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.
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.
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.
Can 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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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….
(to be continued)
ONE YEAR AGO: Hermit Cookies
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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
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