Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Sweet Letters to a Daughter

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If there was ever any doubt that I was born to play with butter, flour and sugar (and really how, could there be) my mother's recipe box is incontrovertible physical evidence of my sweet destiny.

Mom's recipe box.

Packed inside are decades worth of recipes, by and large for pastry, that she'd torn from the pages of the Washington Post's food section.  Alongside the newsprint are hand written letters from my Omi, her mother, dense with details for German classics like Stollen and Butterzeug.  My grandmother signed the bottom of each international pastry missive:  Mutti, which only makes sense because a family recipe is a love letter, a message of comfort and abiding affection from one generation to another that endures long after the original baker has left us.

sweet letter from a mother to her daughter

Among the gems in my mom's collection is a business envelope re-purposed into the mother of all recipe cards.  The original intent of the California based non-profit's message isn't entirely clear but the business sized envelope has my mother's name and address manually typed in the center and the pre-printed return address reads "Christian Anti-Communism Crusade."  Mom presumably found the correspondence off-putting and crossed out her name and address and wrote a big fat lie, "Return to Sender  Addressee moved.  New address unknown."

She must have seen past her initial dismay at the letter (and apparently read it and tossed it.  The thing is sadly empty of it's anti-communist contents) and filled the untarnished surface of the envelope with detailed instructions for making a Gateau St. Honoré.  Like I said, incontrovertible evidence.

It's taken me years to find the courage to confront the emotional onslaught that is my mother's recipe box, every page is either laced with her hand writing or simply evidence of the great joy she found in surprising her family with gorgeous gastronomy. But now that I'm going through the brittle pages, one by one, scanning and preserving wonderful memories and buttery pronouncements of love and culinary aspiration, I am compelled to bake something from her prized collection immediately.  And it appears, the recipe for the birthday cake I requested for years as a teenager, a chocolate bombe swarming with glorious cocoa and almond spirals and filled with smooth, black as ink bittersweet chocolate.  It was a monumental pain in my mother's backside due to the labor intensive nature of the pastry itself and the added bad luck of Mittens the cat batting the cake off the counter on the morning of March 6th, 1986, just after mom had finally unmolded and added the finishing touches to the pastry albatross. There could be no better way to commune with Helga.

The original recipe

In honor of my wonderful mother, Helga, I give you an adapted version of "Jimmy Schmidt's London Chop House Chocolate-Almond Cake with Mousse Filling," a cake that's insanely decadent AND gluten free!

 I also ask that if you have it in your heart, contribute to my run in her honor to benefit the American Cancer Society because not a day goes by where I regret not sharing time with her in my own kitchen since she was taken by cancer.


For the cake:

9 eggs separated, room temperature
3/4  cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 cup Cacao Barry Extra Brute cocoa powder
14 ounces (two tubes) almond paste 
1/2 cup coffee + 1/2 cup sugar, heated together until the sugar melts (the original recipe calls for Amaretto, feel free to use either)
powdered sugar

For the chocolate filling:

The official description of the recipe is truly misguiding as it calls this filling "mousse" which is utter malarkey.  This is ganache, pure and simple.  There's not one thing about this filling that can claim relation to a mousse of any kind.

28 ounces Lindt 70% chocolate (the original recipe calls for Tobler extra bittersweet) chopped

My Omi's favorite chocolate!

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 quart whipping cream (unwhipped)

(This is per the original recipe but I ended up making another half batch so that the cake pan was more fully filled)


For the cake:

•Roll the almond paste between two sheets of parchment paper into a 9 x 14 inch rectangle.  Set aside.

•Line a jelly roll pan/half-sheetpan with parchment and spray with non-stick spray.  Preheat the oven to 350º.

•In the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the whisk attachment, beat together the egg whites, salt and cream of tartar until just foamy.  Slowly add 1/2 cup of the sugar and beat on high until you achieve stiff peaks but be careful not to over whip otherwise the egg whites will become dry and clumpy and difficult to fold into the remaining ingredients.

•Transfer the egg whites to a large, clean bowl.

•Add the yolks, remaining 1/4 cup sugar and vanilla to the mixing bowl in which you beat the egg whites (you needn't clean it after whisking egg whites in it) and  whisk on high until the egg yolks are pale yellow and ribbon when you lift the whisk from the batter.

ribboning egg yolks

•Stir 1/3 of the egg whites into the yolk mixture and then gently fold in the remaining egg whites.  Sift the cocoa powder over the egg mixture and fold into the batter until just combined.  Spread the batter evenly on your prepared jelly roll pan with a large off-set spatula and bake for 25 minutes.

Yummy batter.

•Place the rectangle of almond paste onto one end of the cake.  Using the kitchen towel to help you, roll the cake into a jellyroll and allow to cool completely.

•Using a medium sized bowl (or as the original recipe suggests, a 10 inch springform cake pan), cut the jelly roll into 1/3" thick rounds and line your chosen receptacle by dipping one side of each slice quickly into the coffee simple syrup (or amaretto) and line the bowl or springform, starting at the middle, with the jelly roll rounds, placing them soaked side down and tightly together.  Set aside.

lining my bowl with swirly happiness...and isn't it just a lovely coincidence that they look like "g"s?

For the filling:

•The original recipe instructs you to melt the chocolate and butter over a double boiler until melted and then immediately add the cream in three additions, gently stirring until well combined and then you pour into the cake-lined bowl or pan.  I prefer to place the chocolate in a large mixing bowl and then bring the butter and cream to a simmer in a large saucepan.  Pour the cream/butter mixture over the chocolate and allow to sit for a few minutes undisturbed.  Then stir the mixture gently until the mixture is smooth and totally combined.

•Refrigerate until set.  This takes a few hours.  Terribly frustrating,  I know.

 ***NOTE*** I ended up pouring in the ganache and finding that I still had quite a bit of cake left naked along the sides.  So I made another half batch of ganache to fill it up almost to the edge of the cake.

•Trim edges of the cake even with the filling.  Invert the cake onto a serving platter.  Use a blow dryer or heat gun to gently warm the sides of the bowl or cake pan to release the cake cleanly (but not so much that you melt the filling).

•I prefer NOT to finish the cake with anything since it's such a kaleidoscope of pastry as-is but the original recipe recommends you decoratively pipe whipped cream along the edge.
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