Notes from a 50th Birthday: Sponge Cake, Fondant, Decorating

I’m not really a “baker”. My ma’s a baker. She made her own croissants, back in the day. And Napoleans, tortes, and other crazy fancy desserts.

Grateful-Table-Chocolate-Cake-Pistachio-w-FondantBut my 50th birthday was coming up, and I wanted a good cake. Mom was back in Michigan so I would be on my own. I looked into it. Took a few of mom’s suggestions. It wasn’t too challenging to make a decent cake, and it was way cheaper than having a specialty bakery make it. (OK, so I’m fussy. No Costco cake for me!)Jennifer Cote, 50th Birthday Cake w/Pistachios, Fondant

But a little research helped. You might dive right in to a recipe like this one (for Chocolate Pistachio Cake). Or you might be like me: Do a little research first. Here are some of the notes I took, before baking that yummy cake.

The Beauty of the Sponge Cake Recipe

The (Genoise) sponge cake recipe is great for a couple of reasons: It turns out light, and it cooks through without having a gooey center. If more moisture were added to the cake before baking, it would be harder for it to cook through without burning the edges. Ah, the beauty of Genoise!

While it’s possible to overcook (as I’ve found out), the layers will typically be spread with some kind of flavored syrup, which adds moisture and flavor. Or, whipped cream and other moist fillings like mousses might be used between layers. The cake doesn’t get too soggy, as it’s already slightly dry.

The Mechanics of the Sponge Cake Recipe

The big catch is to let the egg/sugar mix warm up to a good temperature for whipping well. A double-boiler can work; the mixture can get stirred fairly often until the sugar seems to dissolve, and the eggs are lukewarm to the touch. At this point, they will increase quite a bit in volume as they whip, which is just what you want. You have to take care not to actually cook the whites though- that won’t do!

Using the Right Pan

Cake batter for a Genoise cake should fill a pan 2/3, to insure proper baking. Also, as layers are often  split in order to spread with fillings, the cake can’t be too thin to start with.

If you increase the recipe, do the eggs in batches though, as a mixer won’t hold much more than eight eggs once they’ve increased in volume. When I made a triple-batch of an 8-egg recipe for my 50th, I did that. Baked it in a half-sheet-cake pan (12″x18″). It was great!

Ideally, a cake pan will have straight sides and corners perpendicular to the bottom. The cake bakes better in such a pan (as opposed to the pans with edges that flare out from the bottom). You don’t need to trim such a cake in order to achieve straight edges; you get a more professional look.

Coloring That Cake

I really like the color of “Pistachio Green”. I experimented, adding a touch of red to the green food coloring. If you stick with the green as it comes from the bottle, you won’t have a pistachio color at all! I added extra yellow as well, until the color was pleasant, not gaudy.  I also bought some packaged fondant, making a ribbon on one cake, as shown above. The box of fondant contained a somewhat abrasive mix of colors, but with a little blending, I got the color I was looking for. Typically, you want to add just a touch of the opposite color to your frosting. Greens might need a touch of red; purple or orange might need a touch of green, etc. This tones them down and makes for a classier look.

Fond of Fondant?

I learned from the experts that you can let any ribbons you make dry overnight. Why do this? I discovered the hard way: If you start laying “ribbons” on your typical frosting, the colors might start running by the end of the day. Letting them air-dry for a day or so helps resolve that issue.  At some point, I may try making my own fondant. My mom did this for my dear sister-in-law’s wedding, years ago. I still remember the beautiful smell of the rose water my mom added to the mix. That was one special occasion!

2 Responses to “Notes from a 50th Birthday: Sponge Cake, Fondant, Decorating”

  1. Reply Leslie Land

    Just ran over for a quick look and here right on the front page is a plug for rosewater! I doubt we agree on all things kitchen (or even maybe many of them) but when it comes to odd-in-America/well-loved elsewhere ingredients we certainly seem to have a lot in common.

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