Sunday, February 27, 2011

Baking to Mark the Milestones

Will had a milestone birthday this past week, and I had plotted for weeks for how to adequately mark the occasion. (Plus, I'd been a bit of a washout over the last gift-giving opportunity, so I had to make-up some lost ground...)

Birth week was going well, and I was still riding the sun-high of San Diego, followed by tummy- and soul-warming success of chicken Vindaloo (see previous post.) For his actual birthday, I was excited to see my plans for a party coming together. I had reserved a private room at a downtown Vietnamese restaurant, to follow-up one of his most favorite Asian dishes: Vindaloo, with his second favorite: pho. We had a fun group of friends ready to join us, and I was really pleased with my idea for the celebration cake. I wanted something that would coordinate with the menu theme of the restaurant, so I went with the tropical flavors of lime, mango, and coconut.

For you dedicated followers, this might sound slightly similar to the mango coconut cheesecake I made for Diwali back in November, and I wanted to be certain this was a complete departure from those flavors, even given the similar palatte.

I started with the Genoise Classique recipe from The Cake Bible, but added lime zest to the batter. Then I made my own soaking syrup, steeping it Thai basil leaves and then flavoring with light rum instead of liqueur. For filling, I used a fresh mango curd, and frosted the layers with coconut cream whipped cream. The result was light, moist, and tasted like a sucking the sweetness from a cool tropical rain cloud.

When I make this again - because I WILL be making this again - I will make an extra cake layer so that the finished cake will be taller and more dramatic. I had a problem with my first layer that I baked, because I had to open the oven partway through baking, and the layer came out short and tough. I was able to trim it, and use it for the middle of three layers in the finished cake. This cut slice shows the layers of cake, curd, and cream.

I wasn't able to trim the layers very evenly, which is why the top is so thick. The middle is thin because it was salvaged from a mistake layer. I left the top crust on the bottom layer because I wanted the cake to be as high as possible, but you can see where it shows darker... typically this would be trimmed off the top of the cake so all the cake is the same color and provides greater contrast against the color of the filling.

Lime Genoise
Make this recipe twice. You can try doubling it, but it might be more difficult to get the final batter well-incorporated without deflating the volume of the eggs, so I don't recommend it.

3 tablespoons cooled browned butter (Take 4 tablespoons butter, heat over medium in a pan with lid partially on to catch spatters. Allow to simmer until sputtering slows and browned bits have sunk to bottom of pan. Remove and strain. You will have about 3 tablespoons of butter with a rich brown color and nutty flavor.)
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup sifted flour
1/2 corn starch minus one tablespoon
2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest

Mix vanilla and butter.
Beat together eggs and sugar on high speed until tripled in volume (about 5 minutes.)
Sift together flour and corn starch.
Whisk one cup of beaten egg into the butter until well mixed.

Sift half of flour mixture over remaining egg mixture and whisk together until incorporated. Repeat with remaining flour. Add butter mixture and whisk until blended. Stir in zest.
Pour batter into 9x2 inch round pan, greased and lined with parchment. Bake at 350 for 25-35 minutes until edges pull away from side. Note, standard baking pans are 1 1/2 inches high. This will still work, but your finished layer will be more domed on top.
Invert from pan immediately to cool on racks.

Soaking Syrup
This is a double quantity, enough for both cake batches from above.
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
.5 ounce Thai Basil (about 4 large sprigs)
4 tablespoons light rum

Mix together sugar and water over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Bring to boil. Remove from heat and stir in Thai basil leaves (large stems removed). Cover immediately. Cool, and steep overnight in the refridgerator. (Can be made up to a week in advance. If making ahead, strain out basil leaves and store in fridge.) Stir in rum before using.

Mango Curd
1 large (15-ounce) ripe mango, peeled and pitted
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
pinch of salt
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup butter, softened and cut into small pieces

Puree first four ingredients in food processor. Add yolks and process until combined. (Optional, but preferred: strain mixture through a fine sieve to remove pulp.) Transfer to top of double boiler, and stir continuously over a pan of simmering water until mixture reaches 170 degrees (approximately 10 minutes.) Remove from heat immediately to prevent curdling. Stir in butter, one tiny piece at a time. Chill overnight to thicken.

Coconut Cream Whipped Cream
2 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup coconut cream (not coconut milk)
2 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)

Beat cream until soft peaks form. Stir in sugar and coconut cream. Continue beating until stiff peaks form.

To assemble cake:
Cut both layers of cake in half horizontally, and trim top and bottom crusts so there is a cut edge to better absorb the syrup. Place one layer on a cake/tart pan bottom. Brush with 1/4 of syrup. Spread with 1/3 of curd. Brush 2nd layer of cake with some syrup, invert syrup side down onto 1st layer, and brush with additional soaking syrup. Spread 2nd layer with 1/3 of curd. Repeat with remaining cake layers. Be sure to use all the soaking syrup. Even if it seems like too much, be sure to use all the soaking syrup. I have a large plastic and rubber syringe I got at an art supply store in the painting section which makes a great tool for applying syrup. You can also use a pastry brush, silicone brush, baster, or spoon. Frost cake with cream.

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