Monday, July 11, 2011

The art of cake-assembly

French is such a strange but beautiful language. Sometimes, they say things in a straightforward manner that I find it alarming, especially after being used to their subtle English expressions. Other times, I just wonder at how they have a word for everything. Particularly in french pastry.

The French differentiates a bread bakery (boulangerie - person: boulanger) from a cake pastry shop (pâtisserie - personpâtissier). They also set apart a chocolate shop (chocolaterie - person: chocolatier) and an ice cream parlor (glacerie - person: glacier). In pâtisserie, there is:

1. The making of the different types of cake bases: Biscuits - person: biscuitier
2. The assembly of the cakes: Petits Gateaux/Entremets - person: entremetier
3. The mending of the ovens: Four - person: fournier
4. The making of croissants, puff pastry and tart doughs: Tour - person: tournier

No one ever makes the entire product on a given day. Sure, you can be rotated between the stations, but on average each stay would at least be a few weeks long. During the internship, I've gone through chocolaterie/glacerie, tour, biscuits, petits gateaux and now, entremets. I guess the reason why they have so many stations is because each part of the cake requires a different set of skills. A person can be good at making croissants and rolling doughs (which needs A LOT of muscle strength) but not as detailed in assembling and decorating cakes. Or a person knowledgeable and skilled at making different cakes bases may not be as good as a judge in tempering, spreading and cutting chocolate decorations. The french pâtissiers want their product perfect (or close to it) and so weirdly enough, the assembly-line type of system works.

I'm scheduled to be in entremets for two weeks and after my first, it's hands down my favorite station of them all. In the morning, I decorate the large square or circular cakes and tarts. In the afternoon, I help prepare ganache and creams and assist my chef de partie (station leader) in assembling the cakes. There are so many components to assembling cakes and if you're not careful, so many things can go wrong. Excited with all the new things I've learnt and observed, I decided to practice them on an Opera at home. A green tea Opera.

So from my observations, here are a few tips:

  1. For the joconde, it's good to heat the eggs and sugar over a bain-marie until it's warm to the touch. This gives the eggs and the overall cake more volume. For even more volume, the egg whites are beaten to stiff peaks with the sugar added in 3 additions: in the beginning, when they form soft peaks and towards the end. A failed joconde is a joconde that's dense and hard. I was quite happy that the joconde this time came out fluffy (not like the last one I made at school, haha)
  2. For the buttercream, as it is half of the recipe from my old post, heat it over the bain-marie for 1.5 mins or so (it looks smooth like marshmallow cream quicker). Otherwise, you'll scramble them (which happened to my first batch :D ooops!).
  3. For the ganache, make sure that the cream is boiling well (with big bubbles). Otherwise, the ganache will split. Stop whisking also once it looks smooth.
  4. When using a metal spatula to smoothen the last layer of buttercream, it's easier to finish off with moving the spatula from the bottom part of the cake to the top (not from the sides, corners or top). Don't hesitate as this will create the bumps.
  5. To unmold the cake, if you don't have a blow-torch, you can use a hair dryer. Put the cake on a cylinder-shaped item, set the hairdryer to the highest heat and heat the bottom half of the mold. Slide the ring from the sides. If the mold ring is not coming off, don't force it. Reheat again.

Green Tea Opera
makes a 3-layer 12cm square cake

Green Tea Joconde
adapted from here
makes a 31x35cm cake

3 egg whites
15 g caster sugar
112 g almond meal
1 cup icing sugar
3 eggs
35 g flour
1 tbsp green tea (matcha) powder
22g butter, melted and cooled

  1. Preheat oven to 220C and line a jelly-roll pan with parchment paper.
  2. Mix the flour and matcha powder.
  3. In a medium bowl, with a handheld (or standup) mixer, beat egg whites and caster sugar until stiff peaks (see tips #1). Set aside.
  4. In another medium bowl, heat eggs and icing sugar over a bain-marie, whisking all the while (see tips #1).
  5. Once it's warm to the touch, take out the bowl and with a handheld mixer, beat until light and voluminous (around 3 minutes)
  6. Sift in the flour-matcha mixture and beat on low speed until the flour is just combined.
  7. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the meringue into the almond mixture.
  8. Fold in the melted butter.
  9. Pour and spread the batter into the baking pan.
  10. Bake for 5-9 minutes or until springy to the touch and lightly brown (mine took 8 minutes).
Soaking Syrup

100ml boiling water
50g sugar
1tbsp matcha powder
splash of kirsch

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.

Green Tea Buttercream
adapted from here

2 egg whites
1/2 cup caster sugar
170g unsalted butter, cut into a few pieces, room temperature
1.5 tbsp match powder dissolved in 1/8 cup of bowling water

  1. Heat egg whites and sugar in a bowl over a bain-marie, whisking all the while (see tips #2)
  2. Once it's smooth like marshmallow cream, remove the bowl and beat with a handheld mixer until cool (about 3 minutes).
  3. Beat in the butter, little by little, until smooth.
  4. Once the butter is in, beat on medium-high speed until it is thick and very smooth, about 5 minutes. It's okay if it curdles or separates during this time, just keep beating and it will come together again.
  5. Gradually beat in the green tea on medium speed until it is all absorbed
  6. You should have a shiny, smooth, velvety, green buttercream.
Chocolate Ganache

100g dark chocolate, cut into pieces
100ml whipping cream

  1. Heat cream until boiling (see tips #3) and put the chocolate pieces in a bowl.
  2. Once it's boiling, pour the cream over the chocolate.
  3. Whisk continually in the center until the mixture turns smooth and glossy.
  1. Cut the joconde according to the size of the square mold ring and make 3 pieces.
  2. Line the bottom of the mold with parchment paper and place one piece of the joconde.
  3. Soak well with the syrup.
  4. Spread about 1/3 of the buttercream over this layer.
  5. Top with another piece of the joconde.
  6. Moisten the joconde with the syrup.
  7. Pour about half of the ganache over the second layer.
  8. Top with the last piece of joconde. Moisten this layer with the syrup too.
  9. Spread buttercream on the last layer. Smoothen the surface (see tips #4)
  10. Freeze the cake.
  11. Once firm, unmold (see tips #5) and pour the remaining ganache over the cake (you can re-melt it over a bain-marie).
  12. Smoothen with a metal spatula.
  13. Freeze the cake.
  14. Once firm, cut the sides (the secret to a neat finish)


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