Mar 8, 2010

Chocolate Apricot Roll with Lacquer Glaze

This cake showed me how far I've come since I started baking Heavenly Cakes. Although this cake has five different elements, a name that I didn't know how to pronounce six months ago (biscuit = bees-KWEE, not biskut), a filling I've never heard of (lekvar), another trip to the liquor store to buy yet another bottle of some expensive alcoholic liquid), and the jelly-roll technique I've done only one other time in my life, I was not even daunted when I looked at the recipe. My only thought was, "This is not on the Quick-and-Easy list." (It's not, in case you're wondering). I've learned that it's possible to get yourself in a zen-like state where you are methodically measuring, boiling, adding, pouring, and so forth, without even worrying about whether it's going to turn out all right. I've also learned that it takes way more than four hours to make this cake from start to finish.
I got home from having lunch with friends around 2:00 on Saturday. I had to leave by 6:00 to have a pre-play dinner with other friends, and I thought it would be nice to invite them back to our house after the play for cake, so at 2:15, I started to get into cake gear.
First, the apricot ganache filling, which is just Rose's tried-and-true food processor method of making ganache. The only difference is that it's flavored with a bit of apricot brandy.
Now I take a deep breath and go on to the lekvar. To my dismay, I see that I've ignored the fact that the first thing you have to do is soak dried apricots in water for two hours. A little doubt about being able to finish this cake by 6:00 began to creep into my consciousness, but I tried to ignore it.
I put both the apricots and the doubts aside, and went on to the sponge roll, AKA the biscuit roulade.

This is another one of those cakes that undergoes some miraculous chemical transformation--from the rich golden yellow of egg yolks to a thick, pale yellow batter. All it takes is five minutes of mixing on high speed.
After the flour is added in, you carefully fold in the egg whites, which you've beaten in another bowl. Actually the cake comes together pretty easily, and then it just has to be smoothed into a jelly roll pan and baked for 13 minutes.
Now I'm thinking maybe it's possible to make my 6:00 deadline after all. I transferred the cake to a towel without any problem, peeled off the parchment paper, and sprinkled on some sugar.
I wrapped it cozily in a tea towel, and checked the progress of the apricots, but they clearly weren't ready.
It was the lekvar that stopped my progress dead in its tracks. If you're short of time, you should definitely take Rose's suggested shortcut, which is dispensing with the homemade lekvar, and just using apricot filling or preserves. The lekvar recipe may not be 100% authentic anyway, because traditional lekvar is made from fresh fruit at the end of summer (or so my Google sources tell me), instead of reconstituting dried apricots. On the other hand, the lekvar has a very intense taste, so I'm not sorry that I made it--just sorry that I didn't read the recipe more carefully and start soaking the apricots before I went out for lunch. If I'd done that, I might have had a cake to come home to at midnight. Meanwhile, I made the apricot syrup, a process that Jim apparently didn't memorialize. Well, not too exciting: mix sugar, water, and a soupcon of apricot brandy. Boil. Remove from heat.
I decided that I might as well wash my hair while I was waiting for the apricots to soften. If I couldn't give June and David some chocolate apricot cake, I could at least be well-groomed. With clean and shiny hair, I checked the apricots. They were at last ready to be transformed into lekvar (which is, by the way, just the Hungarian word for jam).
It was 5:30 by this time, and I barely had time to change into non-floured and non-lekvared clothing. Dave and June picked us up to go to Bryant-Lake Bowl for dinner. I challenge readers to tell me about another bowling alley that serves an entree like I had for dinner: chickpea pilaf over a bed of steamed mustard greens. I was very apologetic about the lack of cake for late-night dessert, especially since I had spent the entire afternoon working on the dang cake.
The next morning, I unwrapped the cake. I foresaw a bad end result. It did not want to unroll, parts of the cake stuck to the dishtowel, and one end felt hard and stale.
I lost the zen sense I'd had the day before and became pouty and resentful. Why had I spent the entire day trying to bake a cake that had way too many steps and wasn't even going to taste good anyway? And why did I still have to try to put it together and make a glaze as well? My mood wasn't enhanced when I took the lekvar out of the refrigerator and found that it resembled apricot-flavored concrete. It needed a machete, not a spatula. And the ganache, which had been so smooth and creamy yesterday, was today just a hard mass of chocolate.
I added water to the concrete, and was able to drop globs of it onto the cake, and take a stab at spreading it.
And the ganache got to spreading consistency with just a few quick zaps in the microwave.
But see how the cake now has all those odd little fingers sticking up on the side?
It wasn't hard to roll up again because it had permanently adjusted to its rolled-up position, and had no desire to become flat again.
Only one thing left to make: the lacquer glaze. This is the glaze that's on the cover of Heavenly Cakes and that people have been buzzing about. It's not at all hard to make, but it does require sieving--a step I'm always tempted to eliminate. But here's proof that I didn't.
Pouring it over the cake is not a neat and tidy procedure. You lose a lot of glaze, as it falls off the cake and drips from the rack. You can rescue some of it, but not without getting chocolate all over your hands. Then I went shopping, leaving Jim detailed instructions about how he could give it away to anyone who happened by. He had to cut off the end slice and then he had to apologize for the cake, explaining that it was probably not up to my usual standard because of a series of events, which he was not to go in to because it would be too boring. (And yet the fear of being boring has not stopped me from telling you, has it?)
I served more cake when I got back from shopping. To my surprise, it was actually good. Not just "good considering that it was stale and misshapen," but actually good. The apricot-chocolate combination was dynamite, and the total of 3 teaspoons of apricot brandy really perked up the taste of everything. It wasn't stale at all--the cake was tender and flavorful. The only problem was that I couldn't feel aggrieved any more. And here is the lesson I learned: even though these recipes are detailed and specific, there's actually quite a lot of wiggle room. It's not impossible to ruin one of these cakes, but it's harder than you might think.

Mary: "The cake is very good, but it looks like it was a lot of work."
Karen: "It presents very well on the plate. It has the flavor of something made by a really fine pastry chef."
Jim: "I like the taste of the apricot--it's distinct, but subtle. The layering brings out the combination of flavors nicely."
Sarah: "The chocolate filling is amazing. The apricot is delicious."


faithy said...

Marie, i thought your cake looks great..the first photo of the sliced cake looks very professionally done and very well rolled up! :) Glad that you liked the cake in the end! :D

I didn't dust any icing sugar though, i thought it was only suppose to be for those with non-stick liners? I used parchment paper so i thought there wasn't a need to dust with icing sugar. Maybe i read wrongly. :p

gartblue said...

marie dear .. it looked gorgeous alright and the glaze was pretty .. and I love the picture of those freaky "fingers" .. very funny post. and i'm so impressed this turned out well for you, despite its hazardous journey ..

I've decided to skip this cake with the lack of dried apricots and the abundance of flying dust due to the house renovation.

Melinda said...

Zen Marie, I bet you were cross not to get the cake done in time. It is this kind of thing that I learn the most important lesson...plan ahead or at least read the direction through a few times first! It seems to be a lesson I quickly forget and need to re learn a lot too! I am always amazed what didn't sink in the first time I read it through.
(I love your tea towel! Nice to see it being featured!)
The cake looks delicious and with the piano glaze on it it does look pastry chef professional. It is a shame your friends missed out on the wonderful cake you almost made for them!

Mendy said...


Looks great! Sorry you missed out on the extra pouting.

I see this place in midtown advertised all over:

Yet Another Anna said...

I hear ya on the whole 'wiggle room' idea. Thank goodness.

Good ingredients do tend to combine in tasty ways. (Luckily my family is more interested in how things taste than how they're presented.)

Patricia @ ButterYum said...

Great job Marie - I love that you weren't intimidated by the recipe at all. Not only were you not intimidates, but you were confident enough to attempt this cake on a limited time schedule - impressive!!!

Sorry to hear about your apricot issue. You might have been able to speed up the initial soaking process by chopping them into small pieces and steeping them in warm water before proceeding with the recipe.

In my opinion, when making a roulade or jelly roll, the cake edges always tend to be dry and not very flexible, so I always trim them off before rolling. I also allow the surface of the cake to cool a bit before sprinkling with powdered sugar (should still be warm and flexible, but not steaming hot which will melt the powdered sugar into a sticky mess).

Hubby and I aren't crazy about apricots, so I'm not planning to make this cake - maybe a variation though.


Patricia @ ButterYum said...

PS - lovely tea towel!

Nicola said...

I hear you on the apricot concrete!

I have quite alot of it should I ever need to relay some floor tiles or patch a few potholes in the road.

Your cake looks great! Well worth the effort even if it didn't quite make the right time.

Monica said...

Wow, everyone had such different takes on this cake... I'm wondering what I read, since mine (with the exception of an oops moment) went without a hitch and to think i was going to take a pass on this one.

Regardless I have to agree with everyone.. it does look fab, specially made in such short time.

Alpha Baker Joan said...

I think this looks wonderful - when I saw the picture of the slice, I was immediately intrigued, and I would love to make it. Cutting off the sides would seem to make a great addition to the task, as suggested by Patricia. Thanks for your trial run. It will help us all.

NancyB said...

You've given me a good take-home lesson about the wiggle room in these recipes--I get very focused on following all the directions, and lots of times the cake will come out OK anyway.

Vicki said...

"Then I went shopping, leaving Jim detailed instructions about how he could give it away to anyone who happened by." Oh my gosh, this has me howling! Just last night a friend asked me what I do with all these cakes...."Oh, give them away to all sorts of people...."

I missed the two hour soaking of the apricots as well and debated about going back to the store, again, for jam but Levkar beckoned. I finished baking at ten p.m. In spite of it all, this cake has a definite wow factor.

Hanaâ said...

Enjoyed reading your post as usual. One of my thoughts when making the cake (and doing the extra step of heating the eggs + sugar over hot water which prolonged the process) was, "how can something that takes almost 20-25 minutes, only go into the oven for 7 minutes? This better taste good." Luckily, it did. I skipped the roulade aspect, and made it into a layer cake for our wedding anniversary :o)

Jenn said...

Ah I regretted missing out on this cake. Actually, I made the lekvar on Saturday but didn't feel well on Sunday so decided to skip the cake. Good thing Rose said the lekvar last a while refrigerated, so I'd have to make this cake on one of the free choice week :). Does anyone know why the color of lekvar in the book is so much lighter? My lekvar turned out the same color as Marie's? I use california dried apricots (don't know if this matters).

Jenn said...

Oh forgot to comment on Marie's cake :). Marie - congrats on becoming an expert baker! I love your comment about how far you've come, and I totally agree. Love the picture of the sliced cake, looks super professional! You are on your way on opening your bakery (bread and cakes) upon retirement :).

Hanaâ said...

Just wanted to let everybody know that I will be skipping the next 2 weeks due to nut allergies (sorry Monica). However, I’m looking forward to seeing your creations. Bake away, my friends, bake away! :o)

Rose Levy Beranbaum said...

i have read aloud to woody every word of every comment made on this cake because they were all so different, so fascinating, and so wonderful. i wish i could comment on each and every one.

but special praise must go to raymond for inspiring everyone to feel that they must this cake. raymond, your photos were out of the world beautiful and your prose were equally so.