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.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Rumball Cake

Happy Holidays, and here's a toast to 2011!

I know this is slightly/very belated, but better late than never! Plus, there are still (checks calendar) 49 weeks left in 2011, so there's still plenty of time left for a little more goodwill.

Christmas is usually a much-anticipated holiday for me. I am the self-appointed Festive Decorator for my family, and I usually start sneaking up the cumbersome boxes of decorations from the basement at the end of November. I have established specific routines for the tree, trimming the dining room chandelier, and draping the banister with garlands. It is more the action of decorating, of preparing the house for Christmas, than the actual decorations that always got me into a festive mood.

This year was a sharp departure from that, working out-of-town until two days before Christmas. Even in University, the exam schedule was usually very fortunate to me and would sometimes allot close to a full month off for the holidays. The working world is far less kind, and I'll leave it at that. (I know that this also depends on the specific university and program. A hint: if you like vacations - and who doesn't? - the BLA program at Guelph is a good choice).

This year, I decided to attempt a Rumball Cake for the holidays. It has been a while since a rumball cake graced our family dining table. When I was younger, rumball cakes were almost exclusively reserved for Christmas or New Year's, and they were always a huge highlight of the night. I was eager to reintroduce it into our holidays.

It appears that there are three major categories of rumballs, each constituted of one major element held together with cocoa/chocolate, sugar, and rum. The first is finely-ground nuts, which I tried last year, with moderately-pleasing results. The second is wafers or cookies, ground into crumbs. The third is a brownie- or cake-like baked good, crumbled.

Lost in a field of rumballs. (There are worst places to be.)

After much search for rumball recipes, I eventually settle on this recipe from Martha Stewart, which is the third type of rumball recipe. It yielded a very dense, very smooth-textured rumball that was very easy to handle and shape. The first trial batch were made with Grand Marnier instead of rum, which gave them a sharper taste than those made with rum. Both were just as delicious as the other.

The cake itself was chocolate genoise and dark chocolate ganache - two reliable standbys. The chocolate genoise was baked in a cookie sheet to yield a rectangle slab cake, which was then cut into quarter strips, each strip torted into two layers, and then re-stacked to produce two cakes each of four layers.

Steps for ganache: Heat cream. Add chocolate. Stir until melted. Cool. Whip. Done!

The reason why I'm continually drawn towards genoise is its simplicity. There are only three major ingredients: eggs, sugar, and flour. The chocolate genoise has some cocoa powder substituted for the flour. There's an elegance to creating something with such a minimal number of ingredients.

Sift the cocoa powder and flour together to mix the two together. This also removes and breaks down and clumps of cocoa powder.

Mix the sugar and eggs together, and then heat over a pan of simmering water while beating constantly. When tripled in volume, remove from heat and continue beating until eggs fall in ribbons from the beaters.

Fold the flour and cocoa into the eggs, 1/3 at a time. Spread the mixture in a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and bake until firm (springs back when pressed).

Each section was torted into two layers. The parchment paper facilitates handling!

Each layer is then soaked in rum syrup and layered with chocolate ganache. Given the thick consistency of the whipped ganache, this would have been a lot easier with a piping bag.

I decided to go with an acanthus-scroll decoration, running down the centre of the cake, flanked with rumballs on either side. Right before decorating, I had a minor concern that the proportions would cause the cake to end up resembling Lady Gaga's Minnie Mouse glasses, rather than the sophisticated vision I had in my head. Putting aside my doubts, I forged on and this turned out pretty well.

The masked cake, ready for decorating. A small glass was used to mark out the rough guides for the acanthus-style decorations.

The finished product! The rectangular form is conducive for rich cakes, as it easily allows for smaller individual servings. The only problem is finding an appropriate plate for presentation! (A glass cutting board was used for this, not the cookie sheet shown here).

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