Thursday, July 29, 2010

Don't mess with a Classic. Just be gentle.

Some things are just really good.

Some of these good things are just simple. That's what makes them great.

For example, Chocolate Génoise. It's a classic, simple and delicious cake. Whoever invented the recipe for génoise didn't leave much room for manipulation probably for a reason. It uses few ingredients and requires few steps. However, it is one of those recipes where technique is just as important as the quality of the ingredients. So, attention to detail is necessary. Be patient my friend.

Génoise is a type of Italian sponge cake that gets its lift from whipped whole eggs rather than chemical leavening agents (such as baking powder or baking soda). It differs from regular sponge cake in two main ways:

First, the egg whites are not beaten separately from the yolks before being folded into the batter. Instead, whole eggs are beaten with sugar and simultaneously heated over a double boiler or bain-marie until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture doubles or triples in volume. Heating to about 70 degrees C (160 degrees F) helps to denature or unfold the egg proteins, making them more vulnerable to whipping, more susceptible to foaming and capable of gaining maximum volume in the next whipping process. Unfolded egg proteins have their hydrophobic (air-loving) regions exposed, so they have a tendency to wrap around air and create bubbles. Learn more about egg foams here.

Second, génoise contains melted butter, whereas regular sponge cake gets its fat solely from egg yolks. This added butter helps to keep the cake tender while providing extra flavour. Did I have to say that though? Seriously. When does butter not add extra flavour? Never.

Sifting the flour is essential to obtain a smooth batter and prevent lumps from forming. It also helps the flour disperse and absorb faster into the whipped eggs so that less folding is required. This is a good thing because the more you mix the batter, the more air you will risk losing and the less amazing your cake will be. Pretty straight forward, right?

Loss in volume is inevitable when adding melted butter to your beautifully whipped eggs. It's not fair, I know. However, you can minimize deflation by stirring some of the batter with the butter separately before gently folding this mixture into the remaining batter.

Do not drizzle in the butter while beating the batter because this will rapidly distribute the fat around the air bubbles and guarantee a flat foam. This happens due to a greater affinity of fat for the air-water interface. Butter will compete and interfere with the adhesion of proteins to the air bubble surfaces. Why is this such a big deal? Well, fats lack the elastic properties of proteins and are unable to endure the air pressure of bubbles. As a result, they collapse during whipping or beating. This would negate all of the work you've done and make you get really mad at your butter. Nobody wants to be mad at butter, so just do it the right way and stay friends.

The texture of this Génoise cake is like a giant marshmallow. It springs back when touched gently while making a succulent squishy sound that is indicative of greatness. Unlike butter cakes, it has a strong crumb and holds together well after taking a bite. This strength lends itself to shaping, which is why génoise is commonly used as the base for jelly rolls or roulades. For this Chocolate Blueberry Génoise, I've mixed in some fresh blueberries, which sink to the bottom of the cake while baking and transform into sweet, succulent jewels. The addition of brown sugar gives the cake richer flavour that highlights the chocolate flavour. A simple dusting of cocoa powder and a few extra blueberries lends an elegant touch to this classic dessert.

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