THE UNBEARABLE UNFAIRNESS OF CAKE BAKING

A tale of cakes, dogs and tears

My beloved’s Birthday falls on December 27th. Since he was a child, he felt it was a bit unfair to have his special day buried in between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, a day that was born to be ignored. But certain things do improve with age, and now he feels it’s perfect: the university is pretty much closed, he can work as much or as little as he wants, it is a Birthday in the middle of a small vacation break. A nice way to view it. This year we would be by ourselves on his big day. I told him I would cook a special dinner, and then had this crazy idea: offered to bake any cake he wanted. Did you get this? Sally, the cake-o-phobe offered her husband to bake ANY cake he fancied. I was reasonably confident he would choose one of his childhood cakes, like Chocolate Cake with Coconut Frosting, or his grandma’s legendary Angel Food Cake. I was wrong. He did not even blink, asked me where was “that book.” You know, that book…”  I knew, but pretended not to. “Of course you know, that book by the French guy.”  I seriously considered telling him the book was lost during our move to Kansas 5 years ago, but how could I lie to my perfect match about something as important as his Birthday cake? I couldn’t. Sheepishly, I went upstairs, grabbed the book,  gave him, and sat down, already with a cold feeling in the stomach. “That guy” is Pierre Hermé. “That book” is Desserts by Pierre Hermé.

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Before my blogging life, I made one cake from the book, also for Phil’s Birthday, a Chocolate Dome Cake that shaved at least 24 months from my life expectancy. It required three visits to the grocery store, the first to get the ingredients, the second to get a few more eggs, and the third (in complete distress) to get the final dozen. So, of course, I was beyond worried when I handed the book aka How To Kill Yourself in Your Own Kitchen. He opened it, and in two seconds flat screamed: I FOUND IT!  I WANT THIS ONE!  He managed to open the book at random on the page featuring Carioca Cake. Can you imagine the odds on that?  Mind you, I am not carioca, but paulista. Paulista Cake would have absolutely zero charm, which is a bit unfair. Cariocas get all the love, fame, attention. Would Tom Jobim ever make a song about The Girl from Vila Mariana? Not a chance. Oh, well. São Paulo is close enough to Rio, let’s not split hairs.

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Now, ask yourself which other food blogger would give you a free lesson in geography? You are so very lucky. Anyway, as I was saying, I took a very deep breath and read the recipe. FIVE components. The first, a genoise cake. My heart missed four beats. My nemesis. My most feared cake in the universe of cakes, the cake that embarrassed me in front of special guests, the cake that made me swear off cake baking for years. I cringed anticipating the disaster ahead. Apart from the genoise, it also required a coffee syrup, almonds roasted in cocoa syrup, a chocolate mousse, and a chocolate ganache. As a bonus, you also need skills of an Iron Chef to make the authentic decoration on top. Can you spell unfair? This is what the finished product is supposed to look like.

photoherme11Can you spell doomed too?

I immediately texted my friend-patissier-guru-golfer extraordinaire Gary, and asked begged  for help. In fact, when he visited us a couple of years ago he was kind enough to make a genoise cake right in front of my eyes to help me exorcise my inner ghosts. Gary sent me a few emails with reminders, pointers, videos and basically told me “you can do this.”  And you know what? He was absolutely right. Look at my production!

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GENOISE CAKE – RECIPE OVERVIEW

I will not publish the recipe, as I do not want to deal with the process of asking permission from Mr. Herme’ or the publisher. Obviously, all genoise recipes are very similar, the success of baking it is all in technique. His formula calls for

2 ounces of unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
6 eggs
1 cup of sugar
1 + 1/2 cups flour, sifted

You will beat the eggs and sugar over simmering water until they reach a temperature of 130 to 140 F, then beat the living bejesus out of it until it triples in volume.  Once you get there – and the batter falls like a ribbon from the beater – you’ll add the flour and the butter, in specific ways described by Hermé, hoping not to deflate the batter too much. You’ll need to be delicate and assertive, quite a combination of skills. The batter is poured into a 9-inch springform pan, and baked in a 350 F oven.

If all goes well, you’ll be rewarded with a perfect starting point for your Carioca Cake.

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Comments: I cannot tell you how thrilled I was when I removed the cake from the pan and realized I had finally done it. I overcame my demons and managed to bake a perfectly gorgeous looking genoise cake! The extended version of the happy dance took place mid-afternoon on December 24th. The cake would wait until next day when I would proceed with the preparation, in plenty of time for the Bday celebration.

That evening we were going to cook our Christmas Eve meal together, so we put some music on, and let the fun start. I briefly mentioned to Phil that we should make sure to keep the sliding doors to the dining room closed because “I left the genoise over the table, and you never know with Bogey what could happen.”  Phil laughed, I laughed, and that was that.  Not sure how long after that innocent remark, I am in the kitchen and I hear Phil from the dining room, scream with intense pain in his voice… “Oh, no!”   I swear my first thought was “David Bowie is already dead, could it be Neil Young?”  I walked in, and realized no beloved singer had passed away. But a genoise cake had definitely passed to another dimension.

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I confess, I sat down and cried. My perfect genoise. Gone. Instead, I had a dalmatian sleeping off his sugar coma, still with a smile on his face. Carioca Cake was brutally kidnapped from my life.

But, as the sun does every day, it rose again next morning. Phil had washed the cake pan for me, took care of the many crumbs left on the dining table and washed the table-cloth. All signs of the canine crime were gone, apart from that smile still on Bogey’s face, and his sudden obsession with the dining room table. I did the only sensible thing to do: started all over. And once more, I have the thrill to share my second – perfect – genoise, made 36 hours after the first.

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Thanks to Gary and a very mischievous dalmatian also known as The Fastest Mouth in the West, I can tell you I permanently erased the Curse of the Genoise from my life. Bring it, Pierre Hermé, bring it….

Unfortunately, he did bring it….

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(to be continued) 

ONE YEAR AGO: Hermit Cookies

TWO YEARS AGO: Cremini Mushroom Meatloaf

THREE YEARS AGO: Ottolenghi & Tamimi’s Roast Chicken with Clementines

FOUR YEARS AGO: Eight-Ball Zucchini: The Missing Files

FIVE YEARS AGO: Grilling Ribbons

SIX YEARS AGO: Peppery Cashew Crunch

SEVEN YEARS AGO: Ossobuco Milanese: an Italian Classic

 

BEWITCHING BIRTHDAY!

One year of blogging! It passed with astonishing speed, proving that time flies when you’re having fun!   It’s surely been fun, sharing what happens in our kitchen with friends, family and lots of other folks, and getting acquainted (at least virtually) with new people and bloggers through comments and emails.

A cake is a mandatory birthday celebration!  Unfortunately,  cake and Sally don’t make a good match.   But in the name of this special occasion I faced my demons and baked a cake. Choosing the recipe wasn’t easy, but I decided by elimination: genoise was out of the question, I’d rather be tortured.   Any recipes involving the instructions “cream the butter with the sugar” were also excluded.  Then, browsing the latest issue of Bon Appetit, I spotted a layered chocolate raspberry cake and I was smitten: that was it! Luscious, beautiful, perfect… would you believe  that the recipe didn’t need an electric mixer?  Instead, two bowls and a whisk…. my kind of recipe!  Even the layering didn’t bother me (although it should have, … but  ignorance is bliss).

So, here it is, my first layered cake, in honor of my baby blog…

CHOCOLATE-RASPBERRY LAYERED CAKE
(from Bon Appetit, June 2010)

2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 + 3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
3/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs

18 ounces bittersweet chocolate (maximum 61% cocoa), chopped
2 + 1/4 cups whipping cream
6 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam, divided
resh raspberries
powdered sugar

Heat the oven to 350°F. Coat two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with nonstick spray. Line their bottoms with parchment paper rounds and spray the rounds. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl; whisk to blend and form a well in the center. Whisk 1 cup of water, buttermilk, oil, and eggs in a medium bowl to blend. Pour the wet ingredients into well in dry ingredients; whisk just to blend. Divide the cake batter between the prepared pans.

Bake the cakes for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.  Cool completely in pans on cooling racks.

for the ganache and raspberry topping;
Place the chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Bring the cream to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan. Pour it over the chocolate.  Let stand for 1 minute, then stir until the ganache is melted and smooth. Transfer 1 + 1/4 cups of the ganache to a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until the ganache is thick enough to spread, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour. Let the remaining ganache stand at room temperature to cool until  lukewarm.

Invert one cake onto a cardboard round or the bottom of 9-inch-diameter tart pan. Peel off the parchment paper and spread 3 tablespoons of raspberry jam over the top, then spoon dollops of chilled ganache over the surface, spreading it around.   Invert the second cake onto another cardboard round or tart pan bottom.  Peel off  its parchment paper. Carefully slide the cake off its round and onto the frosted cake layer.  Spread the remaining 3 tablespoons of raspberry jam over top of the second cake layer, and pour half of the lukewarm ganache over the cake, spreading it over the sides to cover.  Place the cake in the freezer until the ganache sets, about 30 minutes. Pour the remaining ganache over the cake, allowing it to drip down sides and spreading over the sides if needed for even coverage and smooth edges. Freeze again to set the ganache, about 30 minutes.

Arrange the raspberries in concentric circles atop the cake, then sift powdered sugar lightly over raspberries and serve.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

Comments: I wish that my cake-phobia was cured, but now I have a few more reasons to stick with breads and pizzas.   At first  my confidence grew as the batter behaved exactly as anticipated, filling two 9-inch cake pans and baking into beautiful brown cakes with only a slight dome in the center.  But the Cake Gods  weren’t quite finished with their conspiracy against me.   Spreading the ganache was nightmarish, to put it mildly. Thinking back, I realize that it wasn’t quite  hard enough to spread, so instead of forming a nice thick layer, it ran down the sides, but my cake-naivete made me go on, thinking  that eventually everything would be OK.

When I placed the second cake on top of the first, once all the slippage-fiesta stopped, the ganache layer had a big gap all around the edges, that stubbornly resisted my attempts to fill it.  In despair, I checked my cake pans, and was shocked and appalled to realize that they were not identical in size – a small difference from one brand of pan to another, which made my layers unequal. My last hope was that the “lukewarm icing” would solve all the problems and make a beautiful, smooth covering of all the boo-boos. But, this was not the case.  Not a chance.  To make a  long story short, my cake ended a bit like the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.  Its sides had nothing to do with the “picture perfect” look in the magazine.    I had hoped to post a picture of my cake on a gorgeous stand with a nice candle in the center, but I settled instead for the only photo that showed more cake than boo-boos.

Cake, my friends, is not for sissies…But, even if its looks were not picture-perfect, it disappeared in an afternoon, devoured with gusto by hungry grad students!  The flavor was amazing: deep chocolaty, with a tangy background of raspberries, not overly sweet, but decadent.  I guess there might be hope for next year… 😉

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One year ago…. Welcome to my blog!