I cannot imagine going into February without having made some version of a Victoria sandwich. It’s a personal tradition that I have kept up since I moved back home from the UK, and for me, it’s part nostalgia, part excuse to enjoy strawberries and cream with cake. This year however, I’ve decided to go a bit retro, and instead of making a pound cake, I’ve made a genoise or a sponge cake. Going back to my basics to really understand the process behind it, instead of blindly following a recipe has always helped me better my technique, and for this cake I’m focusing on two things- custard and the sponge.
These two inseparable elements, so important when making a trifle too, are also the things I know so many people have messed up the most. I’ve seen my own mother dismayed that her sponge sunk in the centre, didn’t rise as much, or that her to-be custard is now a soft-scrambled mess, and really, all it takes is some patience to master the two.
The first bit of advice I want to give you about making genoise or sponge cake is to have some time on-hand. Don’t do anything else for the twenty or so minutes it’ll take to make your sponge and this is because you’re dealing with something that’s delicate and won’t stand-by on the back burner for you to finish your other chores. If you use a hand-held mixture, this will take time, but if I can do it, so can you.
Fridge cold eggs and room temperature eggs do not make a good sponge, but hot eggs will. Hot eggs whip up better and to thrice their volume as opposed to room-temperature or fridge-cold eggs, and we really need to pack in tons of air into a genoise, because guess what? There’s no leavening agent in there to lift the cake except for all that elbow grease you’re going to put in. So yeah, make a bain-marie, get your eggs and sugar in, and whip with your hand till the eggs are hot to the touch. Then it’s just a matter of beating the eggs up in a stand mixer or by hand-mixer for twelve to fifteen minutes easy till the batter falls in slowly dissolving ribbons, or until it settles upon itself and stays like that for a bit instead of dissolving away.
Folding genoise is another problem I know people encounter. How do we get rid of the flour streaks completely without deflating the damn batter? For starters, use a metal spoon to fold. I use the slotted one we use to drain foods from oil after deep-frying. I don’t like using the spatula, and would much rather use my hands-yes you can use your hands as a giant human spatula to gently fold the batter. The flour streaks should disappear completely, and they’re pesky because they tend to settle all the way down. For this very reason, you really need to reach all the way to the bottom with your spoon or your hand when folding.
You can tell that a genoise is done even before you cake test it. The sponge tends to leave the sides as it cools telling you that I’m ready. Don’t leave it in the cake pan though. Turn the genoise out and let it cool to room temperature before you slice through it.
Part two of this post focuses on custard, and I refer here to making custard using tempered eggs, rather than custard powder. The custard I tell you about starts off rather plainly, but ends up as more of a luscious and billowy mousse-a mousseIine if you must. The idea is rather simple- you make a rich custard, thicken it with flour, then add butter in bit by bit as you would with buttercream and whip it till it is glistening and lusciously creamy. Like creme anglaise had a baby with buttercream. Brilliant right? Let’s get started.
Strawberry Mousseline Cake
A perfect genoise sponge with an even more luxurious custard cream filling and strawberries- this cake is a game changer.
For The Genoise
Caster sugar 80g
All-purpose flour 60g
Cornflour 2 1/2 tbsp
Brown butter or regular butter 4 tsp, melted and cooled
For The Syrup
Lime 1-2, juiced (4 tbsp juice)
Icing sugar 4 tbsp
For The Mousseline Custard
Milk 2 cups
Egg yolks 4
Caster Sugar 3/4th cup (90g)
All-purpose flour 2 tbsp/30g
Cornflour 2 tbsp/30g
Vanilla extract 2 tsp
Salt a pinch
Butter 150g, divided 75g, slightly cooler than room temperature and 75g softened
Strawberries 250g, tops taken off and sliced into half
Icing sugar to dust
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease and line a 9-inch cake pan with baking paper and set aside.
In a bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water, add in the four eggs with the sugar. Whisk by hand keeping a finger close to the surface for indication of when the eggs are close to becoming hot. Keep whisking without stopping.
Once the eggs are just-hot, take it off the Bain marie and using a hand mixer or by transferring it into the bowl of a stand mixer, begin whipping the eggs, slow at first, then faster as you go for 12-15 minutes or until the eggs and sugar mixture has tripled in volume. Stop beating when the batter falls in slowly dissolving ribbons or when the batter falls upon itself and stays for a ew seconds before dissolving.
Using your metal spoon, take a spoonful of the batter out and add it to the brown butter bowl and mix it in. Set this aside.
Next, sift the all purpose flour and cornstarch over the beaten egg and sugar mixture in two additions, stopping to fold gently with your metal spoon. Keep folding till the streaks of flour have almost disappeared. You can also use your hands to fold by using your fingers to gently lift and turn the batter into itself to avoid flour lumps later. Once the streaks have almost disappeared add in the batter mixed with the brown butter and fold that in finally.
Transfer the batter to the cake pan and transfer to the oven to bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden and coming away from the edges of the pan.
Transfer to a wire rack after 5 minutes of cooling and let it cool completely.
To make the mousseline, start by heating the 2 cups of milk in a saucepan over low heat. As it heats up, using your hand mixer, beat together the 4 egg yolks and caster sugar.
Sift the all-purpose flour and cornflour into the bowl and whisk till it has been incorporated. Then add in the vanilla extract and a pinch of salt.
Take 1/4 cup of the now-warm milk and very gently, drizzle it into the egg and sugar mixture continuously whisking using the other hand. When incorporated and smooth, take the milk off the heat and slowly add in the beaten mixture to the rest of the milk. Increase the heat to medium and keep whisking till the mixture thickens. This will happen quickly, so take it off the heat when it does.
Off the heat, add in the 75g of butter that is slightly chilled. This will bring down the temperature. Whisk the butter in till smooth. Transfer this mixture to a bowl and let it cool to room temperature.
Cream the remaining 75g of butter in another bowl till pale and softened. Once the cream is cool, whisk this creamed butter into the cooled cream till it is silky smooth. Keep cool till it is time to assemble the dessert. Once cool, put the mousseline in a piping bag and snip off the base.
Using a cake cutter or a springform mould, cut out a perfect circle from the cake. Slice through the cooled genoise sponge and divide it into two even rounds.
Using the same springform ring as a guide, attach the base and cut out an acetate sheet and put a layer of acetate sheet slightly taller than the springform tin inside. Then place the bottom layer of the cake inside the tin.
Stir the ingredients of the sugar syrup together over low heat and once dissolved, pour half of it over the sponge layer as a soak.
Arrange the strawberry slices outwards along the inside edges of the springform tin. Pipe a generous layer of the mousseline in the cavity in the centre and then continue to pipe between the strawberries. Chop up the remaining slices of strawberries and add it to the top of the custard filling as another layer. Place the top layer of the sponge to close the cake and secure it. Let this chill in the refrigerator for an hour or two before serving it with a dusting of icing sugar on top.