I’ve been thumbing through my copy of Eating Royally by Darren McGrady, looking for new things to try in the kitchen. Something called “Royal Birthday Cake,” supposedly the cake England’s queen gets every year for her birthday, caught my eye. It’s a chocolate genoise filled and iced with chocolate ganache. I’d never attempted a genoise before, and I was a bit nervous. A genoise is a French sponge cake leavened only by air: whole eggs and a few yolks, plus a bit of sugar, are whipped in a double boiler until they triple in volume and, when the whisk is lifted, form ribbons that take a second or two to dissolve back into the rest of the mixture. There are so few ingredients in this cake that the chocolate figures prominently in the cake’s flavour, so use the best chocolate you can find.
The recipe directs the baker to torte the cake – for the recipe yields only one cake layer – into three layers, which seemed a daunting task considering that the layer I pulled out of my oven would make for three very, very thin layers. Plowing ahead determinedly, I torted the cake while it was still hot, and cooled the three layers atop one another, separating the layers with sheets of waxed paper.
I tasted a scrap of cake, and was, I have to admit, disappointed to find that the genoise lives up to its reputation of being a bit dry for American tastes. I remedied this by making a simple syrup, with which I generously brushed each layer. This eliminated the dryness and added a boost of flavour. I highly recommend that you use the simple syrup for this cake, unless you genuinely prefer the unadorned genoise texture. Husband and I agreed that a coffee-flavoured simple syrup is in order for next time, as a coffee kick would have given the cake the complexity it needed to be truly great. Otherwise, this turned out to be a fantastic kitchen experience and a valuable lesson in working with French techniques.
One caveat: The ganache recipe given for this cake is way too thin to ever ice anything. It wouldn’t firm up, even after several hours in the freezer. I tried freezing it overnight, but as soon as it began to thaw, it went right back to its liquid state. Dismissing that effort as hopeless, I turned to my favourite ganache recipe, in point of fact the one from these Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes. The recipe for the second ganache is included below.
This recipe is in honour of special March birthdays. 🙂 Here’s to robust health and true enjoyment of life. Sláinte!
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Chocolate Genoise Royal Birthday Cake
Yield: 10 – 14 servings
For the ganache:
18 oz. chocolate (milk, semisweet, or dark, depending on your preference)
2 TBS unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups + 1 TBS heavy cream
2 TBS Bailey’s liqueur, optional
For the cake:
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup + 2 TBS all-purpose flour
4 TBS Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
For the simple syrup:
1/2 cup water
6 TBS sugar
2 TBS brewed espresso or strong coffee
1 1/2 cups chopped chocolate (I used Hershey’s Special Dark chips)
For the ganache:
Place chocolate and butter in a medium bowl. Heat cream until boiling and pour immediately over chocolate and butter. Let stand two minutes. Whisk until completely incorporated and smooth. Whisk in the Bailey’s, if using. Cover and let stand for several hours to thicken to icing consistency. (You may speed this process by placing the ganache in the freezer or refrigerator and stirring every 10 minutes or every 30 minutes, respectively.)
For the cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8″ cake pan (do not flour) and line with parchment paper; butter the parchment paper.
In a small bowl, sift flour and cocoa together.
Set a metal mixing bowl (I used the bowl for my stand mixer) over a saucepan half filled with simmering water. The water shouldn’t touch the bottom of the mixing bowl. Add the yolks, eggs, and sugar to the mixing bowl, and whisk together, allowing the heat from the simmering water to warm the mixture.
Keep whisking the egg mixture until it triples in volume and, when the whisk is lifted, forms streams that take a second or two to dissolve back into the rest of the mixture.
Gently fold in the flour / cocoa mixture. Carefully fold in the melted butter.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 20 minutes, or until the edges begin to pull away from the sides. Remove immediately from oven – this is one cake that does not take kindly to being even slightly overbaked!
Turn cake onto cooling rack and let cool for 10 minutes. Using a long, serrated knife, tort cake into 3 thin, even layers. Place a layer of waxed paper between each layer and stack layers. Allow to cool completely.
For the simple syrup:
While the cake is cooling, make the simple syrup. Place sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat on medium, swirling occasionally (do not stir), until the sugar has dissolved completely and the mixture is clear. Heat an additional 2 – 3 minutes to slightly thicken the syrup, then remove from heat and immediately stir in the coffee.
Place bottom cake layer on a serving platter. Brush very generously with syrup and then ice with 1/4 of ganache. Top with second cake layer. Brush very generously with syrup and then ice with 1/4 of ganache. Place approximately half the chopped chocolate atop ganache. Top with remaining layer and brush very generously with syrup. Ice top and sides with remaining ganache. Garnish with remaining chopped chocolate.
Serve with whipped cream and coffee.
Source: Cake barely adapted from Eating Royally: Recipes & Remembrances from a Palace Kitchen by Darren McGrady, 2007; ganache from Annie’s Eats