June 10, 2008
A cake for my honey
I did it again. I went ahead and made a cake. Officially, it is called a "banana-chocolate mousse cake with chocolate ganache" birthday cake for Daniel. Unofficially, it is called a bitch.
N.B.: There are almost 2 lbs of chocolate, in various forms, in this cake!
It is truly a delicious and beautiful cake and worth the effort. But it did take me all day.
I did it in stages because let's face it, who likes to be in the kitchen from morning til night? I will list each phase in the order in which I made it, with a few baker's tips thrown in for you. But, I cannot reprint the actual recipe as it could be a breach of trust between me and my pastry boss (we make this cake at work). And I really, really like him.
1. THE CAKE
I used two 9-inch cake pans, one of them filled with twice as much batter as the other (I needed to end up with 3 layers and had only two pans). The recipe is for a German chocolate cake. It has 4 oz. of sweet, dark chocolate, melted. I used the bulk chocolate from Fresh Market. At work we use Callebaut, a very good Belgian chocolate, but this was a good enough substitue. It also calls for a cup of sour cream. I had made creme fraiche a few days earlier in preparation for this.
Then it's a pretty straightforward cake recipe: flour, sugar, butter, vanilla, eggs, baking soda. It comes out very moist and on the light side in color.
2. THE CHOCOLATE MOUSSE
For this you need more of that good dark chocolate, melted. And, egg whites beaten til stiff. And, whipped heavy cream with powdered sugar (the p. sugar sweetens it but also makes it smoother). Add the melted chocolate to the egg whites and mix until incorporated. Fold the whipped cream in by hand last.
This alone could be a great little dessert, people. I could have stopped there. But this was a Birthday.
3. THE CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM
Remember my post about buttercream? Here it is again. That amazing and lovely thing that changes forms several times and is used as a smooth and even under-the-ganache frosting on this cake. To make it, refer to my earlier post, but it's basically egg whites, beaten until stiff with simple syrup that has been boiled and added while hot- slowly and carefully down the sides of your mixer to the whites, and then add soft butter in pats (and lots of it) and keep mixing at least 5 more minutes until it comes together beautifully, and looks shiny. You have to see it to believe it. I actually put it in the fridge and added the melted chocolate later.
4. THE CARAMELIZED BANANAS
These are what make this cake special. Take two bananas, cut them in half and slice them length-wise, then carmelize some sugar (boil it in water til it turns brown), then add a splash of cream to it, add your bananas and stir then turn off the heat. If you wait too long the caramel hardens and that's not what you want. You want a soft and gooey substance to coat the bananas.
5. THE GANANCHE
Ganache, I am learning, is a very useful pastry ingredient. We use it to fill cookies, to decorate cakes and cupcakes, we pipe it, both white and dark chocolate, and I think it just takes this cake from good to professional. It is easy to make, but a little tricky to use. It has to be warm enough to pour, but not hot. And you have to work fast or it will harden on you and you'll have to start over. It's worth the extra care you have to take, I promise. Chop your chocolate, boil some heavy cream and add it to the chocolate in a wide bowl and whisk until smooth and no lumps. Then it's ready to either set up (if you want to pipe or fill with it) or use warm for coating.
A drying rack set over a half sheet pan with an edge is what I used. Set your *chilled* buttercream-smoothly frosted cake (important: if it's not chilled the ganache will make it lumpy; hint: a long off-set spatula here will make your life much easier) on the rack and pour the whole bowl of ganache over it making sure it drips down on all sides evenly. What's left in the sheet pan will harden and you can scrape it off and save.
Layer of cake+ choc. mousse + bananas, Repeat...Buttercream frosting, then chill.
Coat with ganache. Decorate.
Tip: putting the cake together--if you brush each layer with simple syrup it makes the cake stay moister longer, esp. since this one requires refrigeration.
Tip: (learned the hard way) don't go all the way to the edge with the mousse or use too much as it will ooze out the sides and be difficult to stop.
Tip: make sure the bananas are completely cooled or they'll melt your mousse.
Tip: see the tip about the off-set spatula.
7. THE DECORATION
I piped some extra ganache in little squiggly lines, and piped buttercream swooshes using a pastry tip. But at work we have the coolest tip called a "St. Honoré" which is more sophisticated and fancy-looking.
This cake was a huge hit. But I can't say I'll make it again unless I'm in a professional kitchen and feeling very confident. Whew. But in my kitchen? Not likely to happen again anytime soon. Happy Birthday, honey.