Cakes for Hansel and Gretel

July 29, 2012 § Leave a comment

The challenge for this year’s Clonter Opera (Cheshire’s answer to Glyndebourne) picnic was to produce a themed dessert which could be eaten during a 30 minute interval. This year’s production was Engelbert Humperdinck’s “Hansel and Gretel”, so a selection of German mini-cakes, plus sweets and the obligatory gingerbread seemed to fit the bill.

I love proper cheesecake, so a traditional German-style baked cheesecake cooked in a rectangular tin and cut into dainty squares was first on my list. I chose my recipe from my newly acquired baking book, Dan Lepard’s “Short and Sweet” and found it to be excellent. This was the “Classic Cheesecake” from p.458 and was everything a cheesecake should be – deep cream cheese flavour with hints of orange zest and vanilla and great texture. The Hobnob biscuit base was an inspired variation on the usual digestives and was neither too hard nor too soggy, but just right. You can see the cheesecake squares presented in pink foil cases in the picture above.

Talking of which, the dinky self-assembly cardboard three tier cake stands I used attracted at least as much interest as the cakes! These were a Caroline Gardner design, stocked by online supermarket Ocado and maybe also Waitrose and John Lewis too.

That much-bastardised 1970’s dinner party favourite, Black Forest Gâteau just had to be on the menu. Forget dry chocolate cake, too much buttercream and garish decoration, my version was constructed with featherlight chocolate génoise (I used Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recipe from “The Cake Bible”); kirsch-infused syrup; luscious smooth chocolate custard (another winner from Dan Lepard’s “Short and Sweet” book); white chocolate ganache which tastes and behaves like a super-stable whipped cream, great for a cake which has to sit in a warm room for a little time. The final decoration was a griottine-style morello cherry, a chocolate stick and for a final touch of bling, a shred of real edible silver leaf. The result was a delectable little mouthful:

So good in fact that I just had to put together another batch the next day for afternoon tea, this time with a double layer of sponge, fresh cherries and grated chocolate:

Both the chocolate génoise and custard are really good versions of these classic components and I’ve given both recipes at the end of this post.

Strawberry tartlets presented German style on a sponge cake rather than pastry base, completed my trio of mini-cakes. I used more of the white chocolate ganache and incorporated my mother’s trick of glazing the strawberries with redcurrant jelly for extra sweetness and shine. The cakes were finished off with a little edible gold leaf:

You can’t do Hansel and Gretel without a gingerbread house. I didn’t think a fully assembled gingerbread house would survive the minibus journey along bumpy country roads from home to Clonter so used the templates for mini gingerbread houses from the BBC Good Food site recipe here to make house-shaped biscuits. I didn’t use their gingerbread recipe though, opting for yet another Dan Lepard recipe from “Short and Sweet”, the gingerbread biscuit recipe from p. 243. Another winner, producing a dark, deeply spicy biscuit, its colour coming both from muscovado sugar and also a tablespoon of cocoa powder added to the dough, a neat trick producing a deep colour and rich flavour pointing up the spices but not overpowering them with obvious chocolate.

I decorated the biscuits very simply with white royal icing and a number 1.5 writing nozzle producing a stylish black and white effect:

A selection of old-fashioned sweets from Altrincham market’s pick and mix stall and Hale’s fabulous Gobstopper sweet shop (sugar mice, chevron lolly pops, candy canes, bon bons, comfits, sugared almonds..) plus squares of home-made fudge completed the spread. Shame the opera director had a slightly different vision of the story and went for a pyschedelic Affleck’s Palace style emporium complete with skateboard gear rather than a recognisable gingerbread house. Ah well, you can’t win them all…

Recipe for Chocolate Génoise

Adapted from Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “Cake Bible”. I’d recommend buying the book for all Rose’s invaluable tips and tricks though. This recipe is sufficient for a deepish 23cm diameter round cake. I wanted thinner sheets of cake so scaled up the recipe to a 7 egg version and baked two 25cm square trays of cake.

Ingredients

37g clarified beurre noisette
28g cocoa powder (I like Valrhona or Green and Blacks)
60g boiling water
4g vanilla extract
5 large eggs (250g shelled weight)
100g golden caster sugar
75g sifted plain flour

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C (fan).

Warm the beurre noisette until almost hot and keep warm.

In a smallish bowl, whisk together the cocoa and boiling water until you have a smooth paste. Stir in the vanilla extract and set aside, covering the bowl with the whisk still in it with cling film if you don’t plan to use it immediately.

Mix the eggs and sugar together in the large mixing bowl from your Kenwood or similar mixer. Set the bowl over, not in, a pan of simmering water and stir constantly until the mixture is just lukewarm. Take care and do not allow the eggs to coagulate or you will end up with hard little lumps in the finished cake. The heating of the eggs helps stabilise the mixture when whisked which is helpful when the dense chocolate is mixed in. I wouldn’t bother with the heating for a plain génoise.

Remove the bowl from the hot water, dry it off and return it to the mixer. Whisk at high speed until the mixture has tripled in volume and leaves a trail when the whisk is lifted.

Take a couple of big spoonfuls of the egg mixture and whisk them into the cocoa mixture using a balloon whisk.

Sift the flour over the remaining egg mixture and incorporate thoroughly but carefully using a balloon whisk. Add the cocoa and egg mixture and stir with the balloon whisk until half-incorporated. Fold in the beurre noisette in two batches by which time everything will be thoroughly combined yet still aerated.

Pour immediately into the prepared cake tin (greased and base lined for a deep round tin; fully lined with baking parchment if you’re baking a sheet of cake in a shallow square or rectangular tin as I was) and bake for about 30 minutes. You can tell when the cake is done as the cake shrinks away from the sides just a little.

Turn out straightaway onto a lightly greased cooling rack and peel off the parchment after a couple of minutes.

Recipe for Chocolate Cream Custard

From Dan Lepard’s “Short and Sweet”. Makes enough to fill 30 mini cakes with plenty left over.

Ingredients

100g golden caster sugar
25g cornflour
25g cocoa powder (I like Valrhona or Green and Blacks)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
225 ml milk (I used semi-skimmed)
2 egg yolks
50g unsalted butter cut into pieces
50g dark chocolate in small pieces (I like Valrhona Manjari buttons)
150ml double cream

In a heavy-based saucepan whisk the sugar, cornflour, cocoa powder and vanilla extract with the milk until smooth. Add the egg yolks and whisk again. Heat gently over a low to moderate heat beating with a wooden spoon all the time. As the mixture warms, gradually add the butter piece by piece, stirring all the time. As the mixture begins to thicken, beat hard to keep it smooth.

Remove from the heat, tip the mixture into a medium sized bowl (you’re going to add cream to the mixture later) and cover the surface of the custard directly with cling film to stop a sking forming. Leave to cool then chill in the fridge until completely cold.

When you’re ready to complete the custard, take it out of the fridge and remove the cling film. Using a hand-held electric whisk, whisk the custard at a slow speed. When the custard is smooth, increase the speed to medium and gradually whisk in the double cream until the mixture is very smooth, shiny and thick. The mixture will thicken up further to a consistency which can be piped and will hold its shape if returned to the fridge to chill for a while.

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