Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Pinecone Cake

This is Rose's Heavenly Cakes' version of a Buche de Noel; instead of turning a chocolate roulade into a log with some meringue mushrooms, this roulade is turned into a large pineconey thing with some spikes. Mine turned out less like a pinecone and more like male genitalia underneath a brown spiky blanket, but for the sake of this post I'm going to continue to pretend it was a pinecone. I shared it with the doulas, who are kind enough to let me crash the meetings every once in awhile even though I've retired from the doula life, and they didn't care that it wasn't a very good looking pinecone; they just cared that it was chocolate, and gluten-free to boot.

holiday pinecone cake

December 15, 2011
Name of Cake: Well, I can't think of a G-rated name for my cake
Occasion: Crashing the doula meeting
Constituents: Gluten-free chocolate cake rolled up with chocolate-almond ganache and covered in chocolate fondant

The original recipe is NOT gluten-free, but as there are doulas who are celiacs in the group I decided to convert the cake. The cake is a souffle-like cake, baked in a half sheet pan. It is leavened by eggs and doesn't have much flour to begin with, so it is an easy cake to convert. I don't have a pre-made gluten-free flour mix right now--I'm out of potato starch flour and keep forgetting until I need to bake something GF--so I just made it up. I would recommend using a GF flour mix--here's the Gluten-Free Girl's mix, Thomas Keller just came out with Cup4Cup, and I've mentioned the super basic mix over here in this post. There are lots of pre-made GF baking four mixes out there in the markets and internets, so you've got LOTS of options. I remember back in the early 2000s there were almost NO options, so today's GF scene looks pretty damn great.

Anyways, back to the cake. I regret I have no process photos; this is one of those cakes where all the construction would benefit from some process pics. Alas.

The cake is a simple roulade. There are several of them in RHC and it involves some tricky egg organizing. In one mixer bowl all the yolks and half the whites and all but a tablespoon of sugar are mixed until thick and fluffy. The flour(s) are sifted and folded in, then the cocoa paste, and this bowl is set aside. In the second mixer bowl, the remaining egg whites are beat until soft peaks, the tablespoon of sugar is mixed in, and then all is beat to a stiff meringue. The meringue is folded into the other stuff, the batter is spread out in the half sheet pan, and baked for about 7 minutes. When the cake is finished baking, it needs to be rolled up while it cools.

The ganache filling is a basic ganache, with the addition of chopped toasted almonds. The recipe calls for whole almonds that you roughly chop, but I had slivered so that's what I used. Like most ganache, it needs several hours to set up. I put it back in my unheated storage room to hasten the process.

Once the ganache is ready, you spread most of it over the unrolled and cooled cake. Then you roll the cake back up and at an angle, you cut the sides of one end so that the roll comes sort of to a point (but not so severely). Those two cut pieces are spackled onto the other end of the roll to make the cake more like a triangle than a log, or rather more like a pinecone than a log.

holiday pinecone cake
this slice is from the top of the pinecone--look closely and you can see the two spackled-on pieces on either side of the actual roll

The rest of the ganache is spread over the top and sides of the cake, and your naked pinecone looking thing goes into the refrigerator to firm up.

The last ingredient of this cake is the chocolate fondant. I have been avoiding making fondant since I read Rose's recipe for chocolate fondant in The Cake Bible almost ten years ago. It just seemed so foreign, and once I tasted a cake draped in (regular, not chocolate) fondant I decided there was no need to learn how to make such unappetizing stuff. Face it people, I don't care how pretty that shit looks on a cake; if you have to peel it off to actually enjoy said cake it doesn't belong there in the first place. So it was that I would have continued to avoid making fondant for the rest of my life if I hadn't joined the Rose's Heavenly Cakes bake-through and then got all serious about truly baking every single cake in the book. Why do I have to be so literal?

So late last night I took a huge breath and tackled chocolate fondant. First up, gelatin is softened in a little bit of water in a 2-cup glass measuring cup. The cup is then placed in a pan of simmering water so that the gelatin can dissolve. Then corn syrup and glycerin are added, except I didn't have any glycerin so I skipped it. The shortening is added to this cup and stirred around until it melts. After this, the measuring cup of stuff is pulled from the simmering water and the vanilla is added. In another bowl, a ton of powdered sugar and some cocoa powder are whisked together and the cup of stuff is poured in. Rose says to stir with a wooden spoon which is a good idea because this mix is stiff, but all my wooden spoons smell like onions so I used a silicone spatula.

The fun part comes when you get to put on a pair of food prep gloves and knead the fondant until it becomes a smooth, pliable, shiny mass. I added some extra water because the fondant seemed a little dry but otherwise it came together pretty well. The fondant prefers an overnight in the refrigerator to evenly distribute the moisture, so I wrapped it up and put it to bed. This morning, I rolled it out between plastic wrap and draped it over the cake. I didn't do the most fabulous job of rolling out the fondant as it didn't cover the ends of the cake, but a patch job got the ends covered adequately. Then the fondant needs to be cut into Vs and the ends curled up to mimic the spikes on a pinecone. This takes some time but one you get a rhythm going, and once you remember that the doulas don't care what it looks like because it will be chocolate and they will eat it, the spikes move along pretty quickly.

holiday pinecone cake

I gave it a quick dust of powdered sugar then it was time to head out. I got there a little late so the meeting was already in progress, but the news of chocolate cake spread like wildfire around the room. Soon the meeting deteriorated into minor chaos as doulas were getting up left and right to get cake and have little side conversations. I felt a little bad, but also quite amused. Never come between a doula and chocolate cake. Eventually the meeting got back on track and everything was fine. The celiac doulas were happy to have cake. I was happy to be amongst some of my favorite people, and to be able to pass another Heavenly Cake onto others.

The cake is deeply richly chocolaty, and like most roulades, the cake component gets lost amongst all the ganache. The chocolate fondant was not only easy to make, but it tastes pretty decent. This was a good chocolate bomb, but next time I want to make the traditional yule log instead.

I mentioned to the doulas how grateful I was that they let me still crash meetings, and the general reply was, "its because you bring cake." That is a small price to pay to spend time with such wonderful women.

holiday pinecone cake

Marie has the funniest post about her pinecone cake, plus all the process photos you'd want. Please go take a look! Here's the Last Cake, Next cake roundup; only eight bakers including Marie tackled the Pinecone, and we gave Lois a hearty welcome!


  1. ב''ה

    Oh my. That's some cake shape.

    That's pretty naughty that you left out the glycerine. Wish I would have thought of that.

    Strange how so many doula's seem to be celiac. You'd think it was catchy...

  2. Too bad you weren't taking it to a bachelorette would have been perfect! I agree about fondant: what's the point of wasting time on something inedible? But if chocolate fondant tastes like a tootsie roll, I might have to try it. I have a weird love for tootsie rolls.

  3. Mendy, thanks dude.

    Amanda, the chocolate fondant does kind of taste like a fancy tootsie roll, and it sounds like you need to make it!

  4. ECL, congrats on tackling the chocolate fondant. I hear what you're saying about fondant though. In general I think anything made with a boatload of powdered sugar is crap.

    Btw, did you do something different with your pictures? I'm asking because it rocks. My guess is you're taking picture outside. I love the last photo. The angle and the lighting are amazing.

  5. Thanks Jenn! I totally agree with you about powdered sugar. Anytime I see it in a recipe I hesitate.

    I did take these pictures outside! On the trunk of my car even :) That last one (the "money shot") did turn out pretty good, especially for my little point and shoot. It takes me about 100-130 pics per cake to get a few good ones. It is ridiculous.

    Hey Mendy, looking back at my reply to you I sounded a bit snarky, and that wasn't my intention. Sorry!

  6. ב''ה

    That's cool babe, I hunt snarks all the time. (with thimbles, care, forks and hope. Particularly with forks, if its a cake snark...)

  7. Oh my, what memories this brings back! Dry fondant indeed. It took the glove right off my hand. Your cake looks quite good.

  8. Mendy, I think that is the best comment I've ever had on this blog!

    Vicki, oh I wish I could have seen that! The things we do for cake.

  9. It takes a brave baker to tackle this cake!

  10. Thanks Lois! You are also a brave baker; have you tackled this cake yet??

  11. Oh, the memories this brings back. All I can say is that I haven't made another fondant, even though I have enough glycerine to make stacks and stacks of it.
    I will make this again if the world comes to an end on whatever day the Mayan calendar says it will. Of course, I won't be able to because there'll be no more world. Oh well.

  12. Marie, sorry it took me so long to publish your comment, but you are so hilarious!