Thursday, July 31, 2008

32. Lemon Semolina Cake with Raspberries and Whipped Cream (p. 708)

I really didn't know what to expect from this recipe, since it's so different from any other cake I've ever made. But, in the end, I was very happy with how it turned out, and I'll probably make it again when I'm looking for an impressive-looking, yet easy-to-make dessert for a spring or summer gathering.

The first thing that's unusual about the cake is its use of semolina flour. Up until I came across this recipe, I had only ever heard of semolina in the pasta context. So, when I went to the grocery store to look for semolina flour, all I was able to find was pasta flour. It said "semolina" on the box, so I figured that it must be the right thing. But I just learned, thanks to Wikipedia, that there are two kinds of semolina: durum semolina (which is made from hard wheat and is used to make pasta and couscous) and soft wheat semolina (which is also known as farina or, more commonly, as Cream of Wheat). So, I'm not sure if I used the right thing, but I don't really care since I was happy with the end result.

Another strange thing about the recipe is the inclusion of ground almonds in the cake. The Book calls for exactly twelve whole blanched almonds, finely ground in the food processor and incorporated into the batter. Why twelve? Would something horrible happen if I used thirteen almonds? Since I'm still in the early stages of The Project, I haven't yet acquired the bravado to flout The Book's directives, and so twelve almonds it was. But I'm still puzzled by their inclusion. The Book's blurb says that the ground almonds give the cake a "pleasant grainy texture." They did. But beyond that, it wasn't clear what else they contributed to the cake. There wasn't any perceptible almond flavor. And anyway, since when is "grainy texture" a positive attribute in a cake? Next time I make this, I'll probably leave them out. (See, that bravado is already starting to develop.)

The last wierd thing, at least for me, was the absence of any chemical leavening agent, like baking powder or soda. Instead, the lift in this cake comes from the beaten egg whites folded into the lemon-juice-and-zest-infused batter just before baking. The fluffy egg whites, along with the absence of any butter or other fat, make for a very light, airy cake. If I knew more about my cake types, I could tell you if it technically qualified as a "sponge cake," but it clearly had that light, springy texture that you'd expect a sponge cake to have.

After the cake comes out of the oven, with a nice golden top I might add, you let it cool in the pan for ten minutes and then invert it after running a paring knife around the edge a couple of times. You let it cool completely, and then slice it horizontally. I've done this a few times before, but it always makes me very nervous. Here's the beautiful cake that you've slaved over, and, just like that, you could wreck it with one little slip of the knife. When you're frosting the cake, you can salvage some errors by covering them over with the frosting. Here, the cake is unfrosted, so there's no hiding. I held my breath and sliced. Miraculously, I was left with two perfect cake halves. (Not bad considering that my inexperience in this regard is exacerbated by the fact that my serrated knife is only eight inches long - the same length as the diameter of the cake. I really should get a bigger serrated knife if I'm going to be doing this kind of thing on a regular basis.)

The bottom cake half is topped with a half cup of plain whipped cream and six ounces of fresh raspberries. (I was really lucky to get some beautiful-looking and fresh-tasting raspberries at my local mega-market). I took this picture because it's just so gosh darn pretty that it's a shame to cover it up with the other cake half, but that's exactly what The Book tells you to do. The next time I make this, I might repeat the whipped cream and raspberries on the top as well as the middle. (More bravado by the minute!) Would that be too much whipped cream? Is there such a thing as too much whipped cream?

The cake is finished off with a dusting of confectioner's sugar. (The raspberry garnish on top was my idea.) As I said at the beginning of this post, I was really happy with how this cake turned out. It was sweet and delicious while still being light and airy. The cake has a great spongy texture (With the "pleasant graininess" from the almonds. Whatever!) and just a hint of lemon flavor. At first I was surprised that the whipped cream isn't sweetend or flavored with anything, but after I took a bite, I realized that I wouldn't want it anyother way. The slight tang of the plain whipped cream was a nice counterpoint to the super-sweet raspberries.

Finally, I was really happy that the cake held up well to refrigeration. I was worried that the whipped cream would deflate and leave a yucky, creamy mess. But, we were able to enjoy the cake days after I made it.

Date Cooked: July 27, 2008
Degree of Difficulty: Medium
Rating: A-

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