Archive for April 16th, 2011

April 16, 2011

Hometown/New-Town Cherry Celebration

My parents came to DC  for a little visit last week, along with their adorable Japanese exchange student, Yuko, who I fell in love with.  Yuko is staying with my parents in Michigan for a year while she studies English at a nearby University.  When I heard that she’d be accompanying them on their visit, I was thrilled at the opportunity to be able to share with her some of the great beauty and history of America that’s showcased here in DC.  And what better time for a girl from Japan to visit DC than during the National Cherry Blossom Festival, the two-week long celebration of the blossoming of the cherry trees galore, a gift given by the Mayor of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC years ago to honor the friendship between the United States and Japan? 

I wanted to bake something special in honor of the Cherry Blossom Festival, and while I was deeply inspired by the exquisite beauty of the cherry trees and their pretty pink blossoms, neither my parents nor Evan care much for cherries.  Now, if we were talking Michigan black cherries, it would be a whole different story.  Found only in Michigan, these dark black cherries are pleasantly sweet-tart and seem to be enjoyed by cherry-lovers and non-cherry-lovers alike.  The only way I knew I could get away with using cherries in a dessert is if I could get my hands on some of these home-grown favorites, which would be nearly impossible seeing as though it is 9+ hour drive from DC to Michigan, where the cherries probably aren’t even in season yet.  I had just about given up on the idea of a cherry dessert for my family, when I randomly stumbled upon a jar of Michigan Black Cherry preserves while shopping one day.  I was overjoyed at the endless possibilities this little jar had to offer, and even more overjoyed when I brought it home, opened it up, tasted, and confirmed that the contents were, in fact, the real deal.

In desserts, cherries are commonly paired with almond flavors.  I chose to challenge myself by making an almond genoise, my first ever attempt at a traditional genoise.  A genoise is a slightly sweet Italian sponge-like cake and is a staple in French pastry.  It uses zero chemical leavening,  only air whipped into the batter to give the cake volume.  It can also be piped into ladyfingers or molded into madelines.  As these cakes can be a little temperamental, I tried two different recipes, just barely altering either (as this was my first attempt), and chose the recipe that yielded the most favorable result.  That is the recipe I will share below.  In between the cake layers, I incorporated a layer of the delicious preserves and a layer of vanilla pastry cream, and topped the whole thing off with a whipped white chocolate and black cherry ganache (as I wouldn’t dare serve my mom any sort of dessert that didn’t include at least some chocolate) the same color as the rosy-pink blooms that grace the District.  The finished product turned out to be a yummy tribute to the city I now call home, paired with the comforting flavors from where I grew up.

Michigan Black Cherry-Blossom Festival Layer Cake

Inspired by: Michigan Black Cherries (and the DC Cherry Blossoms)

Almond Genoise

Barely adapted from Chef De Cuisine’s “Almond Genoise”

-note: this recipe can and should be cut in half and prepared in two batches, as it’s  much easier to incorporate air in the batter when there is less of it.

2/3 cup almond flour (or finely ground almonds)

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour

8 large egg whites

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar, separated

6 large egg yolks plus 2 whole eggs

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Prepare three 9-inch round cake pans by lining the bottoms with parchment paper, and then buttering and flouring the bottoms and the sides.

Sift together in a medium bowl the cake flour and almond flour.  Set aside.  In a separate, medium bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar to form soft peaks.  Add the 2 tablespoons of sugar while beating.  Set aside.

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a large glass bowl.  Rigorously whisk together egg yolks, whole eggs and sugar in the large bowl over the simmering water.  Beat the mixture continuously until triple in volume, around 8-10 minutes.  Then, turn off the burner and remove bowl from heat.  Fold the egg whites into the egg-sugar mixture.  Slowly and in small batches, sift in the flours fold until incorporated, and then fold in the butter.

Distribute half the batter into one pan, and evenly divide the second half of the batter into each of the other two pans.  You should have one pan with half of the batter in it, and two pans, each with a quarter of the batter in them.  Place them into the preheated oven.  Use only the oven light when checking the cakes, as opening and closing the ovens will reduce the heat and keep the cakes from rising to their full, fluffy volume.  Remove the two pans with the least batter after about 15-20 minutes (or until lightly brown and springy to the touch), and remove the pan with the most batter about 5 or so minutes after.  Really keep an eye on these cakes while they bake so that they don’t overcook and dry out, as a genoise’ tends to be a somewhat dry cake anyway.  Keep the cakes in the pans on wire racks to cool until ready to assemble.

Whipped White Chocolate and Black Cherry Ganache

24 ounces white chocolate chips

1 1/4 cup heavy cream, divided

1/4-1/2 cup Michigan black cherry preserves, or any substitute

-optional: 3-4 drops of red food coloring*

-a mug of very hot water (for decorating)**

Prepare a double boiler fitted with a large glass bowl containing the white chocolate and 1 cup of the heavy cream.  Use a rubber spatula to keep the mixture moving as the chocolate melts.  When bowl is removed from heat and chocolate has melted, allow it to sit at room temperature to cool for a few minutes.  Then, cover the bowl and refrigerate overnight.

After chocolate ganache has been chilled overnight, remove the bowl from the fridge.  Ganache should be slightly hardened.  Use a wooden spoon or even a knife to break it up a little in the bowl.  Add a couple tablespoons of the heavy cream and the desired amount of cherry preserves to the hardened ganache.  Using an electric mixer, whip the mixture until the chocolate ganache has broken apart by aid of the added liquid and the mixture is homogenous.  If needed or desired, add the remaining two tablespoons of the heavy cream, as well as any more preserves and the red food coloring.  Whip the mixture until soft peaks form, or until desired consistency is achieved.  Do not over-whip the mixtures, as the heavy cream can eventually turn into butter if whipped for too long.

Other Ingredients for Fillings:

1 cup of pastry cream

¾ cup Michigan Black Cherry preserves, or any substitute


First, I like to trim the three cake layers.  I use a cardboard circle or the top of a round Tupperware lid, place it in the center on the top of each cake, and use it as a guide to trim the edges off of the cake with a serrated knife.

Smear a dollop of pastry cream onto the middle of platter or cake plate to secure the cake to the center of the dish.  Place one of the two thinner cake layers upside-down onto the platter, making sure its centered.  Spoon the cherry preserves onto the cake and use an angled spatula to gently spread the preserves into an even layer that reaches all edges of the cake, without cascading down the sides of it.

Next, gently place the thickest layer of cake on top of the layer of preserves, lining it up with the bottom layer as best you can.  Pipe the pastry cream in a circle as close to the outer edge of the cake layer as possible, without allowing it to fall the the sides of the cake.  Spoon the rest of the pastry cream onto the center of the cake, using a spatula to spread the cream into an even layer across the  entire cake.  Place the remaining, thinner cake layer gently atop the pastry cream.

Slide a few strips of parchment paper under the cake, in between the bottom layer of cake  and the cake plate.  This will help to catch any drips without dirtying the plate.  Gently spoon some of the whipped cherry-chocolate ganache onto the assembled cake.  Use a spatula to spread an even layer of the ganache across the cake, covering both the tops and sides.  Smooth out the ganache, pull away and discard the strips of parchment paper from beneath the cake, and serve.

*The whipped ganache is beautiful without the food coloring and can easily be omitted.  In keeping with the theme of the Cherry Blossom Festival, the added color helped me achieve a pink that closely matched the blooms.

**A tip for getting the ganache super smooth after covering the cake:  Dip your metal, angled spatula into a mug of very hot water before spreading every few strokes.  The chocolate in the ganache will soften and smooth out into a pretty, shiny surface.