Monday, April 23, 2007

Days 60 and 61: Light! And… not so much.

I’ll admit it: these haven’t been light little wisps of pastry we’ve been creating. You can, therefore, imagine my pleasure at finding that our most recent project was very different than the chocolate-cloaked-or-caramel-topped-or-sugar-enrobed-or-cream-cheese-infused items which we’ve been producing. We were finally introduced to the génoise, a classical French sponge cake which is always soaked with syrup during assembly. This cake is made by a whole lot of folding. Egg whites are whipped with a bit of sugar. Egg yolks are whipped with a bit of sugar. Dry ingredients, like flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and salt, are sifted together. The yolks are folded into the whites, and then the dry into the wet. That part (no fat other than egg yolks, did you notice?) people follow. It’s the whole syrup thing that sounds disagreeable when people first encounter it, but allow me to explain (as if you had a choice). Too much, yes – nasty, gross, soggy cake; who needs it? Too little, however, and you have an equally unappealing, dry layer which will make even the lactose-intolerant cry out for milk. Just the right amount, though, and you’re biting into a pastry that is the perfect (and I mean perfect) level of “moist,” that ever sought-after characteristic of cake. As with last week, we baked the layers with partners, but for the finishing we were left to our own devices; I chose raspberry. (Now, don’t think me some great hypocrite when it comes to seasonal fruit. We had to use something, and I chose raspberry. I’m not proud of it, but my pride does not extend to getting a failing grade for the day.) For the syrup, we used framboise, which is a raspberry eau-de-vie (a clear, unsweetened, 40% alcohol liquor distilled with the essence of a plant) combined with simple (sugar) syrup. After soaking the first layer, I topped it with pastry cream that had been scented with framboise as well, and dropped a few raspberries around in it. The second layer went on and got soaked. Then, the whole cake was iced with sweetened whipped cream, adorned with a few additional raspberries, and some sugared slivered almonds, just for some textural diversity. I will admit that when conceptualizing it, even I thought it would be overpoweringly raspberryish. It wasn’t though. It was airy and fruity and extremely cheerful. Like me, most of the time.

All balloons pop eventually. We countered this useless lightness with one of the heaviest and certainly best things so far, in the form of a chocolate chestnut cake. We soaked a layer of chocolate génoise with syrup flavored with kirsch, a cherry eau-de-vie (you couldn’t really taste the cherry, it just added depth; let’s move forward with that understanding). We then topped this first layer with alternating stripes of whipped ganache and chestnut buttercream. Other than that Christmas song, chestnuts don’t seem too popular here in good old America; they’re much more beloved in our parent England. In any case, they’re delightful, and one thing that further enhances their resident richness is to incorporate a puree of them into a buttercream. Trust me. The next layer of the cake was added and again soaked, and then, like that fancy cake of a few weeks ago, iced very evenly with whipped ganache. After chilling and firming, we poured liquid ganache over the whole thing, creating a shiny finish that’s only fitting for a cake this good. I decorated mine with some cornet work, and decided to further embellish it with a little gold dust. This was a mistake, because there was moving air in the room. Not only did some random current cause my first attempt to add a dot of it turn into a comet-shape (and therefore all subsequent ones, in an attempt to be consistent), but when someone walked by quickly, a whole random smattering of it landed elsewhere on my cake’s surface. Not to worry, it’s gold dust. It’s innately appealing.

And once they took a bite, I’m sure they all forgot.

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