Monday, August 27, 2007

With much gratitude to Sarah Phillips

My first génoise

Just one more post for August:

While it is often said that baking is a science, it is not a diminution to say that baking is very much artisanal. Like all things artisanal, baking requires an apprenticeship to acquire knowledge, both salient and subtle, that will ensure success. Usually, this starts as a curiosity in youngsters who gather around another family member.

No one baked in my family, so I came upon the task as blindly as I could. I remember how my mother showed off my margarine-based cookies - all spectacularly flat and threatening to become rock-hard discs as they cooled - to our next-door neighbours. She was proud and I was embarrassed.

I'd like to think I've progressed quite far since, and I owe it all to Sarah Phillips. On page 3 of her book, Baking911: Rescue from Baking Disasters, she says "Perfection is highly overrated." From this page onward, the cookbook was a riveting read! Suddenly I knew where I messed up: basically, at every step.

Ms Phillips' thorough explanations and exceedingly detailed descriptions are also evident on her website, where my apprenticeship continues to this day. Detailed information on an encyclopedic breadth of baking topics are available there. Recipes that Ms Phillips developed can be accessed by registering to be a forum member. There is no fee to register but donations to keep the site running are welcomed. Ms Phillips graciously answers questions posted by forum members, and equally fervent bakers offer more than their two cents as well. The atmosphere is warm and supportive. (Come on join already).

After Ms Phillips praised some of my recent baking attempts, she invited me to try any one of her recipes. I gushed that a mentor has taken notice, and decided to make this:

It's a génoise, and it's my first one. A description of the how's of génoise making is available here and the recipe is available to registered forum members via the first page of the website, Baking 911.

Ms Phillips' step-by-step directions and detailed descriptions of how each stage would look like helped me get over my fear of génoise, which has a reputation for being prone to failure. I really was fearing the worst with this one and yet here it is now, over two inches tall in one pan, no buckling, no sinking:

Best of all, it really was a flavourful cake that I was able to enjoy after brushing with some simple syrup and pairing it with a peach compote. (No pictures of the plated cake, sorry, my camera ran out of juice).

There's not much more I can add to the already well-detailed recipe, but here's little break-down of my process and notes:

I did not go with the usual butter-parchment-butter-flour routine in prepping my pan. Instead, I used baker's grease, which is all-purpose flour, flavourless cooking oil, and Crisco in equal proportions by volume, whipped together until light and fluffy. I made a batch some time ago, and have kept it in the freezer. Baker's grease doesn't freeze, and I usually just wrap my hand in a Ziplock and then grab a tablespoon or so of the stuff out of its container, then prep my pan. I make sure to coat the corners and the centre of the pan very well.

The whole-egg foam was formed after about 10 minutes beating with my 325 watt Kitchen Aid mixer. How ever did people manage to do this by hand?! Flour was then folded into the the foam in three additions, the first two not as thoroughly as the last addition.

Unfolded bits of flour are detrimental to génoise, and there will be pockets of flour if the flour is not thoroughly folded into the foam. I found the pockets were mostly present in the bottom of the bowl as well as in the foam itself.

To prevent myself from frantically folding ("gingerly" folding is recommended in the recipe), I sang a slow, plaintive version of "Moon River" which gave me a good folding pace.

That might have been too much information.

Anyhow, the batter was more than what I put in the pan. I stopped at 3/4 full, because I did not want it to overflow. Here's a picture:

I probably had enough batter left to almost fill the 8" pan that I used. The raw batter was consumed by my brave and voracious helper. Yes, I gave my taster plenty of warnings about Salmonella. Nothing like informed choice... still went for it.

At 25 minutes, the cake looked very puffed:

At about this time, I was patting myself on the back for not filling the cake pan. Maybe next time I will try adding the optional beurre noisette, which will deflate the foam slightly. Or perhaps, try a 9" pan.

I opened the oven and noticed that the centre was still somewhat jiggly so I kept the génoise in the oven for another 3 minutes. The cake was then taken out of the oven, cooled in the pan for five minutes, inverted on to a rack, then immediately inverted top side up and cooled completely. The domed top flattens when the cake cools; the lip that formed around the cake pan edges diminish as well.

Notes to myself, take them if you wish: 1) Baker's grease gives great release 2) Try beurre noisette 3) Keep up good folding 4) Maybe try a different size pan or use two 8-inch pans 5) Check for signs of doneness (no jiggling, sides pull away slightly from pan) since this took longer than the usual time to bake in my oven.


The Food Librarian said...

Beautiful! Thanks for the website link too. I'm going to check it out.

tooknap press said...

well done! aren't genoises fun?