Sunday, July 4, 2010

Fourth of July hybrid cousin cake

Today is the Fourth of July, which of course means we're celebrating S's birthday. Germany doesn't give much attention to the occasion, so S appreciates the effort the U.S. puts forth every year.

No birthday would be complete without birthday cake. For S, I usually make a hybrid of assorted cakes, yielding what you might call a cousin to the Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Cherry Cake). But while the respectably admirable Schwarzwaelder Kirschtorte probably gets picked no later than third for the dodgeball team during recess, and usually lands a solid supporting role in the school musical every spring, the handsome Hybrid Cousin Cake is both team captain and the musical's protagonist, and still manages to get straight As and be so wittily gracious about it all that you have to like him even if you're a little jealous.

Today, the Hybrid Cousin is manifested as a four-layer toasted-almond sponge cake, each layer doused in rum, with raspberry jam and rum-soaked Ranier cherries atop the first and third layers, and Helen's whipped chocolate ganache atop the second layer and frosting the whole cake.

Helen is S's mom. I couldn't remember what proportions to use for the ganache, so I thought, "I'll just call Helen and ask." Of course, there's no better way to flatter and please your mother-in-law than to inquire about a recipe you want to replicate for her golden son.

My own mom did the same thing a few decades back, when she called my dad's mom, Zelda, to ask for her recipe for tongue. Personally, I think one reaps more direct benefit asking about chocolate ganache, but dietary habits have changed since the 1960s. Anyway, family lore says Bubbie Zelda's recipe was to "just put it in a pot with the ingredients" and cook it until it was done.

Helen said basically the same thing about the chocolate ganache: you just put the chocolate and the cream in a pot together and--

"How much chocolate?" I interrupted. "One of the big Milka bars, or one of the small ones?"--(the standard units of chocolate measurement in Germany)--"And how much cream?"

"Oh, I don't remember. Half a liter of cream, and then add the chocolate. Don't use chocolate with anything in it," she added, deftly evading the quantity question, "no nuts or anything like that."

So I winged the proportions: a pint and a half of heavy whipping cream from Maple View Farm in Chapel Hill, and one Swiss dark chocolate bar and two Swiss milk chocolate bars from Whole Foods. Melt, chill, whip.

Incidentally, another way to score points with your German mother-in-law is to make an impressively tall sponge torte. "My cakes never rise that much," she said a few years back, when we were visiting and I made three tortes for a party she was hosting. She nodded with approval at my egg-white-whipping-and-subsequent-gentle-folding abilities. Of course, the wise daughter-in-law knows to simply smile politely and not mention the two extra egg whites she snuck in as backup.

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