June 21, 2009

Birthday Treats

Last week, Will and I had our first ever encounter with a Princess Cake. The cake in question was the centerpiece of an office baby shower and Will brought home a slice to share. It was one of those "where have you been all my life?" kind of moments. Even for Mr. "I hate nuts in desserts" who loved every bit of it, even the Marzipan.

So, a few days later when I asked Will what kind of birthday cake he wanted he pondered aloud, " I wonder if there's such a think as a dark chocolate Princess Cake." Well, I told him, I'll see.

There isn't. At least not that I could find after a few extensive search sessions online. But after reading through a dozen or so Princess Cake recipes, I decided that I could take the basic components and make something a little different. We'll call it a Prince Cake.

Starting with a genoise batter cooked in a jelly roll pan, I spread a thick layer of pastry cream and then a thin layer of a chocolate ganache and then rolled it up and topped it with more ganache and some whipped cream. Looking back, the cake was far more complicated than something I would make on a regular basis, and I'm not that great at jelly rolls since I generally only make on once a year (a bouche de noel for the Winter Solstice) but for my lovely husbands birthday, it was a keeper. And the leftovers, ummm, gooey and chocolaty and divine.

But before I get to the cake recipe, I thought I'd throw in Will's Birthday Dinner. This is roughly based on a recipe from the newest Everyday Foods, a favorite go to resource for weekday meals for me, but with a few little tweaks. (It also makes a smaller amount, but could easily be doubled.

Shrimp and Corn Chowder.

4 slices of good pepper bacon
1 large Idaho Potato, peeled and cubed in small cubes
2 large ears of corn, husks and silks removed and kernels cut from the cob
1 1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup half and half
1/2 pound cooked shrimp, peeled
a handful of chives
poultry seasoning (any season salt type of thing would work, just add to taste)
Salt and pepper

Cut the bacon into chunks ( I like to use kitchen shears for this, so much easier!) and cook them in a sauce pan until crispy, remove and set aside. Add the potato and saute until they begin to soften then sprinkle in a tablespoon or so of flour and cook for another minute, stirring gently so you don't break up the potato. Add the milk, cream and seasonings (taste before adding too much pepper-remember there is pepper on the bacon) and cook for 10-12 minutes. Throw in the corn and chives and cook for a minute or two before adding the shrimp and bacon. Remove from heat and serve.

This was a great summer soup. Although it is cream based, it's still pretty light and the fresh corn adds a hint of sweetness to it. I'm sure this will become a regular fixture on our menu's while the corn is in!

OK, now the cake. As I said, this recipe is a little more complicated than a normal batter, but the result is very light and fluffy and paired well with the richness of the pastry cream and the ganache.

Ganache is pretty easy, it's really just a fifty fifty mix of melted chocolate and cream. Put both in a heat proof bowl in the microwave and buzz it for a minute at a time, stirring in between until most of the chocolate is melted, then stirring until everything is nice and smooth.

The pastry cream is basically a custard. Some recipes call for gelatin but I went with a egg custard. Bring one cup of milk, one cup of half and half and 2-3 ounces (depending on the sweetness you want) of sugar to a boil in a sauce pan.

In a bowl stir 1.5 ounces cornstarch with 2 ounces of sugar then mix in three egg yolks, whisking until smooth. When the milk comes to a boil, stir half a cup of the heated milk into the egg mixture, mix well and then add it all back into the pot of milk. Return to the heat and stir briskly adding a tsp of vanilla with it, within a minute or two you'll have a nice thick custard. Pour into a clean bowl and allow to cool, stirring regularly.

Onto the cake

Start by clarifying 5 tablespoons of butter (melt in a saucepan until the foam begins to brown then strain through a coffee filter) While the butter cools, set your mixing bowl over a pot of gently simmering water on the stove and whisk together 7 ounces of sugar and 5 large eggs (or six medium eggs) Stir until the mixture is just warm and the sugar is dissolved. Take the pan off the heat and start beating the mixture on medium high. You really want a stand mixer for this because it take a while for it to get nice and fluffy, about 12 minutes. It will double in volume and should fall in thick ribbons when you lift the beater from the bowl.

Mix about a cup of of the foam into the clarified butter then gently pour the it back into the bowl of foam. The trick here, and with the next step is that you don't want to deflate all the bubbles you whipped up. Now, sprinkle 5 ounces of flour and a pinch of salt onto the foam and very gently fold in. remember you don't want to deflate that nice foam!. Pour into a sheet pan that has been lined with parchment and back at 350 until the cake is golden and springy.

If you want a jelly roll, you'll need to dust a clean kitchen towel with powdered sugar and flip the cake and it's parchment over onto the towel. Then, using the towel as an aide, roll the cake up (so the towel will be rolled up with the cake) and leave it to cool a while. unroll carefully, peel off the parchment and add the filling before rolling it back up.

Now the thing about a jelly rolls is, they crack. It happens. It's a good thing most of them call for a topping to cover the imperfections. But you know what? It still tastes great. So don't sweat it, just add some extra whipped cream to the top. :)

Like I said, it's a little more fiddely than most cakes, but it is yummy. I had a thought half way through baking that a genoise might be a great opportunity to use roasted flour. Humm,
too bad the next birthday is mine, although I imagine that I'll be baking that cake too....

***Sadly, no picture of the finished cake. the camera is becoming more and more unreliable and the only pictures I took had big blurry spots in the center. I guess it's about time to retire the camera to kid use and get another. I will say that it rolled up beautifully but as it waited for dessert time it began to crack. If I was doing it again I would roll it back up with the parchment wrapped tightly around it and then pop it in the freezer until it was just about time to serve.

****Update**** Horay! I remembered that I cut the ends off so that the cake would fit on my cake stand and froze the ends so I was able to get a picture, although there is not much in the way of whipped cream on top, you get the picture :)