Monday, January 17, 2011

The Bearable Lightness of Cake Flour

I went against my own baking standards with this one - prior to this cake, I had never used Cake Flour when a recipe called for it. When I decided to make a Classic Genoise for a small dinner party I  was hosting, I thought I would give it a shot. Let's just say the light, fluffy result of this cake made me a convert for the more delicate flour. This cake was fantastic! It was also a chance for me to use my new cookbook holder (basically a plexiglass stand with a splash guard - silly as it seems, it's truly useful). The Joy of Cooking, for those of you don't own it, is a fantastic cookbook, and helped me try out this beautiful cake: Genoise Cake with Grand Marnier Berries and Mascarpone Whipped Cream.  
Cake flour is different from all-purpose given its lower level of protein, or gluten: while regular flour has 10-12% protein, cake flour only has 6-8% (according to This lower level of gluten is achieved through chlorination, and results in a softer texture. There are two ways to substitute cake flour: one is to under-measure all-purpose flour (as I had always done with past recipes), or to measure ¾ cup all-purpose + 2 tbsp cornstarch for 1 cup cake flour. This recipe calls for sifting the flour twice – I don’t own a sifter, so I use a sieve (see above – also picture is my new cookbook holder!)
This recipe is a little tricky in the start: it calls for heating eggs over simmering water, then beating them with a hand mixer until they reach “au ruban”: a term used for describing the when the batter runs from the spoon in a broad, shining “ribbon”. Above shows the process - the batter will nearly triple in size. The result is a beautiful, light fluffy cake that is perfect with berries, hence my choice of berries macerated with Grand Marnier (Note: this process does not call for cooking the berries, so it will be boozy). Since I've also been on a mascarpone kick lately, I decided to include a Mascarpone Whipped Cream as well.  
Genoise Cake with Grand Marnier Berries and Mascarpone Whipped Cream
Adapted via Joy of Cooking
Yields: 8 to 10 servings

Genoise Cake:
  - 1 1/4 cups sifted cake flour
  - 1/4 cup sugar
  - 1/3 cup unsalted butter, preferably clarified
  - 6 large eggs
  - 3/4 cup sugar
  - 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
Grand Marnier Berries:
  - 1 (16-oz) package frozen mixed berries
  - 1/3 cup Grand Marnier®
Mascarpone Whipped Cream:
  - 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  - 1 (8-oz) package mascarpone
  - 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  - 2 teaspoons orange zest 

For cake: Grease and flour the bottom(s) of two 9x2-inch pans or one 9-inch springform pan; line with wax or parchment paper. Sift together cake flour and 1/4 cup sugar twice; set aside. Melt butter in a small saucepan; off the heat and let sit for 4 minutes. Once cooled, remove the film from the top; carefully pour into a heatproof bowl, leaving the solids behind - set aside. 

Whisk the eggs and 3/4 cup sugar in a large heatproof bowl; set over a pot of barely simmering water - whisk constantly until the mixture is warm to the touch (about 110 degrees F). Remove the bowl from the heat and beat on high speed until the mixture is lemony-colored, has tripled in volume, and has reached the stage known as au ruban (see photos above) - like a continuous flat ribbon when dropped from a spoon (5 minutes in a heavy-duty mixer with the whisk attachment, 10 - 15 minutes with a hand-held mixer). 

In 3 additions, sift the flour mixture over the top and fold in very gently with a rubber spatula. If the butter has become to solid, reheat briefly and transfer to a medium bowl. Fold about 1 1/2 cups of the egg mixture into the butter until completely incorporated, along with the vanilla extract. Bake until the cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan(s) and the top springs back when lightly pressed, about 15 minutes in cake pans, 30 minutes in a springform pan. Let cool in the pan(s) on a rack for 10 minutes. Slide a thin knife around the cake to detach it from the pan(s); remove the side of the springform pan, if using. Invert the cake and remove the paper liner(s). Let cool right side up on the rack. 

For berries: While the cake is baking, place all the frozen berries in a glass bowl and pour Grand Marnier on top. Allow 30 to 40 minutes for the berries to macerate and thaw. 

For the mascarpone whipped cream: whip the heavy cream in a large metal bowl, then (using the same hand mixer), whip the mascarpone, sugar and orange zest into a smaller separate bowl.  Fold the mascarpone into the whipped cream.

Slice the cake into wedges and place on individual cakes - spoon berries and sauce onto each slice, and serve with a dollop of the mascarpone whipped cream. 

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