Sweet Success And Cultural Awareness
I have been nearly obsessed with this Genoise cake for ages. I watched Julia Child and her talented guest Alice Medrich, make this cake years ago and thought what a simple cake. Boy was I wrong! The only simple things, are the ingredients. There are some points of technique that must be done strictly by the book (or video in this case), in particular the folding in of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. That’s where I had my trouble anyway. I wasn’t interested in the filling so much as the cake, made with only these four things, but assembled in a very precise manner:
- 1/3 cup +1 tbsp all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp cocoa
- 4 eggs
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil or clarified butter
I wanted to make my cake non-dairy, so I used oil instead of butter, and for the filling, a fluffy chocolate and powdered sugar icing between the layers. By following the technique very carefully and on my third attempt, I finally achieved a measure of success. There are no leaveners used so the consistency of the eggs and sugar is the foremost concern. Another difference in my cake and the one in the video, is that I wanted to make my cake strictly on Diva power…that is to say, using no power equipment…just a whisk, a sieve, a fork and a spatula. I’ll explain why I wanted to do it this way in the next few paragraphs.
I have a friend from Nigeria who is staying in the U.S.A. due to a complicated pregnancy. Being largely on bed rest, she can’t risk the journey back home just now. Since becoming friends through our Church, we’ve had such fun learning about our cultural differences (and let me tell you, living in my American little bubble, I have a lot to learn). I visit her each week to help with things, and hopefully keep her from being so lonely. We both love to crochet and have many creative ideas to share. The visits are very cathartic for her and a mind expanding experience for me as well. Her husband is a scientist who is here working on an agricultural project and is gone so much of the day. I can’t stand for her to be so lonely while so far from home.
One of the subjects we like to talk about is food. Naturally, I’m very interested in what kinds of things Nigerians cook and eat. She made me a lunch one day that was so delicious. It was a stewed dish with spinach, other vegetables, beef, tripe, and a little cake on the side made with a rice-mash cooked in oil, to describe it as best as I can. It was very yummy! I’ve learned that Nigerians generally don’t eat things with dairy products but instead get their calcium and proteins from beans, cassava, and pumpkin seed.
During one of our visits she told me that her goal while staying here, is to learn how to make a cake…a cake with no dairy products and that could be made with her own energy. I knew that this Genoise cake was a cake that could be done this way. In fact since I only used the whisk to beat the eggs, I found that I had a much better idea of the correct consistency doing it by hand. This was the secret of success for me!
I’m not going to lie, beating the eggs and sugar by hand took nearly 10 minutes of constant whisking, and a lot of deltoid, biceps, and triceps muscle…both arms! That’s why I don’t have pictures of this stage of the process. I needed to vigorously whisk without stopping to achieve a consistency that caused the mixture to nearly triple in volume, but not to be as stiff as whipped cream. The video shows the right consistency, and I did finally manage to get there, but Ooo, my arms were feeling it!
The folding in of the flour and cocoa was the next step and needed to be done gently, slowly and carefully. I folded in 1/2 of the triple sifted flour and cocoa until it was nearly uniform in color, then did the same with the next half. I could feel the spongey texture with the spatula and carefully poured the beautifully light batter into a loaf pan. I could have used a round pan but this one caught my sight first. I baked the cake at 350° for thirty minutes plus two more minutes, because I felt that it needed just a bit more time as it was domed up still, and in the video, Julia’s guest wanted it to have just gone down to flat. Well, that’s just what I did and it came out nicely.
I allowed the cake to cool, sliced it in thirds and made a French silk frosting with 1/3 cup melted semi-sweet chocolate, two tablespoons of vegetable oil to thin the chocolate, and 4 cups powdered sugar, stirring it all together with the whisk. Urgh! More whisking! I switched to a fork as it was a thick mixture. I added warm water 2 tablespoons at a time…1/4 cup in all until it became a spreadable mixture. So with the cake laying in thirds, I spread the bottom layer with icing stacked the next one on, iced it, then iced the top layer. I decorated the top with a sprinkling of chocolate curls shaved from a candy bar with a vegetable peeler. It was the best substitute I could think of for ruffles. I’ll tackle them some day but for the moment this cake turned out fine despite the absence of the cream filling and fancy ruffles.
I will go, visit my Nigerian friend tomorrow and show her how it was done, now that my arms are built up. She is very clever and I know she will be able to do this on her first try, but not until the doctor says. She needs to save her energy for the baby that’s due in one month. That whisking might be too much for her just now. She has shared so much with me as a friend and I’m glad I can finally share what she wanted…a good off-grid, non-dairy cake recipe with simple, easy to attain ingredients.