Hello everyone and Happy Spring! Have you missed me? Well, guess what? I've missed you too.
With (theatrical) shows for early 2015 successful and complete, I'm now enjoying some fantastic time off from the stage, anticipating the start of warmer-weather months. Part of this free time has included marathon binge-watching on YouTube of past seasons of The Great British Bake-Off, which is quite possibly the only reality TV show I could see myself participating in. I really want to meet the great Mary Berry (Paul Hollywood, not so much). Not being a British citizen, that ain't happening anytime soon, sadly. Watching the show typically leads to one thing and one thing only, however: getting my butt back into my kitchen, kicking up clouds of flour and sugar, looking for divine inspiration from St. Honoré.
The closest contemporary figure that could perhaps compare to this beloved patron saint of baking might be the endearing and charming Dorie Greenspan. I've long been a fan of Greenspan's, using her masterpiece book, Baking: From My Home to Yours on several occasions. In November, when I visited the Book Larder in Seattle, I picked up an autographed copy of her latest, Baking Chez Moi - another brilliant and much-lauded publication to add to my baking library (bakers alert: I would suggest you purchase one too... here you go). A few months back, I experimented with making her recipe for a Carrément Chocolat, the Simple Loaf: a chocolate loaf cake studded with salted chunks of dark chocolate, based loosely upon Pierre Hermé's Carrément Chocolat cake. While the taste was divine, I struggled with the loaf sinking slightly in the center, so I have bookmarked it to return to in the future.
Not being thrown too much by the "simple" recipe, the glorious photo of the Carrément Chocolat, the Fancy Cake gracing the cover of Baking Chez Moi tempted me to forge full speed ahead this weekend as I was feeling Bake-Off-inspired. The recipe itself may look daunting at first glance; like many of Greenspan's recipes, it spans a couple pages and looks involved. Greenspan has a lively and personable tone to her writing, however, that is kindly instructional and keeps the reading fun as you are preparing the recipe. This may also account for the instructions winding up a touch longer. I adore it. I feel as if she is right in the kitchen with me, guiding me along.
The cake basically consists of a simple, one-layer (8-inch) deep, dark chocolate cake, whizzed up in a food processor, then baked off and split horizontally and soaked with a simple syrup. Prior to even beginning the cake, I put together the chocolate pastry cream layer that goes between the layers, letting it cool and thicken in the refrigerator. While the cake is baking, bittersweet chocolate is melted down and spiked with slightly less than a teaspoon of delicate fleur de sel, or sea salt. The salted chocolate is then frozen into a brick in a plastic wrap-lined loaf pan in the freezer (to be broken up into shards for a decorative finish on top of the cake). Once the cake is cooled, split and soaked with syrup, the pastry cream is sandwiched between the layers and a fine slathering of seductive chocolate ganache enrobes the entire cake. The salted chocolate is quickly smashed up into shards and scattered across the top (I dare you not to eat a few extra pieces). It's a low cake, but it's stunning and dramatic. A true showstopper for big chocolate fans.
The taste is really out of this world, surprisingly without being too rich. It tasted like something I would purchase in a French patisserie. I was a bit disappointed that my slice did not cut cleanly, clearly delineating the layers between cake and pastry cream. With more practice and fine-tuning, I'm confident I can get this down. I will probably make two batches of the cake recipe to yield two cleaner layers next time. This would avoid the always unpredictable and sometimes harrowing horizontal cutting of one layer as well. Nibbling on a thicker shard of dark, salted chocolate at the end was a lovely extra treat, too. Who would have thought simply adding a touch of salt to chocolate could be so divine? Hermé and Greenspan, naturally.
If you're a chocoholic like yours truly and are feeling ambitious in the kitchen, you may want to grab a copy of Greenspan's lovely book and tackle this recipe for your next special occasion - or just anytime, like I did. You should really always have something chocolate in your refrigerator, right? You may be surprised at how honestly simple this fancy-looking recipe is.
(P.S. Out of respect for Ms. Greenspan and for the sake of space, I've refrained from publishing the recipe on my blog. If you do not wish to purchase the book yourself, check your local, friendly library for a copy. Otherwise, a simple search on Google may yield the publication of the recipe on another website. Enjoy!)
Happy Mother's Day!