Saturday, November 8, 2008


Last Friday one of my Geneva colleagues, Nadia, moved to a new job assignment. The starting date for her new assignment had been advanced and I only found out on Thursday morning, the day before she was due to officially leave us. Of course she would still be in transition with our team until her replacement could be found, so fortunately not the very last chance to say good-bye

As I have worked closely with her for the last 2 years, I decided I would make a cake and quickly organize an informal coffee-break in the office to acknowledge her departure. I opted for a St. Honore since it would be elegant, refreshing and light to eat after lunch and striking to look at. For whatever reason, I decided that making a giant-sized cake would be a good idea. Actually it was not.

I always thought French cakes were small because the French might prefer to eat small portions of sweet desserts to maintain their svelte ligne. This is partly the case. But in attempting to make a giant St. Honore, I realized that size also has to do with ease of preparation, transportability, baking time and serving. For big eaters and big festivals they just buy multiple cakes; the chef would not necessarily be asked to make one twice or three times as big.

But of course I didn’t even think about this at the time, and so I doubled my recipe and decided I would make the cake to more or less fit the size of the rectangular serving tray, but with scalloped corners to look more decorative. Rolling the pate sucree into a rectangle proved much more difficult than I expected, but I managed. I even got the decorative edges cut evenly. But the trickier bit was then getting the base onto the baking sheet. I suppose I could have planned better and done my roll-out onto a sheet of parchment, then lifted this into the pan. But I really didn’t expect it to be so challenging to lift. Sadly it was.

Pate sucree is very fragile stuff, and of course this tore in half when I attempted to lift it. ..even with the aid of the rolling pin. Not what I wanted but still not totally irreparable since the base is anyway covered in a coil of choux pastry and topped with whipped cream. So I patched it together on the baking sheet and kept on trucking. No time to lose now I thought.

I finished with piping the choux pastry atop the base, as well as two pans of choux buns for the final decoration. I popped it all into the oven, propping a fork in the door to allow steam to escape. It seemed to take forever! Much much longer than the St. Honore I’d made for Laura’s birthday. I logged in from home and got stuck into some emails to pass the time. After about 20 minutes, I got up to check. It was making decent progress but still not nearly ready. And the oven was very hot, so that really wasn’t my issue. It really had to do with the size…maybe also the shape.

Finally the massive slab was baked and set out to finish glazing the choux buns with caramel as well as making some decorative flourishes for the top of the cake. Thankfully no seriously burned fingers this time but it was a lengthy process. On the longer sides of the base, I placed about 6 choux buns, then about 4 on the short sides. Then I decided to run a strip of 5 choux buns lengthwise across the middle of the cake because the center plaine otherwise looked just too empty. And would be pretty boring to eat without adequate choux pastry to complement the whipped cream.

After that I piped out my whipped cream to fill the space between the perimeter and median borders of choux buns. A good chance to practice a long coiling technique using the star tip; anyway I didn’t have a choice to use the traditional V-tip since it was with my school supplies back in Paris. But I managed very well and the cake looked more or less how I wanted it to. Breaking with tradition but understanding the tastes of my colleagues, I added some thin shards of shaved chocolate to the top to give it some Stracciatella appeal. Then I placed my caramel flourishes atop the whipped cream and set out for the office with the whole thing loosely wrapped in a huge sheet of cellophane.

Man, it was unwieldly to even walk the 100m to my car, partly because it was a rainy day but more importantly because the cake was just too big! Balancing the big tray on my hip, I managed to get the trunk of my car open and got the giant creamy mammoth loaded inside without incident and drove to the office. At that point I realized I now needed to get this massive slab of cream and caramel through the security doors. Hmm...another detail to consider. I decided to play it safe and call for backup. With a smaller cake I can transport it in one hand using my domed cake carrier, but now I needed someone to swipe the security door and open it for me.

But despite the extra effort needed to bake, construct and transport, this cake was otherwise a success. And we all farewelled Nadia chatting and laughing, enjoying the cake and being together. So for all the challenges in production, in the end it was worth it.

That weekend I planned a different type of farewell, which was to utilize all the different types of patisserie remnants collecting in my fridge!! There was leftover mousse and some sponge base from the Mogador practical, vanilla and orange buttercream, the remaining whipped cream and some unglazed choux buns, and the dough scraps from the St. Honore base. So I constructed an array of different treats, the most elaborate of which was a mousse filled cake, using the layers of leftover chocolate sponge soaked in an orange syrup, and a light touch of apricot jam, finished with a dark chocolate glaze. It tasted kind of like a Sacher torte but much moister because of the syrup and much richer because of the mousse.

The choux buns, whipped cream and remaining chocolate glaze became a batch of profiterole inspired treats. They were pretty to look at, especially on my coiled serving plate, and were greatly enjoyed by Ard (along with the mousse cake).

I just baked the dough scraps as is, since they’d already dried out considerably by this point and could not be salvaged into anything more interesting. The pigeons and crows who visit my window ledge seemed to appreciate those....probably not the people who park their cars under my window ledge though.

Sadly I was so engrossed in creation that virtually forgot about documentation, so I failed to take a photo of anything but the profiteroles! And I ran out of time to use the bright orange buttercream, so that will need to find its own farewell solution. But thanks to high amounts of sugar syrup and the aseptic properties it provides, it need not be a hasty good-bye except where color is concerned. In that case, Halloween weekend might have been my best chance!

1 comment:

bombayblue001 said...

Lisa ..... sounds yum! Perhaps you'll consider a repeat performance (in a modest scale) on your return to see D + H ..... and others????
BTW - found a new tapas restaurant .... D and I will road test it (even tho' I've done so on many, many occasions!) just to make sure it's OK with the queen of chocolate + coffee! H x