Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Festive Berry Cake--A Birthday Treat European Style

Last week, I made a birthday cake for my son. Initially, he asked for a chocolate cake, but since I was also making a chocolate fondue for kids, he decided that a fruit cake would be better.

Born in the USA and having participated in many of his peers birthday parties, he has developed a much sweeter tooth than the rest of the family. For many years, for his birthday parities I was buying a typical cake, that I knew all the kids would enjoy. And even if they left hardly bitten pieces of it I did not suffer throwing them away as I would have had I made the cake myself and put my whole heart in it.

Philip is very fond and proud of my cupcakes and cakes, but I am afraid that deep in his heart, he still enjoys better those typical cakes with colorful icing. Last Friday, before I cut the cake, he said diplomatically to his guests: "My mom made this cake and it is unlike any other in the world". And I am not sure if he meant or did not want to say that it was "the best."

The cake I made was light, healthy--with fruits for only decoration, and not overwhelmingly sweet. We did have some leftovers, but they were all eaten to the last piece on the next day.

It is a simple sponge cake, for which I do not use any butter or its substitutes, but it is very moist because each layer is drizzled with a sweet punch, which I prepare for this purpose. To finish it, I use a French cream (crème patisserie), which is based on eggs and enriched with butter. Preparing such a cake is more labor intensive than just spreading a ready to use icing all over, but the whole preparation is not as complicated as it may seem, so this time I am putting a few more picture to explain all the steps. You can also use any kind of fruits to decorate it. For his birthday cake, I chose my son's favourite.

Festive Berry Cake
(Serves twelve)

Sponge cake base for 9-10" pan

5 large eggs,
1 cup sugar,
1 cup bleached flour,
1 tbsp cornflour,
1 tsp baking powder,
butter and breadcrumbs to coat the pan.

1. Preheat oven to 370F.
2. Put eggs in a large bowl, add sugar, and using an electric mixer beat for 5 minutes or until eggs acquire a very thick, mousse-like consistency. I use Kitchen Aid stand mixer and the machine does the job beautifully.
3. Mix together flour and baking powder and fold into thick egg mixture until completely incorporated.

4. Grease the baking tin with butter and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
5. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 30-40 minutes, until gold on top.

6. Cool down completely and, using a knife to loosen up the sides, remove the cake from the pan.

7. Cut the cake horizontally in half using a long and sharp knife.

2 cups of warm boiled water,
4 tbsp sugar,
juice from 1 lemon,
Mix all the ingredients, cool.

2 cups of milk,
4 egg yolks,
1 cup sugar,
1/3 cup corn starch,
1 1/2 sticks soft butter,
1 tbsp vanilla extract.

1. In a large bowl whisk egg yolks and sugar until smooth and pale.
2. Add flour and the vanilla extract to the yolk mixture and mix until it becomes quite thick.

3. Cook milk up to the boiling point in a 3 qt pot.
4. First, add about a cup of hot milk into yolks mixture and using whisker gently mix until all the ingredients turn in a smooth cream. Then, add the rest of the milk and mix again.
5. Transfer the mixture back to the milk pot and cook on the lower heat constantly stirring with a whisker until the mixture becomes thick like custard. Let it bubble for about 20 seconds and remove from the heat. Cool until it is still slightly warm.

6. Cut butter into smaller pieces and using an electric mixture incorporate into the custard. All the butter should quickly disappear in the custard and create a shiny cream. Cool down completely.

3 cups of different fruits of your choice.

To put the cake together:
1. Put the bottom of the cake on a large serving plate. Using a soup spoon drizzle half of the punch on it, including on the sides of the cake, as they tend to be quite dry.
2. Use a little less than a half of the cream to spread it all over the first disk.
3. Cover the first (bottom) disk with a second sponge disk and sprinkle it with the rest of the punch. Cover evenly with the cream on top and on the sides.
4. Use some toasted slivered almonds or flakes to finish the sides and decorate the top with seasonal fruits of your choice.

Cut the cake using a very sharp knife after dipping it in a hot water (and drying it subsequently); this would make it easier to cut through the cream.

I like it most with a cup of espresso.