This week’s Baking with Julia recipe calls for a genoise cake layered with homemade strawberry syrup and vanilla whipped cream frosting. One of the interesting things about genoise is that the cake doesn’t rise at all in the oven. All the volume is created from beating eggs and sugar into a frothy batter which you try your best not to deflate when you gently fold in the flour. Reading through the recipe, I was intrigued. I was pretty sure I’d never made this type of cake before. However, as I started baking, I realized that genoise and I actually have a long prickly history.
Many, many years ago (I believe it was around 7th grade or so) I attempted to make a Boston Cream Pie. My mother had invited some friends over to visit, talk, gossip, drink wine coolers (or whatever it was school teachers and librarians did during their summer vacation.) Somehow I got it in my head that I was going to provide dessert for them. And it was going to be this Boston Cream Pie illustrated in one of my mom’s cookbooks. Maybe I thought it would make me seem grown-up. Or smart. Or sophisticated. I don’t know. I just know that for whatever reason I HAD to make that cake.
I measured. I sifted. I whisked. And to show for my efforts, I ended up with two flat, flavorless disks. Probably closer in texture and heft to a discus rather than a cake. I took some comfort in the fact that once they were layered with custard and drizzled with chocolate, it looked pretty close to the picture. Maybe, I thought, it wasn’t that bad. I was wrong.
I hid in the hallway, listening for the sounds of forks sliding against plates and murmurs of “Mmm, this is delicious” and “I know I’m on a diet, but I just have to have another.” They never came. Slices were left largely untouched, a couple polite bites taken before the plate had been pushed aside. I was devastated. I remember discovering the uneaten globs of cake and custard in the trash can and going to my room and crying.
I tried the recipe once again, determined to get it right. It didn’t happen. To this day, I’ve never attempted to make a Boston Cream Pie again.
So back to the Strawberry Cake —
As I opened the oven, the whole memory washed back over me. There, in front of me was not a spongy cake ready to be sliced and smothered with fresh strawberries and whipped cream. Instead what stared back at me was that flat, flavorless flop of a Boston Cream Pie.
BUT, this time around, I didn’t cry. One, because I’m now an adult and like to think I’ve gained a bit more emotional maturity over the years. And two, because I reminded myself that Julia wouldn’t. Nope, she’d toss it in the trash with that glorious laugh of hers then roll up her shirtsleeves and start right in whisking some more eggs. I decided to do the same.
Fortunately, this time around, I was not just older and more experienced — I was armed with Google. The error, I discovered, was in the eggs. Or more specifically in beating them. Dorie’s recipe states to beat the eggs on medium for 4-5 minutes. I’d actually increased that to 10 minutes for the first cake which obviously didn’t work. For the second one, it was closer to 15 minutes at medium-high speed on my Kitchenaid professional. I found some online comments from pastry chefs stating that it’s almost impossible to overbeat the whole eggs, especially combined with the sugar. I trusted that they were right. And they were. As you can see cake #2 worked out much better.
As for the final result —
I liked this cake, but I didn’t love it. I’d actually prefer a good old strawberry shortcake any day. But, after all these years, I was able to finally declare victory over the genoise. And that tastes pretty sweet indeed.