This is the last time, I swe… oh, who am I kidding. I love pumpkin. There will probably, between now and the New Year, be more pumpkin bakery, because I just love pumpkin.
The premise of Sweet Tweaks is that you take as an ingredient some particular thing (last month it was caramel popcorn, yum), and… tweak it. Make it special. Own it. This month, the secret ingredient is: Pumpkin Sponge Cake.
I recently managed to get some PVC rings… no, there’s a story.
You know how you’re always seeing chefs say, “oh, to save money, don’t buy metal cake rings, just go to the hardware store and have them cut you 2″ sections of PVC pipe!” and it seems all effortless and cool… well, it’s not that easy. First off, I wanted to start with a set of 3″ rings. I go to my local big-box hardware store, and I can find 2′ chunks of PVC, no problem, but when I find Da Guy to cut it, he pulls out a handsaw and starts sawing away. And sawing. And sawing.
and… sawing. After switching saws twice, he complains that it’s not usually this hard, tries to go find a machine to cut it on, but it turns out that none of the machines can cut anything that big around – you need a drop saw for that.
He ends up cutting me three pieces before giving up. So, I start Jeff asking people at work (they have a whole mess o’ industrially crafty people in the basement whose jobs are to Make Cool Stuff), and while he’s doing that I hit the Other Big Box store in the neighborhood. Same procedure, although older guy. He makes better progress – cuts me eight pieces total, at which point I take pity (it’s been half an hour) and say that’ll be fine. He informs me that the machine can cut pieces 1.5″ or smaller in diameter, but not larger. (That whole drop saw thing again)
Still, 8 will do. I have to do some sanding to get the edges smooth, but they’re rings. yay. I won’t think about how much time went into making something that will only be a mold (you can’t put them in the oven, not with food involved), versus buying something metal.. that way lies madness. For now.
I line the rings with acetate strips and put them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
So, I now have these cool rings and have been wanting to try them. So I was thinking something layered. That goes with pumpkin. Chai is good, I like chai, but what can make them really special?
Then I recall Jeff telling me that pumpkin chai latte is, like, the most popular ‘coffee’ flavor at Starbucks right now, and I know what I have to do.
I bake the sponge cake as directed, and let it chill overnight. Then, using a process that would have been much simpler if I could find the 3″ ring cutter that I JUST BOUGHT, I cut out twelve three-inch discs of sponge cake, freeze them until they’re a little more solid (this cake is very gummy), then horizontally slice them in half. If you’re following along at home, you now have 24 cake discs.
Then, I make a big ol’ batch of mousse, flavoring half of it with Kashmiri Chai tea, and the other half with Espresso. This goes fairly well.
Then it’s one layer pumpkin, pipe a layer of chai, another pumpkin, layer of coffee, end with layer of chai with decorative bobble on top. The mousse is pretty soft, so it’s not as decorative as I’d have liked, but hopefully it’ll firm up in the fridge.
In the fridge they go – four hours later, mousse is still totally squishy. Hrm. Tasty, incredibly tasty (Jeff says – I hate coffee so I only eat the chai mousse parts), and totally like drinking a pumpkin chai latte. Win! But still, squishy mousse. So now they’re in the freezer, where hopefully they’ll firm up.
Oh, and you’ll have lots of leftover mousse. What to do, what to do….Mousse cups! Circle on the bottom of Chai (since you have less of that), and then fill and top with espresso mousse and a chocolate-covered espresso bean.
Pumpkin Sponge Cake
– makes 1 eleven-by-fifteen-inch sheet of cake –
This cake can be very sticky, so working with it on the sugar-dusted towel is the key to success.
3 large egg yolk
3 large egg whites
1 cup sugar, divided (210g)
2/3 cup pumpkin puree (homemade or canned, 160g)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 cup all-purpose flour (90g)
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon (optional)
1 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Confectioners’ sugar (as needed)
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly grease an 11-by-15-inch baking sheet (jelly roll pan) and line the bottom of the pan with wax paper or parchment. Set aside.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the yolks and 1/2 cup of the sugar. Whip on high speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until mixture is very light and thick.
3. Mix lemon juice with pumpkin purée, and gently mix into yolk mixture.
4. Sift together flour, baking powder and spices (I usually recommend whisking over sifting, but in this case, sifting is the best bet). Add to yolk mixture and mix until homogenous.
5. In a medium, immaculately clean metal or glass mixing bowl whip the egg whites until foamy, then add a pinch of the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar. Continue whipping the whites, adding the remaining sugar little by little until firm peaks form.
6. Gently fold the whites into the yolk mixture until well incorporated.
7. Spread batter evenly into prepared pan and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until cake springs back to the touch.
8. Allow cake to cool completely. Dust a clean kitchen towel liberally with confectioners’ sugar (I used a towel, but skipped this step). Loosen the cake around the edges of the pan with a paring knife. Invert the tray over the dusted towel. Carefully peel the parchment or wax paper off of the cake.
Chai and Espresso Mousses
I adapted a recipe to make these that originally called for both lemon juice and water by replacing the liquids with either chai tea or espresso. Since I knew I wouldn’t need two full batches of mousse, and because I am a cook who likes shortcuts, I did everything in this recipe together that I could, and separated what I had to. Which will make more sense in a sec.
½ cup (125ml) strong chai tea
½ cup (125ml) strong espresso (I used 2 tsp of espresso powder in 1/2 cup boiling water)
1 cup (200g) sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 cups (500ml) cream, double
A pinch of orange rind
About a teaspoon of chai spices (cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, nutmeg)
[All together]Beat egg yolks and sugar with electric mixer for about 10 minutes, until pale and creamy.
[Starting two bowls, here]
In one bowl, combine espresso, 1TB cornstarch, and orange rind.
In another bowl, combine chai, 1TB cornstarch, and chai spices.
Divide sugar/egg mixture in half and ‘fold’ into liquids (I’m not sure how you do that, I ended up having to whisk, as it just made lumps. That could be where my mousse went wrong.)
Pour each bowl into a separate saucepan and cook over a low heat until mixture thickens.
Remove from heat and set aside to cool completely.
[together]Whip cream until stiff, divide in half, and fold it into each mixture.
[together]Beat egg whites with 1 tablespoonful of sugar until they form stiff peaks, divide in half, and gently fold them into each mixture.
At this point you now have two bowls of mousse. I found it easiest to pipe them into the molds; you could just spoon and smooth. Chill for 3 hours.