Fancy cake, definitely for an “occasion” (aka, adventures with gelatin)

Two beautiful  young ladies at my office are getting married in August. We had a dual shower/party last week, and I volunteered to do the cake, which of course had to be fresh and beautiful like them. After checking what allergies or dislikes either had, I found myself with complete free reign! 

Sometimes that’s not good – sometimes, you just need a “limit” or an idea to work within, but sometimes it’s awesome, if I do say so myself. 

Having fond memories of Extraordinary Desserts in San Diego, I looked up Karen Krasne’s cookbook, Extraordinary Cakes. While it didn’t have the recipe for the chocolate green tea cake with sesame ice cream concoction that I remember so vividly, it does have plenty of showstoppers!

I opted to make Marco Polo, a layered joconde, custard, fruit, whipped cream fantasy with a streusel side crust and a blackberry miroir glaze on the top surface. If you read reviews of the book, you’ll know in advance that you need to plan out your steps in order to get them all done. Thankfully, she helps with this!

My only issue with the whole recipe was that it called for leaf, or sheet, gelatin, and she’s pretty adamant about it. A little internet research showed that leaf-vs-powder is a raging debate, especially when it comes to conversion factors. I hit AmazonSmile (did you know your Amazon orders can benefit for your favorite charity? Check it out at smile.amazon.com!) and ordered the leaves, which would arrive Saturday, in time for the Sunday preparations. 

Saturday came, and my husband wanted to shop for plants (we’re working on creating a native habitat out of our little postage stamp), so we headed to Frederick. Unbeknownst to me, while a package containing, say, a computer my husband ordered, gets left at the door – a 6×9 package of shelf-stable, non-perishable gelatin does not, and although we arrived home at 4, about 6 pm I receive a “delivery attempted” notice. Knowing full well the gelatin will not be on time no matter who I call, I spend my time researching who might carry it locally. Wegman’s, Whole Foods, Rodman’s, Glen’s, Balducci’s, MOM, Williams-Sonoma… I drive to several and call others but it is not to be found. I buy several extra boxes of the powder just to be sure and try working out the conversions. 

The first step was the joconde. I hadn’t seen that term before in spite of having once owned an entire 6′ bookcase of just cookbooks; it appears to be a nut-based sponge cake with whole eggs instead of just whites. 

The cake was ridiculously easy and came out as close to perfect as I get:  

While the joconde was cooling, I started the first filling, a vanilla custard. Suffice it to say it was an interesting challenge. The custard (which I normally make only with egg yolk, never before with gelatin added) broke, so I took it off the heat and beat well, which was enough to save it. (I realized then I should have added the gelatin more towards the end of cooking. Gelatin 1, Amy 0.) I set the custard aside to cool. After it was close to room temp, it still looked soft, but I pressed on – wrapped and fridged. 

When I came back to it, having decide if it sucked I’d just make a standby custard recipe without gelatin, I found a large flat pencil-eraser – I could literally flip the custard out of the bowl in one solid piece! Unfortunately I was so flabbergasted I didn’t grab a photo. Gelatin 2, Amy 0. Determined to save it, I chopped it up and tossed it in the KitchenAid. Quite a few minutes later, it actually resembled custard, thankfully. Amy 1, Gelatin 2.

I also made whipped cream, and a simple syrup in which I steeped the namesake tea, Marco Polo. Smelled heavenly! 

Assembly entailed slicing the cake, then layering with cake soaked in simple syrup, custard, halved blackberries, whipped cream, repeat:   

      

Then it needed to be frozen so when I poured in hot glaze all would remain well. In the meantime, I made streusel out of ground almonds, ground tea, sugar, and butter, baked, cooled, and crumbled, then pressed into the sides of the cake. (Right about then, thankfully before adding the crumbs, I also remembered to put little strips of wax paper under the edges of the cake – which, when later carefully pulled out, would leave a clean edge on the serving plate.)

The blackberry glaze, miroir, also used gelatin, plus blackberries and a bit of jam, cooked down. For some reason mine would not hit the temperature she specified, so due to the long cooking time as I waited and stirred in vain, it was much thicker than her instructions implied, and definitely not mirror-like, but it did get an intense blackberry flavor that worked out great.  Amy 2, Gelatin 2.
That went back in the freezer. The next day at work, I topped it with a few fresh roses (well washed, stems wrapped in plastic wrap, and even a small “flag” of wrap sticking out from the stems, under the flower heads, to keep them off the glaze. Just didn’t know how organic they were – they are edible so I wasn’t worried about the flowers themselves but the potential pesticides.), and a pile of fresh blackberries.  

        

(Even the inside looked ok:) 

It went fast, and everyone seemed to love it. Since the purpose, for me anyway, of making cake, is for people to enjoy it, I counted it successful. ūüôā (Take that, gelatin. Amy 3, Gelatin 2; I win!) 

Plus, I kept the extra roses from the bunch I’d gotten, at my desk all week, where they smelled wonderful, and reminded me of a former colleague who always kept fresh flowers at her desk.  

PS The recipe is long, and several pages, so I’ve not included here. 

2 thoughts on “Fancy cake, definitely for an “occasion” (aka, adventures with gelatin)

  1. oh it looks like it came out great!!

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