SHF #19: Coffee and Walnut Cake

2006-05-27

Ruth, a fellow Canadian food blogger, is hosting this edition of Sugar High Friday, with a theme ingredient of ginger. I must admit that while I enjoy ginger in its many forms (tea, candied, freshly grated, powdered), I don't often seek out sweet recipes that use it. In fact, I often find myself throwing out a hunk of the fresh root when it has shrivelled up before I have a chance to use it. For this month's event, I bought a jar of stem ginger in syrup before I even knew what I was going to make!

Coffee and Walnut Cake (2)My contribution comes from Desserts by Pierre Hermé by Dorie Greenspan. I was foolish enough to attempt this recipe on a weeknight, knowing full well that most Hermé recipes have multiple components with complicated preparations. I started with the base: a brown sugar japonais, which is a meringue cake made with ground almonds and walnuts. To intensify their flavours, I gave the nuts a good toasting, then rubbed off their skins and ground them in a food processor. And since the recipe for the coffee cream used 4 egg yolks, and the cake calls for 3 whites, I added an extra white to the meringue. The brown sugar was difficult to push through the fine-mesh strainer I had so I didn't bother. After the batter was made up, I turned it into a cake ring placed on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Thirty minutes in the oven gave the top a nice brown colour and left the cake soft and spongey. I let that cool while I prepared the other components.

My ginger in syrup came in little cubes so I wasn't sure how many I needed. The recipe says to cut enough paper-thin slices to cover the cake, so I just kept slicing until I filled a plate about the same size as the ring. The only thing to do for the jam (coarse cut orange marmalade) was to loosen it with a bit of water and heat it up briefly.

The coffee crème anglaise sounded simple enough but my troubles started here. Instead of using a cheesecloth like the directions suggested, I tried to be clever and strain the milk infusion in a single-cup coffee filter. The large quantity of ground coffee (£2, instead of the called-for espresso grind) prevented the milk from dripping very quickly. As I stirred it around, I ended up tearing a hole in the paper so I had grounds in my cup! Next, I tried wringing the torn filter but that just made a bigger mess. Finally, I took another filter and re-strained the infused milk, muttering all the while why the recipe couldn't be satisfied with using instant espresso powder alone. As I was heating the yolks, milk and sugar to make the custard, I dissolved some gelatin in cold water then put it in the microwave to melt it. Unfortunately, I heated it until it boiled but I let it cool down before mixing everything together for the coffee cream. After 10 minutes in the ice bath, it still hadn't thickened and I began to wonder whether the gelatin was setting properly. A quick search on Google suggested that the gelling power of gelatin is diminished if it is boiled. For insurance, I dissolved and melted some more gelatin (throwing in a pinch of instant espresso powder for good measure) and added that to the cream.

Coffee and Walnut Cake (1)For assembly, the japonais went in the bottom of the ring, followed by a layer of marmalade, a layer of sliced ginger, and the cream was poured over the top. It was quite runny and began to leak so I quickly put the whole thing in the refrigerator. The next morning, I discovered that the cream layer didn't set very firmly so it ended up like a thick sauce as it warmed to room temperature. I brushed the cake with a bit of melted jam and ginger syrup and garnished it with an orange rosette.

At work, my tasters thought the combination was unusual but quite tasty. Each of the flavours was identifiable but I felt that a bit more ginger would have been nice, perhaps some ground ginger in the cake, or a knob of fresh ginger in the cream infusion.

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