Little known fact. The following items are not cakes. They are entremets.
I didn’t know. I thought there was cake and not cake. Nope, in France there are cakes, gateau, entremets, petit gateaux, petit fours, cakes meant to travel well…really, the genres and names of these cakes are endless. English covers all the bases by naming them all cake and has officially not helped me in France. But they are delicious, so I don’t really care what they call them as long as I get a bite.
Your history lesson for the day: Entremets were supposedly first thought up in the Middle Ages, when their only entertainment during dinner was in the form of some mush with honey. Seriously, that was their special dessert. Bad oatmeal. Anyway, the ideal evolved thankfully, into huge and elaborate dramatic desserts, some of which were so ridiculous that they weren’t even eaten and just for show – this wasn’t the cake that dear Marie Antoinette was suggesting people eat instead of bread, but you get the point. From these two ends of the spectrum, French pastry chefs have settled on this middle ground of the meaning of entremets as layered biscuits that involve mousse and, on occasion, some crazy coloring or other dramatic flair.
Enough of explanations to help people with random trivial at a bar and let me make you jealous you don’t get to eat them right now.
This little guy right here is a Feuille d’Automne, or Autumn Leaves. Two layers of French meringue yield an inner layer of chocolate mousse, covered in chocolate strips and topped with ribboned chocolate. Yup, I did that. I loved working with chocolate finally, though! And eventually there will be enough bleach to bring my apron back to white.
Next up, we have Foret Noire, or the French version of a Black Forest Cake. We have a German girl in class, so the official word is this isn’t a Black Forest. It doesn’t matter, though, right? We’re entremet-ing, therefore it’s all about drama to end a meal, not necessarily to be exactly correct in terminology. To make a “dramatic” Foret Noire, you need 3 layers of chocolate genoise (sponge cake), with a layer of lighter chocolate mousse covered with booze-soaked cherries, and a layer of chantilly cream. Did I mention all three genoise are soaked in a simple syrup and Kirsch? Told you it was dramatic.
Moving along, we come to a lovely Giverny. While classically this can be any combination of raspberry, strawberry, pistachio, chocolate, vanilla, or coffee, we made ours with pistachio bavaroise and raspberry mousse. The outside and 2 layers inside are a type of soft lady fingers. It’s our girly-est cake to date. If only it could have been purple…
This delicious little morsel is called a Succes. Two layers of almond meringue sandwich a praline buttercream center, topped by another layer of praline buttercream and finished with chocolate cigarettes. Let me just say, that buttercream stuff is dangerously good. At one point, my genius partner decided to spread a bit on a freshly made croissant. Aside from its clear health benefits, it was insanely good.
Last up for last week was the classic entremet, the Opera Cake. This pretty little thing is made up of, from the bottom up, a thin chocolate base, a jaconde sponge cake soaked in Cointreau and simple syrup, chocolate ganache, another soaked jaconde, a layer of coffee buttercream, more soaked jaconde, more coffee buttercream and then topped with a hard chocolate shell. It is assembled as a huge sheet cake basically, but then cut up into 8 normal sized cakes, or smaller into single servings (plated dessert in a restaurant) or into a petit four size for just a touch of this insanely rich and decadent treat. The truly impressive part of this cake was that I sort of remembered how to write cursive and attempted to do so in chocolate. I forgot how hard an “r” is… I did keep this one simple though and negated adding gold leaf.
To truly get a sense of the layers though and make you wish you had a fork in Paris, seeing as there is one of these in my house right now:
Two more weeks to follow of Entremets. Maybe it is a good thing I have 6 flights of stairs to walk up every day to my apartment…
*Please forgive the lack of appropriate accent marks on the names. I’m far too lazy to check the correct spelling and then insert the right letters. Also, if for some reason you feel like attempting to make one of these for your next Tuesday night dinner, just let me know and I’ll share the recipe. Until then, I’ll be eating my Opera.