Monday, February 6, 2012

What I Love About Genoise

I make genoise twice a year whether I like it or not.  I make it when I teach at Tante Marie’s Cooking School because Mary Risley (Tante Marie) believes that all aspiring professional culinary students should be able to make genoise.    Despite its old school reputation, I do like genoise. And I agree with Mary, though I’m not sure working pastry chefs in this country actually make it very often. 

The problem with genoise is that Americans like super moist cake and genoise was never meant to be moist. The other problem is that, knowing that genoise is not meant to be moist, many chefs make it inedibly dry—which perpetuates the bad rep for genoise.  I don’t accept inedibly dry genoise.  I appreciate the usefulness of a cake that is dry enough to be soaked with flavorful liquids, but I pride myself on nibble-worthy genoise, one that soaks well but might not really need all of the usual primping, poking, soaking, and fussing that goes on in classical patisserie.

Meanwhile—and this is the part I love— the production of good genoise is an ode to technique, a paean to the details that make a difference.  I privately think it separates the women from the girls…

With only four ingredients plus salt and vanilla, you can mix up a genoise in less time than it takes to preheat the oven.  Simple right?  But if you don’t measure correctly (please buy a scale) or fold properly, or if you don’t know how to prevent tiny flour balls or a rubbery bottom layer, then sister you are cooked. 

To raise the stakes still higher, I like to use the smallest weight of flour possible.  This means that there can be no unnecessary moisture in the batter or the cake will sink in the center as it cools.  To that end I use clarified or browned butter or ghee—and I’ve even used olive oil.  And, the quantity of flour called for in the recipe is correct only for the type of flour called for.  If you use flour other than the unbleached all purpose flour called for, you may need to adjust the quantity of it to get my perfect cake. 

Here’s a preview of the chocolate genoise that I’ll make at Tante Marie’s Cooking School on the day after tomorrow, February 8th.  I will use it to build a spectacular cake wrapped in a sheet of chocolate and filled with rummy bananas, bittersweet chocolate mousse, and whipped crème fraîche, and I’ll top it with chocolate ruffles. You can do something similar with your genoise, or you can just nibble the cake plain with your coffee! 

Or, you can click on the link above and sign up for the class.  Mary always leaves a few spaces open for the public.

I urge you to use a scale for this recipe and check out the notes below for tips and greater understanding of what’s going on in the recipe.

1.5 ounces (3 tablespoons) hot clarified unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.6 ounces (1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sifted) unbleached all-purpose flour
1.2 ounces (3/8 cup unsifted) unsweetened cocoa powder (see notes)
4 large eggs
4.3 ounces (2/3 cup) sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

8x2 inch round cake pan
Electric mixer with whisk attachment

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with a rack in the lower third.  Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper. Do not grease the sides of the pan.

Combine clarified butter and vanilla in a 4-cup stainless steel bowl and keep it hot until needed by setting it in a pan of almost simmering water.  Or put it in a microwave safe bowl and be prepared to zap it just before using it.

Whisk the flour and cocoa together thoroughly and sift it (or shake it through a sieve) three times and return it to the sifter/sieve and set aside.

In a stainless steel mixing bowl (I use my 5 quart Kitchen Aid mixer bowl) whisk the eggs, sugar, and salt to blend.  Set the bowl on a low flame and stir (sweeping the sides and bottom of the bowl constantly to prevent scrambling) just until the eggs are lukewarm to the touch.

Remove the eggs from the heat and beat them at high speed with an electric mixer until they have cooled, tripled in bulk, and have the texture of very softly whipped cream (a ribbon of batter should dissolve very slowly on the surface of the batter).

Sift about one-third of the flour mixture over the eggs.  Fold with a large rubber spatula until the flour is almost blended into the batter. Repeat with half of the remaining flour.  Fold in the last third of the flour.  Add about 1 cup of batter to the hot butter.  Fold until blended.  Scrape the buttery batter over the remaining batter and fold just until blended. Scrape the batter into the pan.

Bake until cake springs back when pressed gently with fingers, 25-30 minutes.   Set the pan on a rack to cool.

At your convenience (the cake can be warm or completely cool), run a small spatula around the inside of the pan, pressing against the sides of the pan to avoid tearing the cake.  Invert the pan to remove the cake and peel off the parchment liner.  Turn the cake right side up to finish cooling. The cake should be completely cool before filling, frosting or storing.  The cake may be wrapped airtight and stored at room temperature for 2 days, or frozen up to 3 months.

Cocoa Powder? I like Scharffen Berger Natural Cocoa Powder.  You can use a Dutch process cocoa if you prefer it.

Flour balls in your genoise? These are prevented by whisking the cocoa and flour together and then sifting the mixture a few times before sifting it into the batter, as described in the recipe.  For plain genoise, (without cocoa) whisk 2 or 3 tablespoons of the sugar from the recipe into the flour before sifting several times.  Interspersing the grains of flour with either cocoa or a little sugar plus fluffing and aerating the mixture separates the grains of flour (to prevent clumping) and makes it easier to fold it into the egg foam without deflating it.

Rubbery bottoms on your genoise?  This is prevented by folding a little of the batter into hot butter before folding everything together, as decribed in the recipe.

Awkward folding? If your mixer bowl is tall and narrow (like Kitchenaid mixer bowls), you might want to transfer the egg foam into a larger wider bowl to make it easier to fold in the flour and butter.


  1. I love Genoise and use it for a lot of my layered cakes.

  2. Alice - would you suggest to convert ounces to grams to get the most precise measurements? On my scale a x in ounces might have a range and the grams might make for a better result. Unless, you think, that small amount won't make a difference.

    1. I find that it works with ounces, but here are the grams:
      43 g clarified butter, 45 g flour, 34 g cocoa, 122 g sugar

    2. Thanks for the post! What do you think of dissolving the cocoa in hot water first before incorporating it into the batter? I always found it difficult to incorporate cocoa into a genoise batter without excessive folding.

    3. Henry, thanks for writing. As I explained, this particular formula can't take any added water (or it will sink in the center). I find that the formula and the method, as written, works quite well. Give it a shot before you try "fix" it!

    4. Thanks so much! Could one use oil instead of clarified butter?
      I'm planning to use this recipe as a roll cake...

    5. Thanks so much Alice. I tried baking this once, and the batter already deflated quite a bit when I was carefully folding the flour mixture in. After I add the eggfoam to the clarified butter and fold them back in gingerly the eggfoam was like half the original volume. I never have trouble with non-cocoa genoise...! It's frustrating... I ended up using the rather dense cake I bake as a base for a chocolate mousse cake.

    6. Oil should work fine. I wonder if you should try doubling the recipe...that often deflates less because it takes about the same amount of folding strokes to fold a double as a single. Still, it's good to develop your technique so that you can succeed with the single recipe. When you tried it before and it deflated, was it my recipe or a different recipe? Just curious...

    7. Thanks! I used your recipe - and I guess it was more difficult because of the relatively generous amount of cocoa in the recipe :)
      I shall try doubling the recipe!

  3. A butterless genoise makes the perfect tres leche cake. It's the only thing that really holds up to that much liquid soak.

    1. Yes, butter-less genoise sounds right for Tres Leches cake....!

  4. I'm on a baking adventure lately...this might just be my next Everest to climb...thank you for the inspiration!

  5. Is it okay to convert into grams and then use the ingredients...??
    hopefully to try sometime this week..!!

  6. It's a pleasure for me to have found your blog. I have been doing your recipes for many years and specially your genoise technique, which I really love. I normally drop some liquor syrup in it and gives me a nice moist in it. I won't miss any post starting from now :). I had to convert the recipe in grams.

  7. Thanks for the great recipe! The cake turned out perfectly. I particularly like the lightening up of the butter with some of the batter- I think it really helped prevent it from deflating.

    I filled it with brandy soaked fruit, a mixture of egg yolk, rum, Marscapone and whipped cream folded together and the eaters have claimed it was my best cake ever....