Back in July I mentioned that I was working on mastering the French genoise. I am still at it and am more impressed than ever with the amount of technique and skill required to pull this off. When you consider it is just a basic recipe of eggs, a little sugar, a bit of flour and a smidgen of butter, you wonder how anything so simple could be so complicated.
Well, this could easily stand as a metaphor for any one of life’s lessons that come our way regularly. In this case it is all about knowing when to follow the rules: to recognize that tricks in fine baking have been passed down because they work. For example, bakers weigh their ingredients because proportions and formulas are the backbone of their craft.
In the case of the genoise, nothing could more essential to its success than the eggs. It is recommended that eggs and sugar be beaten over simmering water: the gentle heat further binds the eggs and sugar and creates the massive volume. Of course, I resisted this process until attempt number three, and it worked beautifully. Then you have to maintain its structure since there is no other leavener.
To deal with egg deflation, the other vital trick I learned was how to fold. I had to practice the process of correctly lowering a wide spatula into the batter, bringing it up, dragging it gently over the top, turning the spatula in a gentle folding motion down into the batter, and back up again. This slow folding is used to incorporate the flour and even more crucial, the butter—which lends richness and texture to a fairly dry cake.
With a description like that, why bother with such a dreary cake? Because it is lean and incredibly versatile. The genoise is regarded as the foundation in a world of sweet fantasies. So well structured, it can be torted, or cut into multiple layers. These layers can be brushed with a wild variety of syrups which soak into the cake, tailoring both flavor and moisture. The sky is the limit when it comes to accessorized fillings: curds, creams, chocolate fillings, you name it.
Finally, I actually achieved a cake tall enough to safely cut in half (so very proud). I brushed the layers with hibiscus syrup (made from hibiscus jelly) and heaped on an Italian style ricotta filling laced with almond and chocolate. Since I had extra chocolate on hand, the rest was drizzled across the top.
Words fail me. The genoise was amazing and got better the longer it sat. On average, I like a cake that is not loaded with heavy creams and butter, and this one hit the mark. It is not your average cake…
It is the thing that dreams are made of.
- 4 eggs, room temperature
- ½ cup sugar
- ¾ cup cake flour
- Pinch salt
- 1 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into chunks
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 8” or spray 8” cake pan, line it with parchment or wax paper.
- Melt the butter and set aside in a 2 cup bowl to melt further and re-thicken.
- Whisk the eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl over simmering heat, until the mixture feels lukewarm. In bowl of standing mixer using wire whisk attachment, whisk the eggs until they have tripled in volume, 5 to 10 minutes. They should be thick, creamy and fall from the whisk resting in ribbons onto the batter surface. Whip in the vanilla or other flavoring.
- Sift the flour while the eggs are beating. Re-measure to ¾ level cup and sift again with salt.
- Fold in the flour: for ease, pour the egg mixture into a wider bowl. Using a wide spatula carefully sift flour onto surface in 3 portions, To fold in the flour, carefully cut down and fold up and over, stretching the batter to lighten and incorporate the flour in about 10 turns each time – scrape the sides and bottom, too.
- Add butter to batter: re-combine the melted butter; it should be slightly warm and creamy. Gently spoon out about 1 cup of batter and fold into the butter until thoroughly mixed and light. Gently pour this onto the side of the batter and fold another 10 times to incorporate. The batter is at its weakest point: it may not be completely smooth, still have streaks, and begin to deflate. Fold cautiously.
- Pour batter into pan, gently smoothing surface from middle out. Tap the pan on counter a few times to remove lingering air bubbles.
- Bake at 350 degrees in center of oven 25 to 30 minutes, until the edges begin to come away from pan and the center springs back when touched and is golden brown.
- Let cake rest briefly, run a sharp knife around the edge of pan and cool 5 to 10 minutes on rack. Unmold the cake, remove paper from bottom and cool right side up. If not using same day, it can be held at room temperature overnight, well wrapped. Can be stored well wrapped – up to 3 days in refrigerator or in freezer for up to 2 months.
- If frozen, defrost wrapped cake at room temperature. It is ready to be sliced horizontally into 2 or 3 layers, filled and decorated.
Note: Above, you’ll note I am still resisting the weighing of ingredients. So far, I have good luck with careful measuring (I measure the flour twice). It seems to work deliciously!