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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Fancy French Desserts by Novice, International Bakers

You may recall that late last month I joined the Daring Bakers Challenge where foodies and ordinary folks, like you and me, take a stab at creating unusual and/or complicated desserts and baked goods that normally only professional bakers and pastry chefs would dare to attempt.The experience was both intimidating and exhilarating.
I still can't believe I made this!

The January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog ACCRO. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert. *Gulp.* For my first challenge? Seriously? I'm not sure what was the most daunting: the recipe itself, finding the ingredients or figuring out how to pronounce the name of the challenge properly in French. LOL

A joconde imprime is a decorative design baked into a light (usually almond or hazelnut) sponge cake providing an elegant finish to desserts formed in molds with sides only and no top or bottom. Joconde batter bakes into a moist, thin, flexible cake that is cut into strips and used to line cake molds. Under bake the joconde and it will stick to your baking mat. Over bake and it will dry out and crack. Yikes!

Entremets are ornate desserts with different layers of cake and (chilled) pastry creams set in a mold.

This cake was R&D purchased at Cocola Bakery

For inspiration I went to a Cocola bakery and purchased a dessert similar to the one I needed to make. Specifically I wanted to study the thinness of the "Joconde" sponge cake and how it wrapped around the fillings.

This cake was R&D purchased at Cocola Bakery

I had grand visions of how my entremet would be. I wanted two layers of cake and one layer of mousse... I already owned 6" springform cake pans but needed an outer ring to use as the form to put the imprime in and fill. I found a cake ring online that I thought would be perfect! The inside measurement of my springforms are 5.75 inches wide. The ring I saw online was (I thought) 6.25 inches wide. With a half inch allowance for my imprime it would be perfect!

Mishap #1 - part one: What happened in a nutshell was I purchased the cake ring on Amazon along with two additional items to qualify for free shipping. When the receipt arrived by email I noticed I was charged $6.76 shipping. I messaged to find out why, (my fault, not theirs for choosing "standard" shipping when I placed my order). They reversed the shipping on two of my three items but one item was already in processing. Now, by itself, it was going to cost $8.42 shipping! That was more than the original shipping total for all three items and now the other two items would take twice as long to get here! How could that be? At the end of the very long phone call the nice man at Amazon reversed the charges for me. It was, in short, a bit of a nightmare.

Mishap #1 - part two/major frustration: But then it only got worse... When the cake ring finally arrived it was the wrong size! It was tiny and looked like a bangle bracelet. What I thought was a 6.25" wide by 3" high cake ring online was in fact 3" inches wide and just over 1/2" high at .625 inches. *Insert forehead smack here* Arghhhhhhhhhh! I decided after all the trouble I went through to get this tiny cake ring I was darn well going to use it and decided to make a multi-tiered 3" cake.

Mishap #2 - mini crisis: I couldn't find hazelnut flour/meal ready made so I decided to make it from scratch. Click HERE for the instructions I used but know that I didn't freeze the nuts.

I bought a bag of hazelnuts then realized I didn't have a nutcracker. So I improvised... Yup, that's my old garlic press that I never use anymore. It worked really well. It took a few tries to figure out how to use my freakishly strong arms to crack the shell but not so hard that I accidentally crushed the nuts.

Left: Shelled Nuts. Top Right: Skinned Nuts. Bottom Right: processed nut flour.

Mishap #3 - MAJOR complication: After shelling the nuts I baked them to loosen the skins to remove them. In theory baking was supposed to loosen the skins so they would fall off when rubbed between two dishtowels. Yeah, that didn't happen. I think four nuts had the shells rub off. The rest I had to hand peel with a paring knife. It was kind of crazy but I was committed and wanted the nuts as clean as possible so that my joconde wouldn't be discolored. This turned out to be the worst and hardest part of the entire challenge. Once the nuts were peeled I processed them through a mini-food processor in very small batches making sure to stir them away from the edges to keep the flour "loose."

I always like to pre-measure all of my ingredients before beginning to bake. This eliminates the possibility of forgetting an ingredient and makes it easier to follow a recipe in a more fluid fashion than if you have to stop and measure everything as you move along.

Mishap #4 - mini complication: To create an interior layer I decided to make a few tiers of flourless chocolate cake. I accidentally used semi-sweet instead of bitter-sweet chocolate which I realized after melting the chocolate and noticing it was the wrong shade of brown. Oh well, I hoped it would taste ok. I was more concerned with technique so I didn't start over.

From here it was smooth sailing with no further mishaps.

Next up, I measured out the ingredients for the joconde sponge cake batter to use as the imprime wrapper. I did purchase the suggested "cake flour" and "superfine" sugar for this project because I figured I needed as many advantages as possible to pull it off. The lower image is my baked joconde! This step was surprisingly simple to execute!

I forgot to take pictures of preparing the joconde paste on the Silpat so I illustrated the following steps. I only made a half batch of the paste because many of the other bakers were saying that half was still more than enough. After mixing together the paste (very easy) I spread it in a thin layer over a Silpat baking mat as per the recipe instructions using a pastry scraper.

Next, I used a cake decorating tool I purchased on Amazon to create thin lines that looked like stripes. It was really easy to just drag it across the Silpat. I used the edge of the jelly roll sheet I was using as a guide to get the first set straight then followed the lines for subsequent passes.

A close up of the "Ice Sculpting" set by Wilton. It's meant to be used in a perpendicular position by putting a frosted cake on a lazy susan and spinning the cake around to create the pattern. So the little plastic shapes fell out a few times when I tried to tip it downwards to drag across the paste but eventually I got it to work.

Ta da! I could have tried to do a fancier pattern or even put the paste into a pastry bag and pipe designs onto the Silpat but I decided to go easy on this step because I was already challenged enough. Next I took the silpat, on a baking sheet, and put it into the freezer for 20 minutes to let it freeze hard.

After 20 minutes I took it out of the freezer and poured about half of the joconde batter over the paste on the Silpat. Using a pastry scraper I carefully made the batter as thin and even as possible. Once it was covered I baked it in the oven for just over 5 minutes.

Back to photos... After baking I took the Silpat and inverted it onto a piece of parchment dusted with powdered sugar. Wow, the moment of truth was coming. Would my joconde be soft and pliable or would it tear apart and break into many pieces?

So far so good... My pattern work looked good and with the exception of some holes in the batter that looked like termite damage, I was really pleased with how my joconde turned out. And best of all? It was very pliable and very thin, less than 1/4 of an inch thick! YAY!

I'd put cocoa powder in my joconde paste so that's why it looks chocolatey. The paste is the brown part and the yellow lines are the color of the batter with that hazelnut flour I slaved away on early in the day.

Next was to create the "imprime" wrapper using a biscuit/cookie cutter I found at Sur la Table for $2.50 that was a half inch wider than my ridiculously small cake ring I purchased on Amazon. After lining the ring with parchment I carefully placed a strip of the joconde along the inside that I'd trimmed with a straight edge and a sharp knife.

Next came the entremet, which is the yummy layers the imprime wraps around. I really wanted to make a mousse but honestly, it was getting late. I was nearing eight hours since I'd begun and I was tired so instead I whipped up a batch of rich and chewy chocolate glaze and layered it with the flourless chocolate cake tiers and additional tiers of joconde sponge made out of the leftovers from the imprime.

To fancy things up a bit I used the letter "C" from a set of alphabet cookie cutters to create the tiny arcs that made the scallop along the top edge.

By then it was midnight. I needed to clean the kitchen so I called it a night. put my project in a lidded container and placed it in the refrigerator.

In the morning I took the dessert from the fridge to see how it had set. It set really well and was solid. Nothing flimsy about it. I could pick it up and move it around no problem.

Close up of the scalloped edge. By placing them in the chocolate glaze while it was still warm last night they set up nicely overnight.

The moment of truth... Would unwrapping the parchment mar the joconde imprime?

Success! Woo hoo! I was so excited I felt rather giddy. It's not perfect, you can see a few tiny flaws here and there, but all in all for a first try I was relieved that it turned out as well as it did.

Only thing left to do was to finish the top. I wanted to do something unusual so I added another tier, which I'm not so sure is proper but I thought it would be really cute. I saved a scrap from the edge of the joconde sponge cake and made another mini-imprime entremet with a roasted hazelnut as the finishing touch!

My finished cake on a teeny, tiny pedestal I got at the Tyler Florence Kitchen Essentials shop in Mill Valley. Only thing left to see was what did it look like inside? Would it be a lopsided and crooked mess? The scent of the chocolate hung heavy in the air as I sliced the cake in half... The layers of flourless cake smeared a bit with the glaze but I think it created a "decadent" look. Wow. Challenge completed!

A HUGE THANK YOU to Astheroshe for a superb challenge and The Daring Kitchen for their great website, and to all of the other bakers. You all inspired me to really push myself and go for it. If you think this looks like fun you should apply to join The Daring Bakers by CLICKING HERE

As you can see below there were many very successful outcomes! Check out some of the other finished cakes made by the Daring Bakers on their blogs. The range of possible joconde designs is seemingly endless:

Click on the Image to Enlarge

First Row Left to Right:
1. Texas Farmer's Hot Stove
2. Pane, burro e marmellata!
3. You Made That?
4. Deliciously Domestic

Second Row Left to Right:
1. Ambitious Bubble
2. Testado, Provado & Aprovado
3. The Misanthropic Hostess

Third Row Left to Right:
1. Dishes From My Kitchen
2. A Little Handmade Lab
3. Within The Kitchen
4. Baking Rush

Fourth Row Left to Right:
1. That Skinny Chick Can Bake
2. A Little Less Vanilla
3. There's a Newf in My Soup!

Fifth Row Left to Right:
1. Crumbs of Love
2. A Tale of One Foodie's Culinary Adventures
3. Madeleine Cocina
4. Debugcooking

I sent a request to each Daring Baker late last night so there wasn't time to hear back from everyone... Please, if you prefer not to be featured here just leave a comment or send me a message on DB to let me know and I'll remove your photo from the montage at once.

In the past I've learned how to make a decadent, flourless chocolate cake and lots of cookies so I would call myself a novice baker. As such, the most valuable tip I can share with you when it comes to baking is that it's science and precision is everything when it comes to success. Additionally:
  1. Use the correct tools and equipment whenever possible
  2. Be as exact as possible when measuring ingredients
  3. Don't substitute unless you're certain ingredients are interchangale
  4. Do your prep work and pre-measure all ingredients before beginning
  5. Baking requires attention to details and timing so don't multi task the first time you try out a new recipe

And if you want to try this at home:
Download the printable .pdf of the challenge HERE!

View More Challenges:
• February 2011: Panna Cotta and Florentine Cookies
• March 2011: Meringue Coffee Cakes
• April 2011: Edible Container and Maple Mousse


  1. Welcome and hello to the Daring Bakers' and congratulations on your first very very successful challenge. I hope you have as much fun each and every challenge with us.

    I just love your posting - your wonderful step-by-step photos are stunning and the final entremet looks so elegant I love the extra mini-entremet on top. And I love your montage that is such a great idea (I'm sure the bloggers will not mind you using their photos).

    Lovely work on this challenge (even if making your own nut flour was a total pain).

    I'm very impressed with your first posting with the Daring Bakers'.

    Cheers from Audax from Sydney Australia.

    Bravo to you.

  2. Hi Stacie! First of all, thanks for choosing my Entremet among so many to feature in your blog. Second, You have done an awesome job in your first challenge. I'm impressed with all the details and your finished Entremet. I love your idea of posting the photos with links to other DBs' accomplishments. Congratulations!

  3. Your post is amazing! I love the pictures and illustrations! Really helpful. And the dessert itself... wow! I am sorry for the mishaps, but you really persevered and created something beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing your creativity, and welcome to the Kitchen!

  4. Thank you Audax. I LOVE the community at The Daring Kitchen. I feel very fortunate to be a part of the Daring Bakers and am already looking forward to the next challenge. Your dessert looked so yummy and that fudge-ganache-piped top, absolutely decadent!

    Renata your desserts blew me away! I loved both equally. Your cake for its beauty and your "cup" cake for it's design and individuality. Some rainy day I want to go back through everyone's blogs and look at the past challenges and try some of them as well!

    Thank you Ruth. I felt so *DUH* when I realized that I'd forgotten to photograph what is probably the most interesting/confusing/surprising part of the entire recipe but didn't have the heart or energy to do it again just for the pictures that night. Lucky for me It was fairly easy to illustrate. Easier than peeling hazelnuts at least! LOL. Congrats to you on your successful desserts, wow, plural with an "s." You were so productive with your multiple designs!

  5. Welcome to the Challenge and thanks for linking my creation! Great post and I LOVE your work! See you next month!

    Ceecee @ Within the Kitchen

  6. Wow, your joconde...blah, blah blah to many words turned out wonderful. Love your instructions and graphics. Thank you so much for including me in your photo collage with a link to my site that is an genius idea I might have to steal some other time!

  7. Hi ceecee, Your cake was so cute and festive it was irresistible! Will definitely see you next month :)

    Thanks Suzanne! Loved your beautiful joconde pattern work. I was happy to feature your dessert on my blog. I love to feature people who have a "can do" kind of approach to life. I think it helps inspire all of us to reach and try to do things we aren't sure we're capable of.

  8. OK - now I am totally hungry! This is just beautiful. I like how you were cutting the chocolate on the Silpat pat. I did a lot of my baking this Christmas season for the first time on Silpat and LOVE it too. I think what I liked the most was the comments that you could not believe that you had made this!

  9. Hi Jane! Thanks for the kind words. I know... About the Silpat! I LOVE mine too. Now I wonder how I ever got along without one. I was such a latecomer. Kind of like how I finally got a GPS last year. I have no idea why I waited so long for either but am glad I have both now :)

  10. WOW! You did a fantastic job, after seeing everyones efforts I think it is definately one that I will be revisiting.

  11. Thanks Robyn! I'll have to go take a peek at yours too :) This was such a cool challenge. Intimidating as heck but cool. I want to spend an evening looking at all of the posts through Google using the search lines. We all get an "E" for effort!

  12. Welcome to the DB community and congratulations on a first challenege done extremely well.
    Your entremt looks lovely and that's a very nicely detailed post.

  13. Such a good presentation. A beautiful work of art it is! Good luck!

  14. That's one incredibly amazing post. I wish I had your talent, creativity and skills. It's beautiful and your entremet amazing. This was only my second Daring Baker's Challenge - it's a wonderful community to be a part of. Thank you for including an image of my completed entremet in your collage. It's quite an honour to be included amongst such amazing work. Now I am off to look through your site. I hope you continue to enjoy being a Daring Baker.

  15. It was an amazing challenge and you did an amazing job, great explanations too.

    I filled mine with three kinds of fruit mousses: blackberry, raspberry and rhubarb. my first time doing a mousse :)

  16. Thank you Aparna and Toon Storm for your kind words!

    Thank you also to CK. I feel I've been lucky so far with two successful challenges under my belt. To be honest I'm also looking forward to my first flop because I'm certain it will be good for a laugh when it does happen :D

    Thank you Lea! You did what I wanted to do using using more complicated fillings and mousses at that! But time got away from me and then I was just trying to get it done. I look forward to trying out some fruit flavors someday when I make another entremet!

  17. Hi. Your blog is great. I love the pictures of your desserts. I recently encountered the chocolate velvet boule at Whole Foods. I am sitting here befuddled on how the hell you would make this delicious thing. Where does the cake come in? How? When? Please advise flirty guide.


  18. Hi Jesse!

    Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the post.

    The instructions (with photos) are here in this PDF that we were given for the challenge.

    Basically the cake here is the striped, outer layer. It's a thin and flexible sponge cake called "Joconde." I chose to also add layers of flourless chocolate cake to the inside but that wasn't required. I could have filled it with layers of mousse instead.


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