Friday, 10 June 2011

Génoise for a Change

Last night while we were all sleeping soundly, the temperature in Ottawa dropped from unbearably hot and humid to strangely cool and dry so like any dedicated baker, I rose at the crack of dawn, pulled on a sweater and headed to the kitchen to fire up the oven.

I was rooting through my pantry and being in a contemplative mood that early in the morning, I started thinking about how basic baking ingredients can vary widely from country to country and subsequently effect the texture and taste of the final product,  flour and sugar from France being two examples.  Flour in France is grown from different varieties of wheat, milled and graded by grind, not type of wheat and generally makes a cake with a lighter crumb.  Granulated sugar is produced mainly from sugar beets, not sugar cane like in North America and performs differently in certain recipes, especially those which require high temperatures.  It also has a bit of a funky smell in raw form.  

Over the years it has taken a lot of trial and error to adapt my favourite English recipes to foreign ingredients but in some cases, the recipes are not only changed but improved.  On a recent trip to Japan I brought back some bright white, soft wheat flour and used it to make a Matcha Chiffon Cake that was so tender and light it was like eating a cloud.

Because of its simplicity, I sometimes bake génoise to discover these differences...

Classic génoise contains four ingredientseggs, sugar, butter and flour. It's also one of the basic components of French pastry so it's really worth the effort to learn.  It's also quick to make, light, and delicious.

During my first few weeks at l'Ecole Cordon Bleu, we had to make it over and over again by hand, with a whisk! Thankfully, I now use my Kitchen Aid.  I've also added some salt and vanilla to the recipe which I think improves the flavour.

This recipe may seem a bit daunting at first but be courageous - once you've made it a few times it will be a breeze. 

I promise to post some cake recipes using some local seasonal fruits with génoise as a base so get that oven going!

Génoise in Canada
Serves 8
24-28 minutes 
The finished cake will be about 1.5" / 4cm high.

4 large eggs
1/2+1/8 cups (125g) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (20g) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (60g) all purpose flour, sifted
1/2 cup (65g) cake or pastry flour, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt

  • One 9"/23cm round cake pan 
  • Medium wire whisk
  • Large spatula
  • A bain marie or double boiler with a large metal or glass bowl, about 9"/22cm.  If you have a Kitchen Aid with a standard mixing bowl you can use it instead of a regular bowl
  • Hand held beaters or a stand mixer
  • Digital thermometer
  • Digital scale or measuring cups and spoons
Adjust your oven rack to the middle of the oven. Preheat to 360˚F /185˚C.

Bain Marie with a KitchenAid bowl

1.  Generously butter and flour the cake pan.  You can line the bottom of the pan with parchment if you like.  Set aside.

2.  Sift the flours and salt together and set aside.
Beurre Noisette Step 1

Beurre Noisette Almost Ready
3. Prepare the beurre noisette. Place the butter in a small saucepan on low heat. Once the butter is fully melted, watch and listen to it carefully.  The milk solids will separate and drop to the bottom of the pan and begin to turn brown.  The butter will spatter so take care not to get splashed.  

You'll know when it's ready when it takes on a caramel aroma, the milk solids turn medium brown and the spattering stops.  At this point you may think it's ruined.  It's not:  this is beurre noisette.  

Take it off the heat and pour it immediately through a fine sieve into a medium bowl.  You do this to remove all of the browned milk solids and any foam.  Add the vanilla, mix, and set it aside.

4.  Break the eggs into the metal or glass bowl.  Add the sugar and whisk it until well mixed.  Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and have your thermometer at hand.  Stir the mixture gently until the sugar dissolves and it reaches 45-50˚C/113-122˚F.  Don't allow the mixture to exceed this
Strained Buerre Noisette

temperature or you'll run the risk of making scrambled eggs.
Ribbon Stage
5.  Once the mixture reaches the correct temperature, remove the bowl from the saucepan and beat the mixture on high until it reaches the ribbon stage.  The ribbon stage is reached when: a.  the mixture becomes light yellow, b.  has almost tripled in volume and, c.  you lift the beaters, it should drip in a continuous stream onto the surface and take about 5 seconds to sink in and disappear almost entirely.

6.  Sprinkle 1/2 the flour mixture over the warm egg mixture. Gently fold the flour in with a spatula.    It should take about 3 minutes to incorporate the flour. Don't rush this process.  The egg mixture needs this time to absorb the flour.  

It's also important to be gentle so as not deflate the egg mixture.  Remember, there is no leavening other than the air trapped in the egg and sugar mixture.  If you're too rough you will deflate it and your cake will be dense and heavy.  
Once the flour is fully incorporated, add the remaining flour.  When the flour is completely incorporated, remove about 1/2 cup of this mixture and whisk it in to the beurre noisette/vanilla mixture.  Fold this into the egg mixture.  Pour and gently scrape the finished batter into the cake pan.
7. Bake for about 25 minutes.  When the cake is done, it will be light brown, spring back when touched and have pulled away in places from the sides of the pan.

8.  Remove the cake from the oven and immediately use a dull knife and go around the sides of the pan to detach the cake.  Flip the cake onto a cake rack or your hand and then immediately turn the cake over again so it's right side up. Allow it to cool completely on the rack.
Simple but Good

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