Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Triomphe of the Nerds

As a complete antithesis to the hip Passionata, the next cake we would make was to be much more conservative in appearance. During the final minutes of the demonstration, as I watched Chef Tranchant put the finishing touches on his work, I immediately thought about tweed blazers with suede elbow patches, cashmere turtlenecks, leather-bound reference books, and mahogany smoking pipes of the academic world. I guess it was the varying shades of beige and brown that led me there.

It had nothing to do with the taste, mind you. In many ways, Triomphe aux Noix was indeed a triumph on the taste front - a wonderful combination of caramel mousse and caramel glaze, sitting atop a base of caramel-imbibed sponge and topped with candied walnuts. The mousse was light and not too sweet, and the tantalizing flavor of the caramel was infused into each of the layers comprising the cake. The base of the cake was a walnut sponge, but made extra light through the use of potato starch in place of the flour. At the post-demonstration tasting, I imagined enjoying this cake with a hot cup of Earl Grey or a good espresso and felt my taste buds quiver in anticipation.

The practical was efficient and I was happy with my results. Once again, red food dye was part of the lesson – surprisingly to give a bit of color depth to the caramel glaze. I was lucky in my color application and ended up with a warm shade of brown, but a few people overshot the target and were living with a vermillion colored top on their cake.

I realized that I’d be traveling back to Geneva with both Passionata and Triomphe to share with friends. It would be a rather unlikely combination, given that usually I had only one cake at a time to carry back, also given that the two cakes were quite distinctive in appearance. I chuckled when I realized that, in combination, the two cakes where like the lead characters in that movie “Educating Rita” where an outspoken hairdresser comes to The Open University and strikes up an unlikely friendship with a rather crusty English professor.

That weekend in my tiny apartment I had several friends stop by to sample the gateaux (at staggered times of course, or I wouldn’t have had enough space to seat everyone). Both cakes were admired and enjoyed, but in terms of taste alone, surprisingly it was the Triomphe that seemed to be the bigger crowd pleaser between the two options. If people opted for a second serving, it was more likely the Triomphe that won out. Like fashion, sometimes it’s better to stick with the classics.

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