Kentucky Monsoon Season

Don’t know about where you are, but the last week has been some of the gloomiest, rainiest weather of the year, rotten for the sort of out-on-the-porch natural light photography that is the life blood of joepastry.com. I’m still in my rain slicker answering questions though, so hit me! And more as soon as the deluge permits.

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Making Chocolate Génoise

This is a classic génoise save for the fact that 25% of its flour volume has been replaced by cocoa powder. Otherwise it’s pretty much the same. Start by preheating your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and sifting together your dry ingredients: the cake flour, cocoa and salt. …

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Tell me about kirsch, Joe.

I’d be happy to tell you what I know, reader Max. It’s a cherry brandy. The name simply means “cherry” in German, and part of the reason it’s so apropos in a Black Forest cake is because it hails from that region. Morello cherries — the European Continent’s go-to sour cherry — originated in the Black Forest. As for who first started making alcoholic beverages out of Black Forest cherries, well that’s anybody’s guess. You can make wine out of just about any fruit and the practice of winemaking goes back literally thousands of years in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. …

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Why did it take so long?

Reader Cindy has been musing, she tells me, and is wondering why Black Forest cake only emerged as a phenomenon in the mid-20th century. If people in the Black Forest area had been eating sour cherries, cream and kirsch together for a hundred years or more by then, shouldn’t somebody somewhere have come up with a pastry?

My guess, Cindy, is that the rise of Black Forest cake was directly related to the advancement of refrigeration technology. Sweet cream, of the kind you need to make whipped cream, would have been a fairly rare commodity prior to about 1930….

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Cake and the Continental Divide

Reader Dottie wants to know why I’m bothering to make Black Forest cake with génoise when American layer cake makes a perfectly good — and easier — substitute. Dottie, good question, for indeed there are a lot of New World bakers out there who don’t much care for sponge cake. Many of us find it difficult to prepare and maybe just a little anachronistic.

I get that. We New World bakers like our cakes thick and moist. Cake layers on the Continent are a bit tough by our standards and are seldom more than an inch or so high. An inch of course is nothing for an American cake layer. Heck, two inches is common. Three inches? Why not? I’ve got nothing to do today. …

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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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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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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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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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