When my dear darling spouse got me Baking for Christmas, I was excited to get baking. Though I am fairly confident in my grasp of baking principles, I wanted to have a reference book that allowed me to really solidify and master the basics. The first recipe I made was coconut cream pie at my husband’s request, but that wasn’t my original plan. What I really wanted to do was to start at the beginning.
Chapter 1: Cakes.
I’m not sure it’s feasible to “cook the book” in its entirety simply because that’s a lot of baked goods and a lot of eggs. The book is arranged textbook-style and has the six basic types of cake, then fillings and frostings, and you’re left to combine them yourself. Which is how I started on page one with a very basic project and ended up with a very long description for my end result.
A genoise is a basic sponge cake which is leavened with air alone. The only ingredients are eggs, sugar, flour, and butter. The cake itself is fairly dry, so a simple syrup is often added to the layers for moisture. There are few steps to making the cake, simply whipping the eggs and sugar to quadruple their original volume, then folding in the other ingredients. Voila, genoise.
My goal was to successfully make this simple cake. I did. Then what? It was a little boring.
So I decided to split the single 9-inch round into two layers and add a filling. Since I had an orange laying around, I thought an orange curd might do nicely.
Then it needed frosting. A true “professional-style buttercream” requires copious amounts of butter and egg yolks which I did not have. A twist on my old standby buttercream was adding orange zest and a splash of Grand Marnier (orange-flavored cognac) to complement the orange curd filling.
Dang. Still boring.
A cake decorator I am decidedly not. Even so, I thought perhaps some color would help, so I added some orange accents (orange flavored, orange color, right?). And some chopped almonds, because why not?
Piping frosting is not a skill that comes naturally to me, so I added a few semi-evenly-spaced artistic blobs to cover up a few weird spots. The warmth of my hands was partially melting my frosting which prevented it from holding a nice shape, but at least it wasn’t plain anymore. The cake looked a little naked on top, so I added some frosting in the center, too.
When I went to take a picture, I realized that instead of looking plain naked, it now looked like a naked boob, instead. Sigh. Not so much in the photo, but from my view, it was not appropriate.
So I scraped off the frosting nipple and replaced it with a tiny wedge of orange which didn’t match the “orange” color of my frosting, but at least it didn’t look naughty. Grr.
While I was in the kitchen slicing up the orange, one of the cats woke up and decided to check out the cake still on the dining room table where I had been frosting it due to a lack of clean kitchen counter space. I managed to save the cake from being licked by the cat at the expense of a wire whisk which I managed to knock off the counter and step on.
Annoyed at smooshing my favorite whisk and not being pleased with the decor of my cake, I sulked a bit and drowned my sorrows in the leftover frosting. Then my stomach hurt from too much sugar so that by the time I was done frosting the cake, I couldn’t even eat any of it.
What did cheer me up was having friends over for dinner on Friday who really enjoyed the cake. I was afraid that the orange flavors overpowered the delicate cake, but I think the neutral sponge might have been too plain without the oomph. The orange curd used one navel orange and one blood orange so it had a bit of tartness, and I added a few drops of almond extract to the frosting to add depth and tie in the crushed almonds at the base of the cake. Next time I will use a simple syrup to add moisture to the cake itself.
And I successfully made the genoise, which was the plan all along.
Basic Genoise (Sponge) Cake
Adapted from Baking by James Peterson
Yields one 9-inch round cake
I didn’t have any cake flour on hand so I used 1/2 cup all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons corn starch.
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour
3 tablespoons butter, melted
butter and flour for the pan
1.) Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan. Preheat oven to 350F.
2.) Combine eggs and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on high speed using the whisk attachment for about 4 minutes. The mixture should reach the ribbon stage (when the whisk is removed from the batter, a figure eight drizzled into the bowl should form a ribbon that is visible on the surface of the batter for five seconds before dissolving).
3.) Sift the flour over the beaten eggs and gently fold it into the batter. In a separate bowl, fold together about 1/5 of the batter with the melted butter, then fold that mixture back into the larger bowl.
4.) Pour the batter into the prepared pan and use an offset spatula to smooth the top. Bake about 25 minutes until the cake bounces back when touched and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for five minutes then invert onto a cooling rack.