Baking is relatively new territory for me. I kind of threw in the towel a few years ago; a couple botched batches of muffins and a failed attempt at Mark Bittman's no knead bread (my results were sticky compacted concrete) were signals from the universe that maybe, just maybe, I should channel my culinary energies into cooking instead. So I did. Cooking just feels more natural to me. It is an art, after all, while baking is a science. And I've always gravitated towards the arts.
But this past winter, I decided to step up to the plate. I wanted to go top shelf and bake a fancy French chocolate cake. The sort of a gateau that you would find behind the shimmering glass display cases at Gérard Mulot in Paris. And the man I turned to for help? Why, Jacques Pepin, of course - the godfather of technique! Jacques Pepin's New Complete Techniques contains just the recipe I was looking for. Well, "recipe" is kind of misnomer, because four separate recipes go into this gateau.
This recipe starts with two 8-inch basic sponge cakes. The sponge cake is moist and delicious and it is a solid jumping point for multiple dessert variations in French cuisine. The tricky part is slicing each cake into three horizontal layers (step 10). Running a bread knife through the cake to produce evenly-cut layers is no easy feat, so take your time with it, and keep a close eye on the knife to ensure it's parallel with your work surface as you run it through the cake. And I do suggest blocking off a weekend afternoon to bake this bad boy, because it is involved. But totally worth it. Bon appetit!
for the sponge cake:
- 6 large brown eggs, room temperature
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup cake flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
for the ganache soufflé:
- 8 ounces chocolate, equal parts bitter and semisweet, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 tbsp dark rum
for the chocolate ganache:
- 12 ounces good chocolate, equal parts bitter and semisweet
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 2 to 3 tbsp water (optional)
for the glace royale:
- 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp egg white
- 3 to 4 drops fresh lemon juice
- Have the dry ingredients measured out and ready to go. Preheat the oven to 350° and butter two 8-inch cake pans. Dust each pan lightly with flour.
- Add the sugar, eggs and vanilla extract to the bowl of an electric stand mixture and beat until the ingredients are well-combined.
- Place the bowl over the burner for about 30-45 seconds and stir until the mixture is lukewarm. Return bowl to the electric mixture and beat for 10 minutes on medium-high speed.
- Sift the all-purpose and cake flours into the cake batter while continuously folding the batter with a large spatula. You'll want to gradually sift in the flour and fold to evenly incorporate it before sifting more. This technique will prevent lumps from forming in the batter.
- Use the same method to fold in the butter.
- Pour the batter into the cake pans. The pans should be about three quarters full. Transfer the cake pans to a large cookie sheet. Bake for 22-25 minutes.
- When the cakes have finished baking, remove them from the oven allow to cool for 10 minutes. Unmold the cakes onto a wire rack. The cakes should slide right out of the pans.
- If you wish to make the sponge cakes in advance, then you may wrap and refrigerate them for up to three days.
- Make a base for each cake by cutting out two pieces of cardboard. The bases should be the same size as the bottom of the cake pan. Wipe the cardboard bases with a damp cloth.
- Slice each cake into three horizontal layers using a big serrated knife. Set aside.
- To make the chocolate ganache soufflé, bring 1 cup of heavy cream to a boil in a medium saucepan. When the cream starts boiling, remove from heat an add the chocolate. Allow the chocolate to melt for several minutes, then stir until smooth. Pour in the rum and stir vigorously for several minutes.
- Put one of the cake layers on the cardboard base and use a cake spatula to spread the layer with the ganache soufflé. Add another layer and spread with more of the soufflé. Spread the soufflé onto the third and final layer of cake.
- Rest the cake in the palm of one hand and spread the sides with ganache soufflé using your other hand. All surfaces (except the bottom) of the bake should be evenly, smoothly coated with the souffle. Repeat steps 12 and 13 with the second cake.
- Place the cakes in the refrigerator or at minimum of 1 hour. Proceed with the chocolate ganache (glossy chocolate icing) and the glace royale (white icing).
- In a small saucepan, bring the heavy cream to a boil and remove from heat. Immediately add the chocolate and allow it to melt for several minutes. Stir with a whisk until smooth. Allow the mixture to cool until slightly tepid. Stir in the optional 2-3 tbsp water if the mixture seems oily.
- For the glace royale, put the egg white, sugar and lemon juice in a bowl and blend the mixture for a few minutes using a wooden spoon. Make sure the ingredients are evenly-incorporated.
- Place a wire rack on a sheet of parchment paper and place one of the cakes on the rack. Pour half of the chocolate ganache onto the cake and, working quickly, spread the ganache over the top and sides of the cake using a long spatula. Make sure the cake is evenly coated. Run the spatula along the bottom of the wire rack to remove excess chocolate. Repeat step 16 with the second cake.
- Spoon the glace royale into a pastry bag. Apply a straight line of glace royale across the middle of the cake, like drawing a straight line through the middle of a circle. Apply more parallel lines of the icing, spacing each one about 1 inch apart.
- Rotate the cake by 90°. Drag a long sharp knife across the top of the cake. Be sure you don't cut the cake - the knife should barely make contact with the chocolate. Wipe the blade clean with a damp cloth and create more parallel lines - they should be about 1.5 inches apart from each other. Repeat steps 18 and 19 with the second cake.
- After you've applied the ganache royale, allow the cakes to cool in the refrigerator before serving.
If you make this recipe, hashtag a pic to #spiceandhutch and post to Instagram, Facebook and/or Twitter. I'd love to see your culinary creations!