One of my very best friends turned 27 this weekend and this blog post is dedicated to her special day! Laura loves owls so I tried to theme a few things around that. The main one being the design of her cake. Now Laura is a sport and lets me always invent and surprise her with a cake each year. The first year I made a crepe cake – it was a cake comprised of about 40 crepes each with a chocolate hazelnut filling between and then covered in ganache. The next year was a smores cake, last year was an all chocolate Boston Creme Pie cake. This year I started researching and brainstorming about 2 months in advance. It’s hard to keep trying to think of non-traditional cakes that will have a wow factor in taste and presentation. During my research I came across a few different baking blogs where people discussed this evidently very challenging French culinary masterpiece – the joconde. It’s an almond sponge cake. And while it would be a challenge on it’s own – the true art of the joconde comes in the decorating of it. You make a paste that is a slightly different version of the batter, pipe it onto a silicone baking sheet, freeze it, pour batter over and bake. Then the sponge cake gets cut into long rectangular strips and becomes the outer layer of your dessert. If you know me, you know I love a challenge, and no matter how many other cakes I found that were worthy contenders for Laura’s birthday, I kept coming back to a joconde wrapped cake. I knew if I were able to execute it well that it would be a truly fantastic surprise cake for Laura. So here was my plan: to decorate the sponge cake with some graphic of an owl, and the words “Happy Birthday Laura” – which would have to be piped backwards so that when the cake was flipped over in the end it would read the right direction.
I started the joconde on Friday afternoon – an afternoon of a day where things were not going my way. If I’d had a choice I would not have tried baking such a challenging item when my mind was scattered on a million things. The first time I made the decor paste I didn’t incorporate the eggs slowly enough so it came out all chunky from the butter separating. I threw it out and started again. Our freezer is also a side-by-side that’s SUPER narrow, so I had to get creative putting the sil-pat in to freeze. Then I made the joconde batter and all was going well until the last step of adding the melted butter – I should have tested it first, but I poured the butter in and heard a sizzle sound and realized the butter was too warm still. I thought it’d be okay until I poured it into the sheet pan and large pieces of butter had formed as floating chunks. I fished some out and then just decided to bake it. I couldn’t do much more for it now aside from start over, but figured I’d see how it turned out before I made that decision. 10 minutes later I pulled it out of the oven. It looked a little sad – there were some cavities in the top of the sponge cake (which would eventually be the back side of it) where it had a butter chunk that had melted. I was still mildly hopeful – the true test would come when I flipped it over and got to see what my decor paste had turned out like.
To say I was elated is an understatement. I’m pretty sure I shrieked with excitement and did a small dance of happiness. So the wording wasn’t perfect, but heck, I did something that masses of people on respectable baking blogs had tried and failed at. And how about that owl?! I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I will – my sponge cake was a success! Now on to the rest of the cake!
After I cut the sheet of sponge cake in half and trimmed the halves into rectangles of the same size that would meet end to end when stood up in a pan, I set them in the pan so I could begin to fill it up with other ingredients.
The circle pan I used has a bottom that you can remove, so the true test would be when it was time to push the cake up and out and hope that everything would hold together!
I decided to go for a multi-layer mousse cake. The mousse would be great for holding the sponge cake sides on, and it’d be a lighter weighing dessert. Here’s a picture of the inside and a call out of the layers:
And the rest of this is going to be glamour shots of the cake. For all the hours and hours of work (I’d say a total of 7 1/2 hrs over 2 days) I’m not sure when I’ll make one like this again, so it will have to live on in photographs.
Oh yeah, and about the top – the little dollops are mocha mousse and then dark chocolate covered espresso beans.
Here I am so excited that it’s done and standing on it’s own! I wasn’t sure if the sides would flop off or some other disaster might occur.
The birthday girl and me with the cake:
YIELD: Two ½ size sheet pans or a 13” x 18” (33 x 46 cm) jelly roll pan
¾ cup/ 180 ml/ 3oz/ 85g almond flour/meal – *You can also use hazelnut flour, just omit the butter
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons/ 150 ml/ 2⅔ oz/ 75g confectioners’ (icing) sugar
¼ cup/ 60 ml/ 1 oz/ 25g cake flour *See note below
3 large eggs – about 5⅓ oz/ 150g
3 large egg whites – about 3 oz/ 90g
2½ teaspoons/ 12½ ml/ ⅓ oz/ 10g white granulated sugar or superfine (caster) sugar
2 tablespoons/ 30 ml/ 1oz / 30g unsalted butter, melted
- In a clean mixing bowl whip the egg whites and white granulated sugar to firm, glossy peeks. Reserve in a separate clean bowl to use later.
- Sift almond flour, confectioner’s sugar, cake flour. (This can be done into your dirty egg white bowl)
- On medium speed, add the eggs a little at a time. Mix well after each addition. Mix until smooth and light. (If using a stand mixer use blade attachment. If hand held a whisk attachment is fine, or by hand. )
- Fold in one third reserved whipped egg whites to almond mixture to lighten the batter. Fold in remaining whipped egg whites. Do not over mix.
- Fold in melted butter.
- Reserve batter to be used later.
Patterned Joconde-Décor Paste
YIELD: Two ½ size sheet pans or a 13” x 18” (33 x 46 cm) jelly roll pan
14 tablespoons/ 210ml/ 7oz/ 200g unsalted butter, softened
1½ cups plus1½ tablespoons/ 385ml/ 7oz/ 200g Confectioners’ (icing) sugar
7 large egg whites – about 7 oz / 200g
1¾ cup/ 420ml/ 7¾ oz/ 220g cake flour
Food coloring gel, paste or liquid
COCOA Décor Paste Variation: Reduce cake flour to 6 oz / 170g. Add 2 oz/ 60 g cocoa powder. Sift the flour and cocoa powder together before adding to creamed mixture.
- Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy (use stand mixer with blade, hand held mixer, or by hand)
- Gradually add egg whites. Beat continuously.
- Fold in sifted flour.
- Tint batter with coloring to desired color, if not making cocoa variation.
Preparing the Joconde- How to make the pattern:
- Spread a thin even layer of décor paste approximately 1/4 inch (5 millimeter) thick onto silicone baking mat with a spatula, or flat knife. Place mat on an upside down baking sheet. The upside down sheet makes spreading easier with no lip from the pan.
- Pattern the décor paste – Here is where you can be creative. Make horizontal /vertical lines (you can use a knife, spatula, cake/pastry comb). Squiggles with your fingers, zig zags, wood grains. Be creative whatever you have at home to make a design can be used. OR use a piping bag. Pipe letters, or polka dots, or a piped design. If you do not have a piping bag. Fill a ziplock bag and snip off corner for a homemade version of one.