Lately I have been preoccupied with conquering the génoise and some of its many accoutrements. Similar to our sponge cake, génoise is considered the go-to all purpose cake in France.
I am very excited about adding a well-structured basic cake to my baking repertoire and the génoise is one of the legendary building blocks in French patisserie work. Beginning with the “simple” génoise formula, endless sweet options are attainable: individual cakes and glazed petit fours, molded madeleines and free-formed lady fingers; novelty filled rolls and stylish holiday logs; and of course stunning cakes for every occasion.
There are a few hurdles. The cake’s tight structure comes from a lengthy beating of eggs and sugar until it is triple in volume. A bit of flour is folded in and then a little melted butter is added on the finish. How hard can that be?
I’m learning a fair amount of precision, gentle handling, and adept folding are required to successfully pull this off, as the fragile eggs tend to deflate into a bewildering puddle. But, my goal is to create the perfect chocolate génoise for my daughter’s birthday in August. I have time to tinker.
With that I mind, I continue to crank out my own génoise creations. For the 4th of July, it was a strawberry cake soaked with orange syrup, slathered in whipped cream. A tad dense, but with all those goodies, no one complained.
Today I achieved another moderate success: an upside-down Pho-flavored plum cake accompanied by a head turning ginger-lemon pastry cream.
I’m not sure the cake would receive high marks in any French bakery, but the more I eat, the more I like it…especially the pastry cream; but for now I will not bore you with further cake details. You will be hearing more about the “génoise project”, as we lead up to the main event in August.
Today’s focus was all about running the pastry cream through its paces and testing a companion syrup for the cake. Pastry cream, or creme patisserie is a basic cream filling with endless potential. It is used to fill a variety of cakes, tarts, cream puffs and other pastries. Similar to a custard, eggs and milk are simmered to thicken, but now flour and cornstarch are added not only to thicken but to also strengthen and stabilize the custard for greater durability. Almost any flavoring or liqueur can be added to the cream to suit the desired effect and composition: vanilla, almond, chocolate, etc.
Since génoise can be slightly dry, complementary syrup is often brushed on the cut layers to moisten and provide additional flavor. However, my upside down cake was tricky enough with caramel glazed plums; I opted to pass on further slicing and filling.
Here, I thinned the pastry cream with additional ginger-lemon syrup to make it thinner and more pourable – a return to the custard sauce state. You will note how well it continues to hold its shape in the photo provided.
Following are basic recipes and ideas for flavored syrup and pastry cream.
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup hot water
- 1 Tbsp light corn syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla extract or other flavoring
In small pan dissolve sugar in water. Add syrup and bring to a boil. Simmer 2 – 3 minutes. Add flavoring and cool.
Orange: substitute orange juice for water. Add peel of ¼ orange to pan.
Ginger-Lemon Syrup: steep 1 ginger-lemon tea bag in 1 cup boiling water for 5-10 minutes. Use this infusion for the syrup water along with peel from ½ lemon and ½” slice fresh ginger, peeled. Proceed and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. Let cool and remove ginger and peel. The lemon strips can be used to decorate the cake, if desired.
- 1 ¼ cup milk
- 3 large egg yolks
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp vanilla, vanilla bean paste or other extract, or 2 tsp liqueur such as Grand Marnier
- 1 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature, cut into pieces
- Heat milk to near boiling, with the milk steaming hot.
- In small saucepan mix the egg yolks and sugar to combine. Sift the flour and cornstarch together and slowly add to the egg mixture, stirring to incorporate before adding more until a thick mass forms.
- Slowly add the hot milk to the egg mixture until it is combined and there are no lumps.
- Place pan over medium heat; while whisking bring mixture to a boil and cook briefly until it is thick.
- Remove from heat and add vanilla or other flavoring.
- Let cool 4-5 minutes and whisk in bits of butter until smooth.
- Place in bowl and cover surface with plastic wrap to avoid skin forming. Cool and store in refrigerator up to 3 days. Stir well to remove any lumps before using. Yield: a generous cup , suitable for filling a 9” cake
Ginger-Lemon Sauce, thin the pastry cream with ginger-lemon syrup to desired consistency.