July: Revisit and Simplify

After making June’s cake as complex and unique as possible, for July I went the opposite direction: I revisited a recipe I’d made several years ago that I remembered as being delicious but overwhelmingly complex to see if I could streamline it.

The Original

My first attempt at this cake was for my husband’s birthday in 2008. Look how young we look!

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We were having a few friends over for a grown-up dinner party and I wanted to make a special cake. This is one of of my first attempts at a cake from scratch, and it was so complicated I think I may have considered leaving him rather than trying to finish it.

The original recipe is Lemon Ginger Cake with Pistachios from Epicurious. The cake itself is pretty straightforward, once you come to terms with the extra half layer you are supposed to set aside “for another purpose.” It’s somewhere between the lemon curd and the lemon mousse that you abandon all hope.

Reboot

I had no events this month that inspired or required a particular cake. I did have a birthday where I was given a cake leveler by my sister-in-law who’d helped with the Cup Cake layer stacking (and thus knew the value of a perfectly leveled layer). This lemon ginger cake required not only leveling the tops of the cakes but splitting each layer in two, which made it the perfect specimen for testing my new tool. So I decided it was time to give it another try.

Part 1: The cakes

Easy enough: I followed the recipe as written. Although, somehow I ended up with a full extra layer. It seemed obvious at the time how and why that happened, but time and two other cakes since then have faded the memory.

Part 2: The curd

The lemon curd in the original recipe was one of the major annoyances the first time so was the obvious place to start in simplifying the recipe. The first two ingredients are 7 eggs and 4 egg yolks. Unduly burdensome from the start.

I’ve been having really good luck lately with Ina Garten’s recipes, and her lemon curd from foodnetwork.com is no exception. It’s beautiful in its simplicity:

  1. Process sugar and lemon zest in a food processor.
  2. Cream butter and add the mixture from step 1, then three (whole) eggs one at a time, then lemon juice and salt.
  3. Transfer to a sauce pan, cook on low 10 minutes until thickened, and you’re done!

The only thing I might change (other than using large eggs instead of extra large, which I did because that’s what I had) is to strain the chunks of zest out for a smoother texture. It didn’t matter in this cake because of the blackberry seeds, but it could be annoying if everything else were smooth.

Part 3: The mousse

Yes, lemon mousse. For in between the cake layers, in case the lemon curd and blackberry preserves and the flavorful cake and the white chocolate curls and the crystallized ginger and pistachios weren’t enough flavor and texture for you.

Cut it. Totally unnecessary.

Assembly

Probably my extra cake layer is because I under-filled the pans, which is probably why each layer was shorter than it should have been. So I used all four half layers (two 9″ rounds sliced in half) and spread my preserves and curd thin enough to accommodate 4 layers instead of 3.

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There was plenty to go around, and they mingled quite nicely.

One thing I never liked about this cake was the bare sides. So many flaws! So uneven! Maybe I could arrange the white chocolate curls to stylistically cover them.

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Maybe not.

Everything I tried looked weird. It probably didn’t help that I had a thin chocolate bar from which I was pulling the shavings rather than a block, so they were long and thin, not the hearty yet delicate shavings I’d managed back in 2008 (see above).

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After trying a bunch of configurations, I went with a simple messy pile of short pieces around the perimeter.

I let go of the imperfections of the sides, hoping that the nice marbling on the top would make up for it. It looked great. We cut into it early in the evening because some guests (Rachel), just couldn’t wait.

Also, I am not a big fan of pistachios, so I omitted those, and I just forgot about the crystallized ginger on top. Turns out it didn’t need that either.

The cake was a huge hit. I served it at a cookout we hosted for the other grad students in my program, and it was gone so fast I barely got a piece, and nobody even noticed that I’d forgotten the ice cream.

Success!

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