(Missed the first chapter? click here)
This is the kick-ass cake by definition, although it could also be described as yet another cake that kicked my ass. But I won’t keep you curious for much longer. There was a happy ending to the epic saga, Phil was over the moon, told me it was the best cake I ever made! I don’t care if he was embellishing the truth, let him. I need all the positive feedback I can get, because crossing the end of this marathon was no piece of cake. Forgive the lousy pun. Without further ado, here is the result of my
FINALLY, MY CARIOCA CAKE!
What? Where is that herringbone pattern, you may ask? It is not there. I went with swirls. Why? Because it is a much sexier name. I see you are not buying it. Let me be honest instead. By the time I got to the ganache decoration, I was in such state of emotional turmoil, that the idea of manipulating a knife could prove dangerous to my physical integrity. Indeed, the herringbone pattern is best applied with a long serrated knife. Swirls are made with the back of a spoon. Has anyone ever been harmed by a spoon? Granted, there is that gag me with a spoon saying, but a spoon covered in luscious chocolate ganache would gag no one. I skipped the knife, and went with the spoon. Zero worries.
The coffee syrup. I did not have that much trouble with it. It is pretty straightforward, just
spectacularly messy a bit messy. You simmer a huge amount of finely ground coffee (2 full cups) in a small amount of water and pass it through a double layer of cheesecloth, that may or may not spill over during the process. Essentially, you are making the strongest coffee ever, so strong that if you take a small sip you’ll get cross-eyed. The eyes will uncross after a few minutes, and the lips will also revert to their normal shape. Phew…
The chocolate mousse. That’s when things got chaotic. Mr. Hermé’s timing completely messed me up. You need to coordinate the beating of heavy cream with the making of a syrup that shall reach 257 F. According to the master, it would take 8 to 10 minutes. I was a bit involved with the melting of the chocolate, but kept track of my timer like a hawk. At 6 minutes, instant thermometer in hand, it already seemed too dark. I let go a couple of highly colorful words, removed the syrup quickly from the burner, and poured it into a Pyrex bowl. The whole thing solidified like a rock right in front of my eyes. Congratulations, Sally, you went pass the soft ball stage all the way into Titanium Land. You are now ready to start all over. My beloved entered the kitchen when he heard my screaming and once I explained the unfairness of what had just taken place, the man I married almost 17 years ago told me the following;
“My Grandma never left the side of the stove when she made sugar syrup.”
I will give you a moment to let this sink in. Without going into details, I’ll just say that he got a sharp lecture on how irrelevant, tactless, borderline cruel his remark was. “Maybe you’d like me to go ask for your Grandma’s advice right now in the after life?” He denied. Profusely. Approached me to offer a hug, but added a don’t be silly that was definitely uncalled for. Hug aborted. Talk about a festive Christmas mood.
Now, have you ever had to wash hardened caramel from a Pyrex container? Oh, that is loads of fun, I highly recommend it when you need to redeem yourself of things like real nasty thoughts. For instance those I had going towards Mr. Hermé. Come to think of it, in a recent past I also directed dark thoughts to Thomas Keller for his fancy-schmancy macarons. But that’s another saga, left to another time.
So I was back to square one with the darn mousse, trying to re-negotiate the beating of the cream with the new syrup, and the melted Valrhona chocolate in waiting. This time, I stood by the stove like a certain Grandma – although I will never ever admit, not even under torture, that her grandson had anything to do with my changed behavior. The mousse materialized with some imperfections. I detected a slightly grainy texture because I suppose the temperature of the melted chocolate was a little off after the whole drama. But what do I know? And at that point, did I even care? Some could call it grainy, I would go with rustic.
With all the components ready, I took another deep breath, grabbed a cake ring, and proceeded to slice the genoise, and assemble the final cake. I used toothpicks and dental floss to help me cut thin slices. Worked like a charm, I had to mentally pat myself on the back (hands were pretty messed up with chocolate stains). The Carioca calls for a bottom layer of cake soaked in coffee syrup, then mousse, then cake, then mousse on top. Straight to the freezer until the final step: coating with ganache, decorating it, and sticking the almonds on the side.
The making of the ganache. I’ve made ganache a gazillion times. I own it. I can make it in my sleep. For this particular coating, the ganache needs to sit at room temperature for a while until it sets. That’s when I got greedy. I decided that I had more than enough time to drive to a store in town that I heard was selling several kinds of bottled shrubs. I placed the cake and the ganache on top of the highest cabinet in the kitchen, which even if Bogey was part-dog, part-giraffe he could not reach. And off I went to get my shrub. When I got to the store, it seemed closed. Through the glass window I noticed a couple of very agitated people inside, they came out briefly and said they were having computer issues. “Can you come back in 5 minutes?” Sure, no problem. When they finally opened, 11 and a half minutes later, I picked one of their shrubs, Apple Ginger, and went to pay. The “computer troubles” were not over. The person working the cash register, a very nice German woman in her mid-fifties, was a nervous wreck, shaking a little as she could not get the machine to read my item, enter the price or do whatever it is that the machines must do these days. It was her second day on the job, in this tiny grocery connected to a big liquor store. The manager of the liquor store was the only one able to help, but he was busy with customers, so let’s say things were taking a sweet time to happen. The clock was ticking, I really needed to leave, almost told her to forget about my shrub, but she was in such distress, it would ruin her day further if I left. So I plastered a smile on my face, and said, in a performance worthy of Meryl Streep: “I have all the time in the world, don’t worry about a thing” and stood there, like the Martyr Baker that I am. By the time I got home, the ganache was hard. Ready to be rolled as truffles (sigh). And I was fit to be tied.
Some very gentle microwaving, very gentle stirring, a little more waiting for the right magical temperature (114 F) when I finally poured the ganache all over my cake… But I could not, simply could not bring myself to attempt the herringbone. Long serrated knife? At THAT point of my life? Not wise. Honestly, I just wanted the cake to be on my rear view mirror. I went with swirls, then stuck the roasted almonds all over the sides, licked the spoon clean and collapsed on the sofa. Which, in retrospect, describes the end of almost every single cake I make. Except for the licking of the spoon. That was a first.
And now for what matters most: how did it taste? It was absolutely wonderful! The coffee flavor is quite pronounced, a perfect match for the chocolate mousse (delicate and light, with underlying notes of rustic) and the ganache coating (real intense chocolate flavor). The almonds on the side did not look particularly beautiful, but they added a pleasant texture. Maybe if they were crushed instead of kept in slices it would work better from a cosmetic point of view. My only other modification of Hermé’s recipe would be topping the Carioca with a cake layer instead of mousse. That would make it a bit easier to slice and eat. The genoise component would easily give three slices for the final cake, so my advice would be to use a third, thin layer of genoise on the very top. Then cover it all with the chocolate ganache. If you are feeling brave, go for the herringbone. According to my friend Gary, Patissier-Extraordinaire, you can practice with Crisco. I cringe imagining what my kitchen (and my hair) would look like after the combination of Sally + thick layers of Crisco + cardboard circles + long serrated knife. I will allow your imagination to take over…
That’s all for now, folks. I survived the Carioca Cake,
and so did our marriage!
Isn’t life grand?
ONE YEAR AGO: Duck Confit for a Special Occasion
TWO YEARS AGO: Ken Forkish’s Warm Spot Sourdough
THREE YEARS AGO: Bran Muffins, Rainbows, and a wonderful surprise!
FOUR YEARS AGO: Salmon Wellington
FIVE YEARS AGO: The Green Chip Alternative
SIX YEARS AGO: Weekend Pita Project
SEVEN YEARS AGO: Let it snow, let it snow, eggs in snow