Saturday, January 29, 2011

Grandmother's 91st

Last year, my grandmother turned 90 years old, and it was a grand occasion for the family, because she wasn't sure she'd ever have another birthday. I went all-out on my cake for her. But now, another year later, she's fiestier than ever and the family gathered around her for another celebration to mark her 91st birthday.

She's always loved jewelry of all sorts, especially gold and diamonds, and much of her home decor has also followed gold and sparklingly elegant themes. So in determining a cake that would meet the standard set for her 90th birthday, I focused in on shimmery gold, and was handed the perfect concoction by The Cake Bible with "Golden Cage."

This is the photo from the cookbook The Cake Bible for the cake I wanted to make.

The cake itself is a rich, but light, sponge cake called "Golden Genoise." Genoise is a very versatile type of cake layer, which is usually soaked with sugar syrup or liqueur to flavor it and make it moist. This recipe however, uses 12 egg yolks - and no whites - so it is tender and flavorful on it's own, plus has a delightful golden color to match the theme.

The cake is frosted with an apricot buttercream, whose tangy sweetness plays deliciously with the rich sponge of the cake, and adds sparkling flecks of fruit to again enhance visual appeal. The cake is not high or imposing, but the one cake layer is cut in half and filled with the same apricot buttercream that the exterior is frosted with, so individual slices have an attractive profile and servings are just the right amount of dessert without being overwhelming.

The crowning glory of this cake - and it really is a crown - is the spun-sugar "cage" that placed over the finished frosted cake. The cake in the photo was baked in a 9-cup kugelhopf pan (which I don't have, but was going to use a 9-cup stainless-steel mixing bowl.) The pan is inverted and covered with foil and carmelized sugar is drizzeled over it until it hardens, and then the foil is peeled back to create a sugar dome. Sadly, I tried this three times with three separate recipes of carmelized sugar on two different days, and was not able to get it to work. The sugar is to be carmelized to 350-360 degrees, but not only does this make it much darker amber than in the photo, it also gives it a distinctly burnt taste. I was worried that  my thermometer was not giving me an accurate reading and that I actually had burnt the sugar, so I calibrated my themometer with boiling water and tried again. The taste and texture were the same. It is very hard to do this correctly in humid weather, and it is very hard to live in Seattle, especially in January, and not have humid weather. So it could be that my skill level and tools had nothing to do with my failure, but that I was doomed by geography. But I still wanted that sparkling gold architecture to honor my grandmother, so I tried again the next day and didn't cook the carmel as long. I stopped when the sugar was the color I wanted, a lovely amber, but this had an even stickier texture than the day before. It set, but it didn't crack like a good hard candy, nor could I successfully extract it from the foil liner. So, I had pieces of my cage, but not a complete dome, so before I baked the cake, I decided to make it in a regular sized pan (rather than the bowl) and just decorate the top wtih the sugar pieces, instead of entrapping it beneath a cage.

The cage I made which I couldn't get off the mold, hence broke into a single "topper" decoration.

Fortunately, the cake and buttercream were much more successful and delicious. They truly were an excellent complement to each other, so I've retyped the recipes below. Be sure to note that these are credited to Rose Levy Beranbaum. Also, note that the apricot buttercream is not completely smooth for making fine piped details, but it has a smooth finish on the cake, and the texture tastes very smooth when eaten with the crumb of the cake layer. She strains her apricot puree, but I've tried that before with other fruits like raspberry and it makes a mess I'm unwilling to repeat. My immersion blender created a smooth and even puree that I was comfortable mixing into my buttercream, so I left it at that step.

The finished cake presented to my grandmother.

Golden Genoise
From The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

3.5 fluid ounces clarified browned butter (scant 1/2 cup, made from 9 tablespoons butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla
12 large egg yolks
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup sifted cake flour
3 tablespoons unsifted cornstarch
1/4 cup water

Grease and flour a 9-inch springform pan. {Note: I used a false bottom cake pan instead, and some of the butter melted out the bottom during baking; this would be less likely with a springform, so that is recommended, otherwise, wrap your pan in foil or use a drip pan in the oven.} Preheat oven to 350.
Warm the clarified butter utnil almost hot, add vanilla and keep warm.
In a large mixing bowl set over pan of simmering water, heat the yolks and sugar until almost hot to the touch, stirring constantly to prevent curdling. Using a beater, beat on high for 5 miunutes or until triple in volume.
Sift together flour and cornstarch. Decrease speed and beat water into egg mixture. Sift 1/2 flour mixture over eggs and fold in gently. Repeat with reamining flour until flour is completely mixed in. Fold in butter in two batches until just incorporated.
Pour immediately into prepared pan and bake 30-40 minutes until cake shrinks back from sides of pan. Unmold from pan and cool on rack.

Apricot Buttercream
from The Cake Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum

Apricot Puree2 cups packed dried apricots
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup sugar

Soak apricots in water for two hours. Then simmer over low heat, tightly ocvered, for 20 minutes or until apricots are soft. Puree entire mixture, and press through a fine strainer. Stir in lemon juice and sugar to taste.

Creme Anglaise
1/2 cup sugar
5 large egg yolks
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Have ready a sieve suspended over a bowl, near the stove.
In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine sugar and yolks.
In a small saucepan, bring milk and vinalla to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons milk to the yolk mixture, stirring constantly. Gradually add remaining milk, stirring, and cook over medium-low until just below boiling... 170 degrees. Strain immediately, scraping up any clinging to the bottom of the pan. Cool.

1/3 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 large egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 cups unsalted butter, softened

Have ready a heatproof glass measure near the stove.
In a small heavy saucepan, combine sugar and water. Heat, stirring constantly, until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat.
In a mixing bowl, beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Beat in remaining 2 tablespoons sugar until stiff peaks form.
Increase heat and boil syrup until 248-250 degrees. Immediately transfer syrup to glass measure to stop cooking.
Gradually beat syrup into the egg whites in a steady stream.

Beat butter in a large mixing bowl until creamy. Beat into the creme anglaise until smooth. Beat in the meringue until just incorporated. If it looks curdled, it it too cold. Allow to warm to 70 degrees before continuing to beat. Beat in one cup of apricot puree.

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