How much fat do you need in cream to whip it?

So asks reader Jey and it’s an excellent question. The answer is you need a minimum of 30% butterfat to make a stable whipped cream. In the States whipping cream (also called heavy cream) must be 36% butterfat. Some have more though I’m not sure if ingredient labels reveal that or not. I’ll have to check. Aussies and Brits have what’s known as double cream, which is at least 48% butterfat. It makes exceptionally thick…

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What do you know about the Black Forest, Joe?

Not very much, reader Brian. I drove through it once on the way to visit the city of Freiburg. I remember the Black Forest being quite black indeed because of all the pine and fir trees, but that’s about it for the forest itself. One thing I remember about Freiburg, however, was all the cuckoo clocks. The Black Forest area is known for cuckoo clocks, which have been produced there, in one form or another, for some 300 years. There was a shop in Freiburg that seemed to have nothing in it but cuckoo clocks. The sheer absurdity of it made you want to buy one. …

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Filed under:  Pastry | 2 Comments

How does whipped cream work?

Reader Sandra wants to know why cream needs to be cold before you whip it. Excellent question and one I’m only too pleased to answer. Heavy cream is pretty amazing stuff: a liquid that can be turned (sort of) into a solid by agitating it. The geek in me, which is really most of me, says: neato….

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Filed under:  Pastry | 4 Comments

Committing Chocolate Shaving Seppuku

I started cooking in an actually-fairly-decent restaurant when I was sixteen and a few months later, which I was 17, started soloing as a cook. For the rest of high school, through my college summers and for a couple of years after college I worked in a variety of kitchens, from cafeterias to steak houses. In my 30′s I went back to the kitchen and spent about five years baking and making pastries professionally.

In that time — about ten years total — I saw a lot of accidents. Lots of burns, plenty of cuts, knocks on the head, slips and falls, even a couple of broken bones. By far the worst injuries I ever saw resulted from attempts at making chocolate shavings. Why? Because even experienced pastry chefs and bakers I knew made their chocolate shavings like this:


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Filed under:  Making Chocolate Shavings, Pastry | 15 Comments

Why heat the eggs for a génoise batter?

Reader Carly wants to know why génoise batter calls for gently warmed eggs. Is it a food safety thing? Actually no, Carly, the reason we warm the eggs before whipping is to ensure that they whip up as high as they reasonably can. Cold egg albumen (white) is thicker than warm egg albumen. As such it’s more resistant to the effects of a whip. Bubbles are a factor of the amount of shear force that can be applied to the white and/or yolk. With a thinner liquid you simply get more of them. Consider which a whisk will cut through…

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Chocolate Génoise Recipe

OK, I decided.

Chocolate génoise is the foundation upon which a great Black Forest cake is built, and is good for a number of other things besides. Like a classic génoise it’s rather dry, but then it’s whole reason for being is to be soaked liberally with syrup.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
3.5 ounces (3/4 cup) cake flour
0.75 ounces (1/4 cup) Dutch-process cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 eggs, room temperature
5.25 ounces (3/4 cup) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


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Filed under:  Classic Chocolate Génoise, Pastry | 8 Comments

Biscuit or Génoise, Génoise or Biscuit?

These are the sorts of questions that keep me up at night. Both are sponge cakes that are perfectly suitable for a Black Forest cake, the only real difference between the two is that biscuit (say it the French way with me: bis-KWEE) has no fat in it. That makes it rise a bit higher, but it also means it’s drier and you need more syrup to moisten it. Being averse to cake syrup as a general rule that makes me a bit uneasy. Still, lot of very capable Black Forest cake makers use it, however. Decisions, decisions…

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Compote, Coulis, Sauce, Jam

Reader Melody wants to know what a compote is and that’s a darn good question. “Compote” is a term you find used in many of your finer food and cooking magazines, usually without any explanation. Basically a compote is a sort of chunky fruit sauce. The fruits that are in it — for indeed you can have more than one in a compote — have been cooked for at least a short period of time in a light sugar syrup. A fruit cocktail, if it’s been cooked, is a compote.


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So…how to build this beast?

Look around the world and you’ll find innumerable versions of the Black Forest cake. However in Germany there’s a legal definition (a PDO or something along those lines) for the confection, which goes by the name schwarzwälder kirschtorte in their language. No surprise there, everything from pork pies to pizzas to strawberries carry those sorts of designations these days. And very handy things they are too as they provide rough blueprints for my pirated American recipes. …

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Where does Black Forest cake come from?

It’s not the Black Forest if that’s what you were thinking you goof. Whatever gave you that dumb idea? The birthplace of Black Forest cake was a small university town called Tübingen, which truth be told is only a stone’s throw from the real Black Forest in the extreme southwestern corner of Germany, right along the border with France and Austria. No doubt the forest did influence the thinking of the pastry chef who invented it, a fellow by the name of Erwin Hildebrand. He was the one who first conceived the magnificent combination of chocolate spongecake, sour cherries, whipped cream and kirsch — in 1930. …

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Filed under:  Pastry | 2 Comments