Welcome to this week's installment of "Tuesdays with Dorie" -- the Berry Surprise Cake from pages 273-275 of "Baking: from My Home to Yours," chosen by Mary Ann of Meet Me in the Kitchen.
Despite some problems, this was dangerously delicious and quite impressive looking! For the recipe, please visit Mary Ann's blog.
As written, Dorie's recipe calls for you to bake a French sponge cake or genoise in an 8-by-3-inch round pan. Then you slice off the top, hollow out the inside, and sprinkle with syrup. Fill the inside with a cream cheese & whipped cream filling, layered with fresh berries. Put the top back on and frost with billows of whipped cream, then decorate with berries. Wow! Two of my favorite foods, berries and cream!
Since fresh berries are not in season here in Wisconsin, and I don't care for the expensive and mostly tasteless ones you can still buy in the store, I decided to go with frozen berries. I had a bag of frozen home-grown wild black raspberries, so I scooped out about 2 cups and made a fruit compote. At some point I realized that some blueberries had snuck into that bag too -- probably I dumped the leftovers from a bag of store-bought frozen ones in at some point and forgot about it. (Moral of story -- label your freezer bags! I'm getting better at that, I really am...)
At any rate, I added in a few tablespoons of raspberry jelly (all that was left at the bottom of the jar), about 1/4 cup of frozen red raspberry puree (also home-grown, from one of my neighbors), and some sugar. After the berries thawed, the mixture seemed a bit watery, so I drained off the liquid, thickened it with about 1/2 teaspoon of Sure-Jell no-sugar-needed pectin, and mixed it back into the berries. Voila! A lovely berry compote.
Next came the cake, and that was where the trouble began. I have never made a genoise before, though I've read about them in cookbooks and on blogs. I was really psyched to try one! The plan was to make a whole recipe of the batter, and divide it between two smaller 6-inch round springform pans. That way I'd have an extra cake to play around with. (By the way, if you want to know how big a pan you should use for half a recipe, multiply the original pan size by 0.707 -- the square root of one-half. If you want to bake a quarter of the recipe, multiply the pan size by 1/2 -- the square root of 1/4.)
For a genoise, you start by beating whole eggs and sugar together. I wondered if I should reduce the sugar, but was worried it would affect the cake badly. However, I consulted another recipe, Rose Levy Beranbaum's "Classic Genoise." (You can find a link to the recipe on this page - look for French Genoise.) Rose's recipe uses the same amount of eggs and about the same amount of flour/starch, but only 1/2 cup of sugar -- so I went with that. I took another idea from Rose's recipe and used clarified, lightly browned butter. Then I warmed up my eggs and beat the h*** out of them! The whole process must have taken about 15 minutes using my hand-held power mixer -- with a couple of trips back to the hot water bath to warm up the eggs again. They were lovely! I wish I'd taken a picture. Pale golden, densely foamy, almost at the "soft peak" stage. They didn't form a ribbon when I raised the one whisk beater -- more of a thick column of egg foam that slowly, slowly poured back into the bowl and formed a little mound before subsiding. I think I got that part right.
I took another hint from Rose and took out some of the egg foam to mix with the melted butter. Good thing I had the hot water bath still around, because the butter had solidified. (We're keeping the heat down, and I still hate to think of the utility bill...) Now it was time to sift the half the flour on top, add the butter, and then sift the other half on top, folding in as you go. Here's where I blew it. I kept spotting streaks and lumps of flour in the batter, and so I kept folding. I was concentrating so hard on those bits of flour -- and then suddenly I paid attention to the batter again and saw that it had deflated dramatically. Oh, %@!*!^%*!
"Well, we'll see what happens," I said, poured the batter into the two pans, and baked it. They rose a bit but were still pretty flat and sad, as you can see below.
So I changed my plans a bit. I trimmed off the rounded tops of the cakes, and also the thin crusts on the bottom. I made a whole recipe of syrup and brushed nearly all of it onto the two cake layers. The trimmings tasted pretty good! Dense, yes. A bit dry, but that's what the syrup is for. But there was a nice nutty/buttery taste from the browned butter. Hm, this might work.
Oh, here's the liqueur I used for the syrup. Good stuff!
Then I made just half of the recipe for the filling, since I was using a smaller pan. Some folks had mentioned on the "Problems & Questions" forum that they thought the filling was a bit tart, so I doubled the sugar. Since my cake now wasn't going to have any sides to hold the filling in place, I also dissolved 1/2 teaspoon of unflavored gelatin in the last couple of tablespoons of syrup and added that. Oh, and I used Neufchatel instead of cream cheese -- it has a bit less fat.
Then I lined the sides of the original pan with some lightly greased wax paper and started layering in the components -- syruped cake, filling, some fruit compote (I had a bit left over), the rest of the filling, a top layer of syruped cake. The cake chilled for about an hour. Here's what it looked like after it came out of the pan.
Then I whipped up 2/3 of a cup of heavy cream with some vanilla-flavored powdered sugar, 1/2 teaspoon of unflavored gelatin dissolved in 1 Tablespoon of water, and another 1 1/2 teaspoons of liqueur. The compote kind of bled into the whipped cream as I put it on the sides, but I decided to just pretend it was supposed to be that way. And it did look pretty! Then came the fun part -- I pulled out the cake decorating kit I'd recently purchased and used the decorating comb and a couple of decorating tips to "fancy up" the cake. This was my very first time with decorating, so it was a little rough -- but all the same, it was absolutely amazing how much fancier the cake looked!
And it tasted really great, too! OK, the cake was still a little dense, but everything else was fabulous! So my story has a happy ending. And by the time fresh berries are in season, I hope to have figured out how to make genoise. Maybe.