Dec 28, 2009
Every time I looked at this recipe, I thought, "There's no way I can do this." I signed up to bring a cake to our office Christmas party, and I kept telling myself that if it didn't turn it, I'd just buy something. By the time people got to dessert, half of them would be sloshed enough that they wouldn't even notice, or so I reassured myself. (You might think that the thought of a houseful of sloshed lawyers would not be a reassuring thought, and ordinarily, you'd be right).
I put the picture first to stop the suspense. I did turn out a pine cone cake--of sorts. I did take it to the party. I did get lots of compliments, even though everyone turned out to be more or less sober, even at dessert time. But there were a few times when I almost threw in the towel and headed to the nearest bakery.
Friday night was the fondant. The frickin' fondant, as Jim and I called it affectionately. And as I called it unaffectionately as I was working with it. Perhaps I should have tried some baby fondant before trying this big hunk o' fondant, because I had no clue what it was supposed to look like, smell like, taste like, or handle like.
But I got all the ingredients together and dug in.
When I measured out the powdered sugar, I realized I didn't have quite enough, and, since I didn't have the energy to go get more, I decided I'd just add another 21 grams of cocoa to make up for the missing 21 grams of powdered sugar. I think this was a mistake because I don't believe (now, with the wisdom of hindsight) that they're interchangeable. I would have been better off just being a little short of sugar. My real problem was not adding enough liquid.
The mixture was very dry, even after I kneaded it in the bowl, and it didn't get manageable when I started kneading it on the counter.I was dubious about the state of my fondant, but I carefully wrapped it up and went to bed.
My daughter Sarah came over on Sunday, after the cake was gone, and looked at the pictures. When she saw this one, she started laughing hysterically and saying very rude things.
Then she asked me if she'd hurt my feelings. "Why no, not at all," I told her. "It's very enjoyable for me to hear my frickin' fondant compared to...."
"I'm really, really sorry, Mom," she said. But she started laughing again.
Saturday morning, I was feeling much cheerier, although I was still facing the cake that gets rolled up in a dish towel. I've heard about this technique, of course, but, seeing as how I'm only an Advanced Beginner and not yet Competent, I'd never done it.
As it turns out, it's not hard to do.
Cocoa mixed in boiling water:
A little bit of flour, sifted:
Whole eggs plus egg yolks, beaten for five minutes:
And, finally, stiffly beaten egg yolks folded into the chocolate-egg mixture:
The mixture gets poured into a half-sheet pan, and baked for about seven minutes. Hardly enough time to leave the kitchen.
Seven minutes is almost enough time to make the chocolate-almond ganache, which, compared to the rest of the elements of the cake, is a cinch. Heat cream, add a pound of chocolate, and some toasted almonds. The recipe calls for 60% to 62% cacao. I used part 68% and part 52%, and it turned out to be perfect. This ganache is incredibly delicious, and can be transformed into truffles, or something truffle-like if you have some left over.
The next step gets tricky again. The sponge cake, which has been rolled up in a dish towel, quietly awaiting its turn, gets unrolled. Surprisingly, there were no mishaps in this process, although I kept forgetting to breathe while I was doing it. Then I spread ganache on the cake. This looks awkward because I'm doing it sideways. I don't know why.
Next tricky step: I forget whether this is #4 or #5. Cut off part of the side and transfer it to the bottom of the cake to more closely approximate the shape of a pinecone. I actually looked at a real pinecone at this stage, and realized that if I had to save my life by disguising myself as a pinecone, I would not be successful. My cake was not going to fool anyone. I decided that--if the cake ever got finished--I would fend off awkward questions by announcing, "This is a chocolate pinecone cake." Then I slathered more ganache all over the pinecone.
At this point, it looked like it had no possibility of turning into an edible, presentible dessert. The ganache was very soft, and gave every indication of turning into a sloppy mess. But I still had enough faith to put it out on the front porch, where it could, I hoped, harden enough that I could do something with it.
Unfortunately, the "something" I was planning to do involved wrapping it with the fondant that I'd been trying not to think about.
I think that Rose was a little worried about my state of mind, seeing as how I'd been using words like "dread" and "crazy" in connection with the fondant. She sent me an encouraging email telling me that working with the fondant would be like working with soft Italian leather. I had to tell her that my fondant was more like industrial grade leather.
At first, it cracked and crumbled when I tried to roll it out. With the combination of the messy ganache-covered cake and the cracking fondant, I was pretty sure this project was doomed. As advised, I stuck the fondant in the microwave for a few seconds. This had no effect. In desperation, I put my hands under the faucet, shook them off, and started kneading the fondant. I couldn't believe it, but the drops of water were gradually absorbed into the fondant to make it more or less workable--workable enough that I ended up with the right-sized rectangle.
Not only that, but when I checked on the cake, the ganache had hardened enough that I thought I could handle it. In a second, I moved from despair to hope.
I draped the fondant over the cake, which, truth be told, looked more like a bullet than a pinecone, but why would I bring a chocolate bullet to a holiday party? Besides, the rows of pine scales, or whatever they are, would make it look more pine-conish and less bullet-like. At least I hoped so.
But I read the directions and looked at the pictures, and couldn't figure out how to make the lumpish thing I was working on resemble the adorable pinecone in the picture. Jim was apparently getting worried about my state of mind too, because he volunteered to take over making the V-shaped cuts. After a few rows, he tried to get me to take the knife back. "This is tedious," he complained. "Too bad," I said unsympathetically. "You're stuck with it." Then I started to cheer him on. "Good work, Jim! You're doing a great job!" I could tell he was having fun.
I added some pine needles, which I'd dipped in beaten egg white and dusted with powdered sugar. Not my idea, of course--it's in the book. However, I rejected out of hand the notion of making cute little red marzipan berries, and used perfectly good plastic ones instead.
Finally, I took the advice of my neighbor, Barb, a professional cookbook author, who reminded me that powdered sugar hides a multitude of sins, and I dusted the whole shebang with powdered sugar. Thanks, Barb--great idea!
When I walked into the party carrying the pinecone cake, people were very impressed that I'd made it myself. (Well, there was one smartass who asked me why I'd brought a porcupine). I didn't need a tasting panel, because when dessert time came around, I heard people saying things like, "Oh my god, you have to try this chocolate cake."
The taste is the part that Rose omitted from her description of the cake. With all the instructions about how to put everything together, and how to roll the fondant, she neglected to mention that this cake is not only a show-stopper (even when made by a fondant tyro), but it is, in my opinion, an even better example of pure chocolate deliciousness than the Chocolate Oblivion. Even the fondant, which Woody described as tasting kind of like a dark chocolate Tootsie Roll, and which I thought was the weak link in the chocolate chain, gave a perfect bit of texture to the cake and ganache combination.
The next morning, when Jim was reading the Sunday comics, he burst out in laughter. I looked up, and he showed me this Arlo and Janis cartoon:
I know just how Janis feels.
Posted by Marie at 12:01 AM