What is Fika?

What is Fika?

In Swedish tradition, Fika is a break - a pause - in your day to indulge in the simple pleasures of a good cup of coffee or tea, some sweets or pastries, and time shared with friends and loved ones.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Chocolate & Cranberry


There's a certain romance to the French word for "chocolate." Like the very substance itself, it is soft and silky on the tongue. The ending is open, indeterminate, not abruptly cut off like in the English version.


Perhaps even better is the Danish word: Chocolade. It's not pronounced "choko-laid" as its spelling would allude English speakers to believe. Rather, the "ch" is pronounced "sh" (as in French) and the "Danish /d/ is a voiceless slightly aspirated stop" (thank you Internet). The result is that it sounds slightly like you're losing your self control to refrain from the sweet even as you say the word.

The cake of the day today is a Chocolate Genoise. Genoise, for those unfamiliar, is like a sponge cake that is made from whole eggs. The eggs are mixed with sugar, warmed gently over simmering water, and then whipped until it is pale and fluffy, and runs in thick, soft ribbons. Flour [and cocoa powder] is then gently folded in. Melted butter and vanilla can also be added for extra moisture and flavour.

The result is a light, airy cake that is neither heavy nor insubstantial. It's not a cake that you would eat on its own, as it is usually not very sweet compared to an angel's food cake or a coffee cake, for example. However, it handles well and can be combined with an infinite number of fillings, mousses, frostings and icings.

Because its taste isn't extremely strong, genoise does not overpower delicately-flavoured fillings. The same goes for the texture - it is not heavy, so it can be filled with very light mousse or fruit fillings that will not ooze all over the place when the cake is cut.

Did someone say "rich"? Dark Belgian Chocolate Ganache, lightly whipped.

However, that also means that indulgently-rich fillings, such as ganache, fruit curds, buttercreams, etc. can be used with less hesitation, as the lightness of the cake itself keeps the entire experience from being overwhelmingly decadent (in the truer, negative connotation of the word). Such is the case with this Dark Belgian Chocolate Ganache and Cranberry cake.

The original inspiration was Cenk's blog, Cafe Fernando, which I just recently came upon through Design Sponge. The genoise recipe itself was posted a fair while ago, which I found while going through past posts. I am always on the lookout for a new [chocolate] genoise recipe to try, so when I saw it with nothing planned for the evening, I had to give it a shot.

The recipe was pretty standard, as described above. It called for a 9" round pan; I went with an 8 1/2." As I poured the cake batter into the pan, I realized it was going to be a tall cake. Height isn't a concern for me per se, but when the cakes get thick, they take much longer to bake. In any case, I hoped for the best.

Thankfully, the cake turned out ok. It did take much longer than the stated time, but it rose evenly and did not collapse. Perfect! (The other thing about the genoise recipes that I've tried is that they always weirdly come out uniformly flat on top - no doming or rounding. Strange, is it not? I'm not sure why this happens, but I think it can be related to the fact that there is no leavening agent, such as baking powder or soda).

The cake was torted to 4 layers. I don't have a knife to properly tort a cake, so instead I have a handy tool that does it for me. A cake leveller does feel like a cop-out, but when people cut into a >10" slab cake that has perfectly uniform cake layers, the guilt is eased somewhat.

Lazy, or efficient?

I was originally going to do a standard Chocolate and Raspberry, which is a good old standby for any occasion. However, I thought of substituting the regular raspberries with cranberries, staying with the fruits of the season. I reason that the acidity of the cranberries will stand out in the same way as the raspberries do. I'm hoping for the best.

Homemade cranberry sauce. Simple to make. Delicious with turkey. Or with cake. What else do you need?

Each layer was brushed with a simple syrup, spread with cranberry sauce, and topped with dark chocolate ganache. Then the next layer was added. One difficulty I did not foresee was the tendency for thick, cold ganache to stick to itself and not to a syrup-soaked, cranberry-covered cake layer. A lot of coaxing was required to evenly and thinly spread the layer of ganache floating on top of the sauce, but it was done.

Once all layers are stacked, the entire cake is covered with a quick and thin layer of ganache - a "crumb coat" to seal in crumbs so that they don't work their way to the finished surface of the ganache. It then went into the freezer for a short period to allow the ganache to harden slightly.

Final coat!

Once the ganache is slightly firm to the touch, the entire cake is smoothed over with a spatula. Then the final layer is applied. It is relatively easy to apply a smooth final layer overtop the slightly-hardened ganache.

I use ganache and other icings extremely sparingly, with most icing layers between 1/8" to 1/4" thick. I'm no huge fan of excessively sweet cakes with oodles of icing, so the crumb coat and cooling period lets me achieve a smooth, uniform surface with very little icing.

Or, if you're like me and not great at masking cakes, why not cover it with something else? The idea of the chocolate shards came from Cenk's Cafe Fernando, the origin of the genoise recipe used for this cake.

My shard-making has a long ways to go, compared to the elegant specimens shown on Cenk's blog. I think that the chocolate had not hardened completely, and that my apartment was far too warm when I was unrolling the chocolate, so the chocolate did not snap and break cleanly. That, or I did not roll the chocolate tightly enough, so that when I did unroll it, the shards broke in far larger pieces.

In any case, I'm pretty happy with how the entire cake turned out. The chocolate shards definitely add a bold, classy look to the cake (once I get them perfected, I mean). I'm now tempted to try my hand at different chocolate cake surrounds. When I do, you'll be sure to know how it goes.

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