22 Mar 2011

Light and sweet as a feather

Ruffle my Feathers

Few weeks ago wondering around the web, I guess through StumbleUpon, I stumbled on Priya’s blog “Now Serving...". The landing page couldn’t have been more fit for the days I was going through.
Since few weeks I am trying to spend some of my working time designing cakes so to build up a portfolio for the Cake Designing part of my future consulting business. I have to say that these have been lovely hours spent with some good designing book and with the pencil back in my hand. It has been ages since I last draw something for fun. Going into the digital world has meant that all the space on the table was taken by the laptop.
I was missing those creative times when you just need an eraser to clear up a mistake; a ruler and a compass are sufficient to frame and regulate your thoughts.

Designing cake is quite a fun business I tell you; treat them as a decoration piece, an opportunity to tell a story, to explore a culture, a symbology, a geometry. Priya’s post was in fact announcing an event called “Crazy for Cakes”  inspired by the second guest of her blog: Anita Gupta of Maliha Creations.

You can easily imagine how excited I felt in trying to create one of my designs to submit for this competition. When I came back into my shoes though I realised how much I could suck at putting together a cake. So far I have only worked on single layer cake where the decorations acted as little flavour enhancement to distinguish and refresh one bite from another. The only piping I have ever done were on top of cupcakes.
Layer a cake, ice it, smooth the all… By then I started shivering at the challenge, though I went through it just to prove myself that I don’t wanna be a cake designer that realises his cakes; so bakers in need or stylish fresh ideas here I am!
At least the design was chosen. Few days before reading this blogpost I had finished what was one of my favourite projects so far. I called the cake “Ruffle my Feathers” and it features pristine white gumpaste feathers billowing around a tiered square cake decorated with white-chocolate ruffles at the corners.

I have already had an experience working with gumpaste that involved the making of a feather, among other things. This time wasn’t any different. The silky feeling of gumpaste under your fingertips is hard to beat in the confectionary industry and did I ever tell you that you can use your pasta machine to roll it out? Love making feathers in gumpaste.


What layers and flavours to use though? With the time I came to love my Bakewise cook/reference-book and Shirley has never betrayed me (though her cooking method might not always fit my toaster oven). Flipping through her book I decided to go light and airy: Joconde sponges and a Dacquoise will be the main component of my cake. The flavours? Walnuts and apple-sauce; the frosting will be a vanilla cream-cheese one.

Ruffle my Feathers

What are these components? The sponge that goes by the name Joconde it is actually a biscuit, a variation on the Genoise cake based on whipped whole eggs and egg whites with a little almonds flour and butter in it. It is said to have been created by Louis Clychy for the cake named “L’Opera” that he presented at the Exposition Culinaire of the 1900. From then on the Opera cake became one of the masterpieces of French patisserie and the biscuit Joconde a reference for lightness in the world of cake layers. The Dacquoise can be defined as a lighter version (as consistency and from the caloric intake) of the Joconde biscuit; it is any other than a layer of meringue that has been folded with some nuts flour.
Shirley uses often a baking stone when baking and following her description (without a stone) my Joconde layers came quite flat so in the recipe that follows I used a more conservative/classical approach. Despite the flat layer, when I cut into the cake I was surprised in finding them plump and moist from having soaked up some juices from the buttercream. The Dacquoise layer had also got softer from the buttercream, so next time I will follow my instinct and brush it with melted chocolate to isolate it.
The frosting of the cake was a funny affair; from the rush I hadn’t chilled it long enough to allow me to trim the layers properly, especially in the rounded corners. The frosting was a bit more liquid than expected so I wasn’t able to smooth it properly. The proof is in the taste, no? And that was amazing!!

Ruffle my Feathers

Without further hesitation, I give you the lot of recipes you will need to make this delicious cake.

Simplified La Joconde (adapted from Shirley Corriher’s “Bakewise”)
Ingredients (makes two 22 x 25cm):

  • 88g walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 114g confectioners' sugar
  • 3 egg whites
  • cream of tartar
  • 44g sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 30g cake flour
  • 22g butter, melted and cooled
  • 1-2 handfuls of chopped toasted walnuts

Warm up the oven at 150C/302F and toast the walnuts for 8 minutes. Leave the nuts to cool down completely before processing them with the confectioners' sugar in batches until you get a fine powder; stop before they get oily.
Warm up the oven at 180C/356F.
In a mixer with the whisk attachment, beat the egg-whites with the cream of tartar until they form soft peaks. Beat in almost all the sugar (leave 1/2 tablespoon of it aside) until stiff peaks form.
Scoop the meringue in a second bowl and change the attachment for the paddle one. Beat now the eggs with the nuts and sugar mixture until very light, around 6 minutes.
Sift the cake flour over the egg mixture and let stand for few seconds before folding in the egg whites.
Line a sheet pan with baking paper and spread the batter in using an offset spatula. Sprinkle some of the remaining walnuts on top and bake for 5-10 minutes until they lightly spring back at the touch.
Remove the cake to a cooling rack using the baking paper to lift it. After 1-2 minutes, invert the cake on another cooling rack, peel off the baking paper and re-invert the cake on the first rack to cool down completely.
For the cake, divide the sheet in 2 or 4.
In my case, this batter was enough to make two 22x25cm sheets that I divided in two for assembly.

Ruffle my Feathers

Walnut Dacquoise (adapted from Shirley Corriher’s “Bakewise”)

  • 25g walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 20g almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 20g confectioners' sugar
  • 5g all-purpose flour
  • 3 egg whites (76ml)
  • cream of tartar
  • 85g sugar (processed for 1 minute in the mixer)
  • 25g whole milk

Warm up the oven at 150C/300F and toast the almonds and walnuts in the warm oven for 8 minutes.
Let the nuts cool down completely either by leaving them at room temperature or putting them into the fridge.
If the oven is off, warm it up back at 150C/300F.
When the nuts will have cooled down, process them with half of the confectioners’ sugar until powdered but stop before they become oily. Sift the nuts through a fine mesh sieve and process the remaining chunks with the left-over confectioners' sugar. Stir the flour into the nuts and keep aside.
In a mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the egg-whites with the cream of tartar building up speed slowly until they will form soft peaks. Beat in the superfine sugar until the egg-whites will become creamy and shiny.
Mix the milk in the nut mixture and fold in 1/3 of the egg-whites to lighten the mixture. Fold in the rest of the egg-whites.
On a piece of baking paper, trace a rectangle as big as the layers you want to use for your cake and spread the meringue almost to the border of the rectangle; the meringue will spread a bit while cooking.
Slide the meringue in the warm oven and let cook until firm, about 40-60 minutes. Transfer the cake on a cooling rack leaving the baking paper on until ready to use.

Ruffle my Feathers

Apple sauce Buttercream

  • 75g butter
  • 75g shortening
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 500g apple sauce (better if homemade and kept on the dry side)
  • 1/2cup or to taste confectioners' sugar

In a mixer with the paddle attachment, whip the butter, the shortening and the salt until smooth and fluffy. Add the egg yolks one by one incorporating them well in the fat. Little at a time, spoon in the apple-sauce and the sugar until you reach the degree of sweetness you like.

Crusting cream-cheese Frosting

  • 1/2 cup shortening (cut into little cubes)
  • 1/2 cup butter (at room temperature)
  • 300g cream-cheese (at room temperature)
  • 1tsp vanilla extract (or to taste)
  • 300g confectioners' sugar (or to taste)

In the bowl of a mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and the vegetable shortening until light and fluffy. Be sure that the shortening is well incorporated with the butter and there aren't big chunks of it around the batter. Add the cream cheese and the vanilla extract and beat until fluffy. Little by little whip in the confectioners' sugar.
Ruffle my Feathers

To assemble the cake, divide the applesauce buttercream between the Joconde layers, finish by topping the cake with the Dacquoise layer (cut into shape and eventually brushed with melted chocolate to avoid it becoming too soft). Let the cake set in the fridge for few hours before trimming it to a proper shape and frosting it.
To decorate, make some chocolate ruffles using plastic white-chocolate and place the feather all around the cake.


  1. Wow.. impressive and delicious I'm sure.
    You like really complicated projects, don't you? :)

  2. Wow, that looks fantastic! The layers look delicious, too.

  3. I am speechless! This cake is a true work of art and the outcome perfectly beautiful :) I was just working with Anita and I know how much efforts needs to go into one of these babies- Love the feathers, the color and the layers are exquisite... thanks for posting as entry and wish you the very best :)

  4. This cake looks heavenly.

  5. This is incredible. Thanks for documenting it and sharing the photos. Am sorry my flu prevented me from tasting it but I trust you thoroughly enjoyed it on my behalf! Congrats - we'll celebrate together soon. J

  6. A,

    It's simply stunning. Now send me a slice of that beautiful cake :-)


  7. I just have to echo everyone else's sentiments and say - wow! That's a showstopping cake.

  8. That is freaking AMAZING! I initially thought those feathers were real, and thought to myself "Is he crazy??? What are all those feathers doing on that cake???" LOL! Just fabulous!

  9. Wow! Almost too beautiful to eat.

  10. Al - this is absolutely beautiful. I have stumbled and pinned it as well, so gorgeous!

  11. The feathers look so life like and are simply perfect! Very well done.

  12. WOWWW, beautiful and amazing design for a cake! I am impressed :)

  13. Wow, the cake is amazing! The feathers are beautiful and the sliced cake looks scrumptious!

  14. Sort of other worldly, isn't it? Beautiful. The recipe sounds amazing as well right down to that crusting. Very creative.

  15. What a beautiful and fancy cake! Great recipe...would be great if you could check out the recipes on my blog as well :)

  16. ooo boy !!thatz a real beauty!! loved every bit of it..
    Awesome work with the feathers!!! hats of to ur patience!!

  17. Your feathers are incredible, I had to do a double take to see if they were real! Bravo! I love the drawing, it is fantastic!