Sep 28, 2009
I hardly know what to say about this cake. It's a special-occasion cake, not one that you whip up at 5:00 when guests are arriving at 6:00. And it requires passion fruit, which doesn't just fall off the tree in my part of the world, or frozen passion fruit puree, which is also not readily available in Minnesota. Still, if you're looking for a cake that will impress, stun, and amaze your friends, this may be it. Be warned that you do need to set aside two days for this project--the first day to bake the cake, and the second day to make the passion fruit curd, the passion fruit syrup, the white chocolate custard, and the white chocolate buttercream. Then you have to assemble it. When I described the process to our neighbors, Fred said, "Marie--you need to go to a bank, take out a loan, and buy yourself a life." In fairness (to me), Fred loved the cake. Also, he spent Saturday afternoon at the new football stadium, watching the Minnesota Golden Gophers lose to California, so I'm not sure who really needs a life.
On Day 1, you just make the genoise. As you may remember, I've been making genoises left and right since this project started, and if you've already got clarified butter in the freezer, you can practically make this with your eyes closed. I kept my eyes wide open, but that's only because I don't trust myself.
Day 2 brings the more complicated procedures. First, you have to figure out the source of your passion fruit. As I said, it's not native to Minnesota. Not by a long shot. You can buy wonderful frozen fruit concentrate at Perfect Puree. It's not cheap, and the shipping is even less cheap. (Because it's frozen, it can't dawdle from West Coast to mid-America). You can also order the same product from amazon.com for the same price. It is concentrated, so you get a lot, and there are interesting-sounding recipes on the website, but I can't get around the fact that the price may be off-putting.
The passion fruit curd is a typical curd recipe, made with egg yolks, sugar, butter and the puree, and not difficult at all, despite the recipe's continued warnings about the possibility of curdling.
The passion fruit syrup is even easier. The recipe recommends a vanilla bean, but, to my surprise, I realized that I'd finally gone through what I thought was a life-time supply of vanilla beans, courtesy of Melinda Pickworth, who came into a mammoth supply of vanilla beans herself and then generously shared the bounty. You get to let the syrup come to a rolling boil with nary a worry about curdling.
I did have trouble with the white chocolate custard base. The directions say to "melt the white chocolate and the butter, stirring often until smooth and creamy." I can tell you that you should stop immediately when it gets to the "smooth and creamy" point, and not continue to see if it will get smoother and creamier. It will not. It will curdle, separate, and turn into an ungodly mess that simply has to be dumped out. There is no picture of the ungodly mess because Jim backed away from the kitchen as I was swearing like a pirate. I asked him why he hadn't taken a picture of the ungodly mess so I could illustrate what not to do, but he claimed to fear for his life if he stayed in the same room. Really. Who would believe such nonsense.
It worked just fine the second time.
The white chocolate custard has to cool for a while before it can be incorporated, which gave me time to do some speed shopping with my friend Karen, who led me into temptation and convinced me that I couldn't do without a number of new purchases.
I got home, unpacked my bags and momentarily castigated myself for my spendthrift ways, and then went back down to the kitchen to complete the white chocolate deluxe buttercream, made with the custard base, cream cheese, butter, and a dollop of creme fraiche. There is no sugar at all in the frosting--it relies solely on the white chocolate for its subtle sweetness.
Putting it all together is what gave me the heebie-jeebies. Not only did I have to cut the cake in half, which is frightening, but also I had to figure out a way to plop it on a plate after I'd brushed syrup on the already fragile and thin layers of cake. Let's just say I didn't perform this in an artistic way, but the job got done.
The passion fruit curd goes between the layers as a filling.
And the buttercream on the sides and top. Some day I should take a cake decorating course. When I frost cakes, their shoulders always slope.
I would like them to stand up straight. But I was running against the clock, as I had invited neighbors over for dessert, and dessert-time was drawing near. The cake, sloped shoulders and all, had to go in the refrigerator for an hour to set. Then, just as the neighbors were about to walk in, I swirled on a few dabs of leftover curd. You could tell just by looking at it that this is no ordinary cake.
The neighbors went off on a passion-fruit tangent: what do they look like? how do you make the puree? where do they grow? do they have seeds? why are they called passion fruit? [Answers, which I looked up after I realized I knew nothing about passion fruits: round, yellowish to purple, about 3 inches wide, with a tough rind; cut the fruit in half, scoop out the pulp, and strain out the seeds; native from Brazil to Paraguay, and also grows in Hawaii and California; yes--about 250 small, hard seeds per fruit; it got its name from Catholic priests who noticed a resemblance between the passion flower and a crown of thorns, the ten apostles, and the nails on the cross; it is "passion" in the religious sense, not in the popular sense.]
But never mind these fun facts about the passion fruit. We're here to talk cake.
The genoise is nice and delicate, but the showstoppers here are the passion fruit curd, which is tangy enough to make you sit up and take notice and the white chocolate buttercream, which beautifully balances the fresh, tangy passion fruit curd. I like the dreamy, creamy white chocolate buttercream that's been used on several cakes so far, but this version is so delicious that you will want to lick off the whisk, lick out the bowl, and surreptitiously lick off any spots you see clinging to the plate. Of course, it's more complicated to make than the dreamy, creamy version, but it's dreamier and creamier. If anyone ever says to me, "Marie, just tell me what kind of birthday cake you want, and I'll make it for you," I think I might just point to page 173, and say, "I want this one."
Karen: "It was an excellent taste. All the various components work together very well. One of my favorites so far."
Betty: "It's deliciously tart. It may be the best one yet."
Jan : "Outstanding."
Fred: "It has an exciting taste. Sparkling, and robust."
Laurel: "The cake is a good vehicle for the passion fruit."
Jim: "I loved it--I think it's the best one so far, and I've liked all of them."
Posted by Marie at 5:20 PM