Thoroughly combine the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cream the butter and shortening until they are fluffy, then slowly beat in the sugar. Beat until the mixture is again very light and fluffy. Rub a dab between your fingertips - the sugar should be almost completely dissolved. If the mixture feels gritty, beat it some more. Beating thoroughly at this stage is important if you want a light-textured cake.
When fats and sugar are thoroughly creamed, add the egg yolks one by one, beating thoroughly after each addition. Beat in the vanilla.
Measure out the milk in a pouring pitcher so you can add it in two parts. Beat a third of the flour into the batter, then half the milk, then flour, milk, flour. Be sure each addition is thoroughly mixed in before you add the next, but do not beat any more than necessary.
Divide the batter between the pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 350°F and bake 10 to 15 minutes more, or until the cake is browned and a toothpick emerges clean.
Invert the layers onto wire racks, peel off the paper, and let cool.
In a small pan or double boiler, melt chocolate and butter over low heat. Blend in sugar, condensed milk, and cream or milk. Cook until thickened. Remove from heat; beat with a spatula or wooden spoon until cool. Blend in vanilla. Spread the icing on the prettiest layer. There will be a little icing left. Save it to drizzle down the sides of the finished cake. (Icing recipe by food stylist Pat Dunlea.)
Split the vanilla bean to expose the seeds. Put it and the milk in a saucepan over medium low heat and cook only until small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan. Allow to cool.
In a separate, heavy, non-aluminum saucepan, beat the 1/2 cup sugar with the egg yolks until well combined, then beat in the flour. Cook, stirring, over very low heat, until it starts to thicken. Pour in the milk in a thin stream, beating all the while. Add the vanilla bean.
Cook, stirring, until the mixture is so thick it holds the path of the spoon. (It will do nothing for quite a while, then suddenly stiffen up, so don't go wandering off and forgetting to stir or you'll get wicked lumps.)
Soften the gelatin in the water, then stir it into the thickened custard. Be sure the gelatin is completely dissolved, then turn off the heat. Stir from time to time as the custard cools to release steam that would thin it.
When the custard has cooled, chill it. While it's chilling, beat the cream until it forms soft peaks. Beat the egg whites until they start to thicken, then slowly add the sugar. Keep beating until you have a shiny meringue that forms slightly stiffer peaks than the whipped cream.
By now the custard should be starting to set. Snatch it from the refrigerator and beat in the meringue. As soon as that's incorporated, remove the vanilla bean and fold in the whipped cream.
Again chill the filling until almost set - a matter of a few minutes only. Put the bottom cake layer on a serving platter. Pile on the filling and spread it to within an inch of the edge. Apply the iced top layer, pressing gently to spread the cream.
Chill the cake until the filling is completely set - at least 3 hours, and gobble it up within the day.
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