This week's Tuesdays with Dorie (TWD) recipe was chosen by Mary Ann of Meet Me in the Kitchen: Berry Surprise Cake. It's a génoise (whole egg sponge cake) that is hollowed out, then filled with berries enveloped in a cream cheese and heavy cream mixture, and then the entire cake is finished off with some whipped cream. Sounds delightful, doesn't it?
That's what I thought when I saw this week's pick. Unfortunately I can't say that I am a huge fan of this cake. The recipe, unlike most others in the book, was not very straightforward. Usually Dorie gives very detailed descriptions and instructions in her recipes, making everything easy to follow. I had several problems along the way with this particular recipe.
After checking out the Problems & Questions post for this recipe, I knew that it was going to be fickle. There were many complaints about the cake not rising, the middle of the cake sinking, and the filling not being sweet enough.
I had read that some of the issues with the cake not rising was from over mixing the batter in the final steps when folding in the flour - so I was extra careful folding the flour in. I also saw that the cake sinking could be avoided by being more careful with the eggs. Dorie calls them "divas" because apparently they are very hard to work with. Dorie simply states to heat them until "just warm to the touch," but I read a tip from Lauren that you could more objectively do this by measuring their temperature. So I watched mine closely on the stove and made sure to pull them off when they reached 110F. Not entirely sure where that number comes from, but that's what Lauren suggested and that's what I did ;)
The next part I had a problem with was in beating the warmed egg and sugar mixture until it "triples in volume and forms a ribbon that holds its shape for about 10 seconds when the beater is lifted." Well, I'm not a very experienced baker and I had no idea what this meant. A ribbon? I've never beaten eggs until they looked like a ribbon before so I had no idea what I was looking for. A quick search on google and I found this excerpt from Carole Bloom's The Essential Baker:
Holding a ribbon: this is the stage that refers to the consistency of batter or mixture - usually eggs and sugar - beaten or whipped until it is very thick and pale colored. Whip the mixture with an electric stand mixer using the wire whip attachment or a hand-held mixer on medium to medium-high speed for about 5 minutes. To tell if the mixture is thick enough, dip a rubber spatula into it and lift it up. Let the mixture drip from the spatula into the bowl. The mixture should very slowly fall back on itself in a ribbon-like manner and hold its shape for a few seconds before dissolving back in the bowl.
It would have helped to know that I needed to beat the eggs until they were very pale, almost white. Dorie usually includes information like this in her recipes - not sure why this was left out? I also found that after beating them for 5 minutes on medium speed, my eggs were getting nowhere. So I increased the speed to medium high and that seemed to do the trick. I found that it took eight minutes (not five) on my KitchenAid Mixer (at speed 8) to get to the ribbon stage.
The next problem I ran across was really my fault. I only have a 9-inch springform pan and the recipe calls for an 8-inch. Most of the time, I can get away with using my 9-inch without any modifications to the recipe. I should have known when I heard that others had trouble getting their cakes to rise that I wouldn't be able to do that with this recipe. So the first time I made this cake, I made the recipe as is. I ended up with a thick pancake basically. Surprisingly, I did not have any issues with my cake sinking in the middle with this one (another common complaint I heard from everyone else) - mine domed a little actually.
Realizing that there was no way I would be able to use this cake as a "nest" for the berries and cream, I set out to try again, this time doubling the recipe to ensure that I had an adequate "nest." (Yes, I could have just crumbled up the cake at this point and made a trifle, but I wanted to try to make the cake like Dorie intended.) Well, I definitely had enough cake the second go around. This time, about 15 minutes into baking, I started to smell that awful burning smell and instantly thought "Oh no!" ...I ran to the oven to discover that - yes - it had risen all the way to the top of my pan and had started overflowing onto the bottom of my oven. Grrrrr . (No one likes to clean this up.) While this cake rose quite a bit more than the first one, it also sank in the middle. Not sure why, though Dorie says that it's normal for it to sink a little bit.
Between these two attempts, I ended up with enough cake to assemble my Berry Surprise Cake. I hollowed out the larger cake and then sliced the smaller cake, evening out the top, and used it as the "lid" on my cake.
Due to complaints that the filling was not sweet enough, I doubled the amount of sugar in it. While this may have made the filling sweeter, it did not change the overpowering flavor of cream cheese in the mixture. I love cream cheese and I love cheesecake, but this filling tasted more or less like straight cream cheese in the middle of the cake. Not something that I enjoyed very much.
I think a lot of people tried various fillings, having difficulty finding fresh berries that were in season. That is the only part of this recipe where I did not have any problems. I found 12 ounce packages of fresh blackberries at Sam's Club for $3.28. Though I think I probably would have enjoyed the berries more just dipping them into a bowl of whipped cream :)
So, while I probably won't be making this cake again, I'm still happy I attempted it because I still learned some things. That's why I joined Tuesdays with Dorie right? If nothing else, I learned a new technique - how to beat a mixture until it holds a ribbon. *Update: I took the cake to work today and everyone there loved it, though one person wasn't a big fan of the génoise. I guess some people just like this cake and others don't.
Thanks Mary Ann, for choosing this cake. While I struggled with it and it wasn't my favorite cake, I'm glad I learned something new. If you would like the recipe, you can find it here. Make sure you visit the TWD Blog Roll to see how everyone else enjoyed this cake.
* Recipe notes:
- I've documented most of my tips above. Aside from what was already mentioned, I would recommend making 1.25-1.5x the amount of topping if you use a 9-inch springform pan. Otherwise, you might not have enough to frost your cake.
- For more tips, click here.