Friday, January 23, 2009

C'mon and stir it up, little darlin'....

A cake named Jamaica inspires all sorts of imagery. I immediately thought about tropical stuff, also Bob Marley's reggae music (which inspired using some of his lyrics for the title of this entry :-)). And of course, beach holidays and hurricanes.

I wasn't sure how these random thoughts would play out during the practical session. But soon enough, I started imagining a hurricane instead of an afternoon in the hammock. This was largely due to the ingredient sheet. Or shall I say sheets. Two pages in total, listing what seemed to be a heck of a lot of competing flavor combinations and textures. This, combined with two additional pages of my class notes, meant I would be walking into the lab with a lot more paper than usual.

The cake is built up in a tall, stainless steel ring mold to support its vast array of different colors and textures. It starts with a shell of imbibed chocolate joconde sponge around the inside perimeter and base of the mold. This is then filled with coconut mousse, a layer of poached pineapple pieces, a layer of mango mousse, then topped with fruit glaze, a poached pineapple ring and finally garnished with a mixed crown of decoratively cut fresh fruit. Quick… someone throw me a lifejacket! I'm drowning in ingredients!!!

So with all this stuff, frankly I kept worrying that it would be too overwhelming on the eyes as well as the palette…like some kind of loud-mouthed Hawaiian shirt of the patisserie world, tanked up on too many pina coladas and packing around a bulging suitcase of unnecessary stuff.

But in the end, the finished result was quite stunning. Indeed the map of steps leading to the treasure nearly buried everyone though. Lots of running around the lab and piles of pans and bowls virtually sandbagging each student at their work area, as different steps of the recipe stormed away in each container. Cream that was being whipped in one bowl…eggs that where being whisked in another…racks of cooling sponge cake stealing half the work space… gelatine that was softening in water…scalded coconut milk that was cooling…pineapple that was soaking up the poaching syrup…frozen mango pulp melting. I literally had to start stacking up the bowls & trays of different waiting ingredients to keep some space free. But then the storm passed.

Once again we were fiddling with yellow pastry glaze to provide the final glossy effect. It got tinted a bit yellower this time, which was fine since there was such an array of mixed fruit to support a more intense hue.

My favorite part was preparing the fruit garnishes for the crown. We had a wide range of choice to work with, not all of it tropically sourced but all of it colorful. I managed to channel my kiwis before slicing them into rounds, creating something that looked slightly floral and a bit more interesting than a plain round circle. The cheek of mango was really hard to skin, but I managed to do this without slicing myself in the process.

Despite all the efforts, the cake was an excellent traveling companion and suffered no visible jetlag (so to speak) on TGV to Geneva. When I got home that evening, I put it in the fridge and then served it the next morning at the office. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, and while the flavors had mingled very nicely during refrigeration & tempering at room temperature, the taste was still a bit too fussy for my liking.

Reflecting on the whole experience, I can't say I’d do anything differently with this one, I just wouldn’t choose to make it too often. If everyday becomes a vacation, then what’s there to look forward to, right? ;-)

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