re: learning

"What intrigues me about making something to eat is the intimate details, the small human moments that make cooking interesting...the craft of making something with our hands, something for ourselves and others." - Nigel Slater

It has been a busy, busy few weeks dear reader, and I have been itching to write. Somehow, even if only for myself, my efforts here feel important, as though the process of writing has forced me to take notice of more in my life. To realize what is there rather than feeling passive and letting moments slip by. It feels good, so thank you for following and reading.

About two weeks ago, my friend Lauren came up to visit from Tallahassee. She was the first person I met when I first flew to Florida to explore the program where I would later earn my MA. It still feels odd to say I have one, even now over a year later. Sometimes when I head home to Minnesota and see my degree in my childhood bedroom, I have to take a moment to remind myself it actually happened. What has followed me from those two years is less about the knowledge I gained and more about the people I became close to while I was there. From the moment I stepped onto Florida State’s campus, Lauren was a staple. I recognize not much time has passed since I graduated, but beyond the people I met, the door to that experience feels completely closed—securely shut in a way that makes me feel comforted. I grew tremendously while I was there, but the whole process was a struggle. It was not growth that feels affirming, but the slow crawl that is painful for unknown reasons. Only in retrospect do I see how far I have come.

chocolate croissants
croissant bread pudding

Perhaps for the first time in my friendship with Lauren, we met outside of the confines of our program—she was in Seattle, my chosen home, and we didn’t have the common experience of classes and teaching to fall back on in conversation. Granted, there was plenty to talk about in regard to the department, but we quickly began to explore topics we never had time to really talk about in school: our mutual interest in cooking and baking.

Unsurprisingly, we spent the weekend introducing Lauren to the greatness of a city like Seattle that could grow and support her interest in baking. Tallahassee leaves much to the imagination when it comes to a food scene and I was pleasantly reminded of how good I have it here. Lauren was amazed baking sugar was so easy to find and we spent a good twenty minutes perusing the endless section of bitters at DeLaurenti (confession: had no idea the entire wine section was there until two weeks ago). We hit all of my favorites: Ballard Farmer’s Market, World Spice Merchants, Lark, and Metropolitan Market. We saw Placebo at the Showbox SODO. We chatted until four in the morning on my roof, where we were enveloped in a thick fog that rolled over the International District, and laughed too loudly at challenges overcome. Then we baked up a storm. A genoise cake layered with homemade blackberry and blueberry jam and covered in Nutella frosting, Nigella Lawson’s chocolate croissant bread pudding, and ciabatta from scratch.

genoise layer cake

We ate the chocolate croissant bread pudding for breakfast, waking early to bring the stale, buttery pillows new life, snacked on the ciabatta with an aged gouda from a local cheese maker (Samish Bay Cheese) and popped the last of the gorgeous cherry tomatoes into our mouths like grapes. And I know, I know, I just made a chocolate cake, but this is the first layer cake I have ever made and Lauren taught me how. So I present the recipe below as a testament to skills learned with old friends in new places.

genoise layer cake 2

Chocolate Génoise Cake with Berry Filling and Nutella Frosting
Adapted from Joy of Cooking

A Génoise cake is a versatile Italian staple. Its variations are endless and this sheet cake can be rolled instead of layered. The sheet is moistened with a simple syrup before it is stacked, which will feel weird but is necessary. This recipe is detailed, meticulous, and requires some finesse (flipping sheet cakes is not in my typical skill set). You have to tuck in for a challenge, but the reward is worth it. I have made some alterations to what Lauren and I did, only because it may save you some time.

1/2 c. + 1 T. sifted cake flour
1/2 c. + 1 T. sited unsweetened cocoa powder (Dutch processed)
6 T. unsalted butter
6 large eggs
1 c. baker’s sugar
1 t. vanilla

Moistening Syrup:
1/2 c. baker’s sugar
1/2 c. water
3 T. Frangelico

1 c. of your favorite berry jam

2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
2/3 c. Nutella
2 c. powdered sugar
2 T. cream
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom of a jelly roll pan, cover the bottom with parchment paper, and grease the top of the parchment paper. Place a sauce pan with a few inches of water on the stove over low heat.

Sift the cake flour and the unsweetened cocoa powder together, three times. Set aside.

Whisk eggs and baker’s sugar together in a heatproof mixing bowl. Place the mixing bowl over your barely simmering sauce pan of water. Whisk constantly until the mixture is just warm to the touch, about 110 degrees. Remove from heat and beat the egg and sugar mixture until a thick, beautiful and pale yellow ribbon of batter falls from the paddle when lifted out of the mixture (about 5 minutes in a KitchenAid). Sift the flour mixture onto the top of the batter in three additions, folding in gently after each addition.

Melt the butter in the microwave and let cool slightly. Add the vanilla to the butter and fold in 1 1/2 c. of the batter. Then fold the butter/vanilla/batter mixture back into the contents of the original mixing bowl.  Pour batter evening onto jelly roll pan and bake until cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and springs back lightly when touched, about 20 minutes.

Let cake cool completely in the pan and on a wire rack. While the cake cools, prepare your simple syrup: heat sugar and water in a sauce pan until the mixture boils and the sugar dissolves. Once cool, add the Frangelico.

Slide a knife around the perimeter of the cake. Place a piece of parchment paper over the top of the cake and quickly invert. Lift the jelly roll pan and remove. Carefully peel back the parchment paper on the bottom of the cake. Place a light cutting board on top of the cake and quickly invert again, using the parchment paper as handles. Brush all of your moistening syrup evenly over the cake, soaking it completely.

Trim the edges of the cake and, using a ruler, cut the cake into 4 equal rectangles.

Place all ingredients for the frosting into a mixing bowl and beat on medium speed until fully combined—taste test for deliciousness.  

Place the first layer of your cake on your serving plate (anchor with a dab of frosting underneath). Slightly heat your jam in the microwave, about 20 seconds, so it is more easily spreadable. Spread 1/2 c. jam over the first layer and then stack, alternating layers like so: cake, frosting, cake , the rest of the jam, cake.

If at this point your cake is uneven, use a sharp knife to trim the sides. Carefully frost the outside of the layered cake, starting with the sides the then moving to the top (blob generous dollops on the sides and then smooth them out). Once frosted, place cake into fridge so frosting can set. Cut at an angle for triangles and serve with your favorite berries.