Light genoise sponge filled with mascarpone whisked cream, flavoured with a handful of gently crushed blueberries. It’s classy – and easier to make than you’d think.
Birthday cakes are never tasty
Birthday cakes – what a nightmare! They are usually smothered in filling, topping, frosting and icing and so sickly that you feel off even before your second glass of champagne. Alternatively they try to kill you with chocolate, and not the best quality.
Some are so preternaturally smooth that a little kitten could use it as a skating rink. Others feature ghastly marzipan decorations, or worse still, pretend to be a football, Barbie doll, a train or Batman.
I really don’t understand why birthday cakes cannot be both tasty and tasteful, to be actually edible instead of just bearing birthday candles.
My kind of birthday cake
Making a cake that you would look at, blow the candles and cut a piece for a photograph – that’s completely not me. I like to bake something restrained, elegant; a cake you could have two helpings of without feeling sick for the rest of the day.
This is one of my favourites, also my daughter Alice’s though recently she has been annually torn between this and the devil’s food cake with praline.
What is genoise?
Named after the Italian city of Genoa, this is nevertheless a very French recipe. This type of sponge and its derivatives serve as a cornerstone of French patisserie.
Sponge biscuits, sponge rolls and a variety of layer cakes are mostly based on the genoise principle: beat all the air you can into eggs, thus creating an airy structure that needs no chemical leavening agents to support itself.
It is my favourite type of sponge because it’s light and yet you can cut it in thin layers because it springs right back.
It’s fluffy like a patisserie cloud but not dry; it keeps well without the need to soak or drizzle it. It takes on any flavour fillings you wish for and it comes in a plain or chocolate version.
My recipe was originally inspired by The Delectable Hodgepodge.
Caveat: it’s not very easy to make and a modest challenge. Occasionally it might collapse and you have to treat it with respect because it’s a grown-up cake.
Mascarpone filling variations
The filling is mascarpone whipped lightly with double cream, with seasonal fruit folded in.
Blueberries are not awfully fragrant or flavoursome but they don’t make the filling soggy. Raspberries will work as long as the cake is eaten on the day, for that very reason.
You can try passion fruit pulp or smashed strawberries too, or halved cherries.
Another suggestion is a riff on Victoria sponge: spread the genoise layers with very good jam and fill with plain mascarpone frosting.
How to make genoise sponge?
Genoise sponge is airy and light, fluffy and gorgeous but it is also extremely sliceable so it makes wonderful gateaux and layered celebration cakes.
The secret of its airiness is eggs, beaten to quintuple their volume, with the help of warm steam and a powerful mixer. This is not a hand whisk job, unless your supernaturally determined.
The first stage is beating the eggs with sugar over a bain-marie, a double boiler aka a pan with a little simmering water over which the bowl with eggs is set. The bowl must not touch the water or the eggs will scramble.
During this first stage, while beating the eggs with a handheld mixer at low speed, sugar is added gradually and beaten in until dissolved, and the eggs warm up to about body temperature, 36-40C. They won’t expand much at this point.
The next step is about beating the living daylights out of the poor eggs until they swell up to about five times the original volume. You can continue with a handheld mixer or switch to a standing one with a balloon whisk attachment to do the job, which will take about 10 minutes.
These days recipes tell you it’s not necessary to sift flour, but in this instance – do. In fact it is advisable to sift both flours beforehand, 2 or 3 times, before the final sift into the bowl with eggs.
The flour should be folded in extremely gently, in order to keep all the airiness, but so that no dry clumps appear surreptitiously at the bottom of the bowl.
The batter contains some butter, to make it more pliable, which needs to be melted and kept warm. You should stir a heaped spoonful of batter into the butter, before returning it to the mix.
When the batter is in the tin (thoroughly buttered and floured, bottom lined with a disc of parchment), give it a sharp tap and twist on the counter, to remove rogue air bubbles.
It will bake for just under half an hour, until the top surface crackles slightly when pressed, and the indentation made with your finger doesn’t spring back.
Drop the cake!
In order to stop genoise from collapsing, you need to drop it. It’s a completely counterintuitive exercise but works extremely well.
Prepare a couple of folded tea towels to serve as a bed and drop the tin coming out of the oven from the height of 20cm or so, two or three times.
Then turn the tin upside down onto a wooden board and let it sit there for five minutes, before turning it back up onto a wire rack.
Remove the genoise from the tin at this stage but keep the parchment stuck on.
Slice it horizontally in half when it’s completely cold. If you have a cake wire cutter, you’re laughing. But a large sharp knife or a good bread knife will do the trick too.
Failing that, you can use a length of thread or flavourless dental floss, wrap it around the sponge and twist the ends – effectively garrotting the cake.
Mascarpone and blueberry filling
The filling is simple, elegant and delicious, made by whisking mascarpone with double cream and sugar.
If you roughly smash half the blueberries with a fork and fold them into the cream with the whole ones, it will make for a great texture and a slight colouring of the filling, though blueberries are not very juicy.
The filling should be piled onto the bottom cut layer of the genoise but leave a spoonful to spread over the inside surface of the top layer, to smooth crumbs. Invert the top layer onto the filling and press gently to spread the mascarpone cream evenly.
And that’s it, bar a dusting of icing sugar and a few reserved blueberries nonchalantly scattered over the top. Delightfully elegant, unpretentious and exquisitely delicious.
More genoise recipes
Dome cake made from the lightest sponge, filled with layers of dark chocolate, raspberry mousse and vanilla buttercream, glazed with white chocolate ganache. The ultimate in ‘wow’ factor.
Chocolate genoise with raspberry buttercream, a variant of genoise sponge which is the perfect base for a birthday cake. Chocolate flavoured genoise is filled with raspberry buttercream and frosted with light chocolate ganache.
Victorian Savoy cake, or biscuit de savoie, is the lightest butterless sponge cake. Fuller taste than angel food, more forgiving than genoise and far more sophisticated than Victoria sponge.
More celebration cake recipes
Devil’s food cake with hazelnut praline and mascarpone cream is unbelievably good. Just the recipe for the next birthday occasion.
Red velvet cake recipe decorated with dried cake crumbs. My red velvet cake is frosted with a cream cheese, mascarpone and whipped cream filling.
Cherry cream dacquoise is an exquisite gateau which is far easier to make than you’d think. Almond meringue dacquoise layers filled with fresh cream and homemade candied cherries – a riff on black forest gateau.