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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And going and going and going…

Reader Nico has an interesting question on the subject of enzymes: do they ever quit? Which is to say, do they stop working at some point just naturally, run out of go-juice or something along those lines? Nico, I’m not an organic chemist but when’t the last time I let that stop me? I believe the answer is no. Enzymes are not living organisms, so as far as I know they don’t run out of energy or anything like that. They are organic molecules (proteins) that living organisms use to perform very specific chemical jobs, converting x molecule — but only x molecule — into molecules y and z if that makes sense.


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Next Up: Black Forest Cake

I still have some sour cherries left from The Great Sour Cherry Windfall of 2014. Just enough for a cake filling by my reckoning. Let’s see…what famous cake that I haven’t made yet on the blog that calls for a filling of sour cherries? Don’t tell me now…don’t tell me…

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How to Mess Up Enzymes

Reader Hermes asks, since I mentioned that heat treating is only the “most popular” way to denature (wreck) browning enzymes in fruit, what other methods are there? A great question I’d be happy to answer, Hermes.

Acids do a great job of stopping browning enzymes from going to work on phenols. Depending on how strong they are they can slow down the the functioning of an enzyme, stop it from functioning altogether, or denature (gank) it. Ascorbic acid (lemon juice) and acetic acid (vinegar) are popular for this purpose.


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Making Caged Pears (Poires en Cage)

Pears are too dangerous to be allowed to roam freely, hence this ingenious preparation which safely confines them behind bars of buttery pastry. For goodness’ sake don’t go sticking your fingers in there. What goes in that cage may not come out. Still if you’re the kind of baker who craves adventure and doesn’t mind working around savage fruit, then these might be for you. …

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Why bother poaching pears…

…when you’re just going to cook them in the oven anyway? A good question, reader Toni. The answer is: enzymes. Pears will turn brown when they’re baked if they aren’t poached first. That browning is a result of enzymes that activate when the flesh of the pear is cut.

In an uncut pear these browning enzymes (polyphenoloxidase and peroxydase) are kept inside special compartments in the flesh of the pear, away from both oxygen and the compounds these enzymes commonly interact with, molecules called phenols. The trouble comes when those tiny structures are damaged by, say, cutting or bumping the fruit. At that point the enzymes are freed from their little holding cells and start to run wild. With plenty of oxygen at their disposal (which they need in order to do their job) they hop from phenol to phenol breaking each one into pieces. The resulting wreckage is a variety of smaller molecules, some of which are melanins, or brown pigments. The longer cut pear flesh is exposed to oxygen the browner it will get until all the phenols on the cut surface of the flesh have been sliced and diced, and the flesh is a mottled tan. …

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Paint and Its Consequences II

I liked the job on the house so much that I asked the crew to do the kitchen. They showed up yesterday, again a week ahead of schedule. Who are these people? But I can’t cook or bake at the moment. The kids can’t believe their luck that they get carryout two night in a row in the middle of the week. At least someone’s happy! More soon. – Joe

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