Sunday 27 April 2014

Espresso Sponge

Look at the rise on that!
This was developed as a bitter foil to my much lauded butterscotch mousse. And foil me it almost did. Why is so easy to make a chocolatey chocolate cake but so difficult to get a decent coffee hit? As a friend of mine pointed out, the only real coffee flavour in commercial cakes is in the icing. He was right.

The cake above is my fifth iteration and I think this one works. This is hardcore cooking; high-caffeine cake. This is a stay-awake bake (OK, I'll stop now). This is a Genoise sponge made with instant espresso powder and then soaked with a syrup made with ten espresso shots... AND Khalua coffee liqueur. You see what I mean? Intense.

I used Genoise because of its rep for structure and soak-ability. It has an elastic texture and doesn't disintegrate when saturated with suryp. Devil's food cake or Victoria sponge can't compete. Genoise can be tricky, relying on physical aeration rather than a chemical rise. No soda or baking powder here, you whisk eggs and sugar until frothy and then do your best to bake in that air.

Ribbon Stage
The Genoise is a Michel Roux Snr recipe. Some cooks tell you to whisk the eggs and sugar over a bain marie, but I can vouch that this isn't necessary and Mr Roux doesn't. Joe Pastry (!) also gives good advice but I didn't follow his recipe.

You'll need to make the espresso syrup first. Mix ten shots of espresso coffee with the same volume of sugar syrup (equal weights of sugar and water brought to the boil then allowed to cool). How you get the ten shots is up to you. A trip to Starbucks means this will be a prohibitively expensive cake. If you have no machine at home, maybe invite yourself over to a friend who has... and line a pocket with a plastic bag. Waitrose does free coffee if you have a Waitrose card (was there ever any doubt that I did!?) so you can pick up a double shot on each visit. Whatever. 

Boil the espresso syrup until it's... syrupy but still spoonable. Remember it will thicken as it cools. Blimey, that's a rubbish instruction. Sorry. I'm not at my best today. When the syrup's cooled, add 2 - 4 shots of Khalua coffee liqueur, depending on how drunk you want your kids to get when they eat it. Hey, drunk and hyperactive - fun combo. Perhaps have the neighbours' kids around too and stage races.

You'll need a Swiss Roll tin for this recipe. It's important. They are usually around 30 x 20cm. Line the bottom with baking paper and butter the sides well.

So... melt 30g of unsalted butter. Set aside and allow to cool.  in a large bowl, whisk 125g caster sugar with 4 medium eggs until the mix is at the 'ribbon stage', that is when the whisk/beaters leave visible trails (as pictured). This takes a while, so get comfy. Put the radio on or maybe start a minor argument with a family member to pass the time (as I did). This takes at least five minutes. I don't think you can over-whisk so just stick in there. When your batter is properly aerated, fold in 125g of sifted flour combined with four heaped teaspoons of instant espresso powder. You could use normal instant but you could just buy a tasteless cake in Asda too. You could use that old tin of Mellow Birds at the back of the cupboard (there's a reason no one drank it) but you may as well just slap me across the face next time you see me. Back to the flour folding... Do this in several stages. Folding should be GENTLE, done with a big spoon or a spatula. If you beat this baby now you will be baking biscuits. GENTLE! You should see no real reduction in volume. Now fold in that 30g of melted butter.

Without delay, gently pour the batter into the tin and smooth into an even thickness. Bake in the middle of the oven at 190°C for 15-18 minutes. You know it's cooked because it will smell cooked and because the middle will feel firm. It should also just be coming away from the sides. If you used a proper Swiss roll tin, the cake will be brimming right at the top. Made correctly, the Genoise is wonderfully flat. This makes it easy to get constructive without having to resort to cake shaving (terribly wasteful).

Remove the cake and allow to stand for five minutes. Now spoon on the coffee syrup to cover the entire cake evenly. Allow the cake to stand for another ten minutes then flop it out and repeat the syrup thing on the other side.
I cut my cake into 21 pieces (7 x 3). To ensure accuracy I made a paper template, poked holes in the paper and dusted the cake with icing sugar. Lift off the template and you have white dots to aid your cutting. I thought this was genius. No doubt it's been done before but I'm damned if I'm going to do a web search just to prick my puffery. Anyway, I have too much time on my hands and you feel free to get all freestyle.

To assemble my dessert I layered the cake pieces with whipped vanilla cream. I dusted the top with cocoa powder for a nice velvety texture. The cake was served with the butterscotch mousse, salted peanut brittle pieces, peanut brittle crumb (all the bits of brittle that broke, blitzed!), kirsch macerated black cherries and blackberry & clove syrup.

With apols to the square plate haters. You know who you are.


  1. Truly a gastronomic and fun experience. Great food beautifully presented. We have spoken about our night out everyday so far. How news travels. My friend saw the post on Love your Doorstep Enfield and had to message me and ask would I recommend NNR (if it was THE Sharron and Lawrence) YES!! was my response. So much more relaxing and warmer celebrating our friendship at Christmas over Easter!!

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