Here’s a little fancy cake that pulls together quickly, once you have all the components. These constituents can vary, depending on what you have on hand and need to use up, or your whimsy. And most components can be made well ahead of time. A three-layered dainty, sized just right for the family and maybe a guest or two (yeah right, like I’ve been having company to dinner in the last two years. Or has it been six? Do cookouts count?), this petite gâteau (not to be confused with le petit gâteau) plays your palate big time, with light layers of whole grain sponge cake moistened by a refreshing syrup, and contrasting/complementary filling and frosting. Your funny valentine might appreciate a sweet slice!
For using up odds and ends of leftover fillings, glazes, etc. (the “leftover layers” version below was filled with the last of some buttercream whipped with the three tablespoons or so of leftover chocolate èclair glaze), or for simply spreading and stacking with preserves from the pantry—and maybe frosting with whoop cream, this is your go-to gateau.
WHOLE GRAIN SPONGE CAKE makes one 4″ X 7″ loaf-shaped assemblage, about 2″ to 3″ high
- 3 local eggs
- ¼ teaspoon salt. I like Real Salt.
- 100 grams (½ cup) organic sugar. Central Market’s brand sells for $2.99 for a two-pound bag.
- ¼ teaspoon almond or vanilla extract
- 2 Tablespoons local or organic butter, melted and cooled a bit. I love Organic Valley. Click for a coupon.
- 48 grams organic whole wheat pastry flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder, sieved. I prefer Rumsford, non-GMO and aluminum-free.
Preheat the oven to 350º and line an 11″ X 7″ baking pan (the old-fashioned brownie pan size) with a thin nonstick liner (I don’t recommend a Silpat style liner here) or a piece of parchment paper.
Combine the eggs, salt, sugar and extract and whip at high speed for about five minutes. A stand mixer is very handy here. While the eggs foam and lighten, whisk together the flour and baking powder. When the eggs have maximized in volume and form ribbons that disappear after a couple seconds or so when the whip attachment is lifted, be ready to fold. Lightly sprinkle a third of the flour mixture onto the eggs and quickly and gently fold it in with a large whisk. Repeat twice. Whisk a cup or so (just eyeball it) of the batter into the butter before folding the butter mixture into the rest of the batter.
Fill the baking pan right away, smoothing and leveling it with a small offset spatula or just a spoon. Bake for about 12 minutes, until lightly browned and the center barely springs back when gently pressed with your finger.
Place the pan on a rack and let it cool completely. This cake is small and light so that won’t take too long.
Unmold the cooled cake onto plate or cutting mat. Using a sharp knife, actually I like to use a finely serrated steak knife, cut the layer crosswise into three slabs, each about 3½” wide (by about 6½” long). The top crust of the cake will be sticky, which is great fun for your fingers, so lay the bottom layer onto your serving dish top side down. Brush with a little soaking syrup (see below) and spread with about ½ cup of filling. For the middle layer, brush one side (either side) of the cake piece with syrup and stack that piece on top of the filling, syrup side down. Now brush the top of that layer with more syrup. I use about 2 Tablespoons of syrup per side. Some folks like a juicier cake and some folks like a drier cake, so go with your gut. Top with another ½ cup of filling, and the last cake layer, brushed with syrup on the sticky side first and set syrup side down. Brush the top of the cake with syrup and frost the whole thing—you can use a different component . Or just frost the top—in which case I’d keep it the same as the rest of the filling. (Or maybe not.)
Here’s a simple formula for a
- ¼ cup organic agave nectar. Madhava brand’s on special at Central Market right now.
- 6 Tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons water
Stir together til well mixed. You can flavor your syrup with liqueurs or liquor—Amaretto, Frangelico and dark rum are my favorites, or a small amount of compatibly flavored extract. This recipe should moisten your little cake sufficiently.
The “Fluffy” cake pictured above was filled with crème patissière (already on hand) and frosted with a maple Italian meringue—the Bonus!
Beware of hygroscopic high jinks. Make meringue on a clear (low humidity) day. The bluer the sky, the better.
Excess frosting can be formed into “kisses” (with or without chopped toasted Texas pecans folded in) and baked in a low oven (250º) until set. Use a pastry bag, a spring-loaded scoop or two spoons to dollop your meringue onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet (I like If You Care brand unbleached parchment paper.)
MAPLE ITALIAN MERINGUE FROSTING: enough to generously frost your small cake, plus extra for kisses
- 2 local egg whites
- 1 Tablespoon organic sugar
- ½ cup organic maple syrup, preferably grade B. Whole Foods 365 brand is often the best buy.
Pour the maple syrup into a small saucepan, ideally nonstick or enameled. Bring to a boil on medium heat and clip on a candy thermometer to start measuring the temperature of the syrup. When the bubbling brew reaches 230º (we’re talkin’ Fahrenheit here), begin to whip your egg whites on low-medium speed. Once again your stand mixer will perform honorably .
When the egg whites look foamy, add the sugar and raise the mixer speed to medium. Check on the syrup temperature. When the boiling syrup reaches 238º it’ll be ready to add to your egg whites and you’ll want your egg whites to have reached the firm peak stage by then. You can adjust the mixer speed to help synchronize the processes. Be careful not to overwhip the whites to the “dry” curdled stage. Slow ’em down if you need to. When syrup and whites are ready to unite, slowly pour the syrup into the mixer bowl in a steady stream, whipping on medium as you do so. Avoid pouring the syrup directly onto the beater.
The meringue will expand as you add the hot syrup. Continue to whip the mixture for at least 5 minutes after you’ve added all the syrup, allowing the meringue to cool to room temperature. Use right away to frost your cake.