Sunday, May 20, 2007

a golden birthday cake

We were recently asked to prepare a special birthday cake for a dear friend's surprise birthday party. The cuisine at the party was to be traditional Italian, and we thought the cake should match... so we embarked on a creative journey which resulted in the cake pictured to the right.

The cake itself is a brown butter genoise-- a traditional Italian cake which is thought to have originated in Genoa. Genoise cake does not use any leavening agents, but rather relies on the air trapped in the beating process to give the cake its traditional sponge-like texture. When making a genoise, the baker whips the whole eggs to incorporate air, as compared to more traditional French or English sponge cakes in which the egg yolks and whites are beaten separately. The resulting texture of a genoise is slightly drier, which lends itself well to soaking in liqueur-infused syrups.

In preparation of this particular cake, we baked our genoise in sheet pans, and soaked them in a simple syrup infused with Chambord raspberry liqueur and vanilla.

Knowing our friend, and in speaking with her husband who was throwing the elaborate surprise party, we felt it necessary to incorporate fruit into the cake. To that end, we decided upon pears and raspberries. We slowly poached the pears in Italian dessert wine and spices, chilled them, and thinly sliced them on a mandoline. The poaching liquid was reduced to the consistency of caramel, and then used to flavor a traditional egg-based Italian buttercream. Fresh raspberries and vanilla paste were slowly cooked to the consistency of preserves, strained to remove the seeds, and chilled.

To assemble the cake, we cut the soaked genoise into strips, layering on the raspberry-vanilla preserves, poached pear slices, and caramel buttercream. The strips were then set on their sides, and rolled into a spiral so that when the cake was cut, the layers appeared vertical.

The cake was covered with a bittersweet chocolate ganache, and topped with a bouquet of hand-modeled bittersweet and white chocolate roses and leaves. The leaves themselves were brushed with edible gold dust, to give them a celebratory sheen as well as create some contrast against the dark canvass of ganache.

As a prelude to dessert, following dinner, we also prepared some hand-candied mission figs which we enrobed in bittersweet chocolate... but more on those in a future post!

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