27th May 2013 - Gayle Lazda
Even before chickens were domesticated around 10,000 years ago, the egg was already a staple in the diet of humans, and the planet now holds almost as many hens laying eggs for our consumption as people.
Our baking bookseller, Gayle Lazda, from our Westfield Stratford City branch, is always keen to find innovative ways to use them and so she was thrilled to come across Rose Carrarini's new book devoted entirely to the egg's culinary possibilities and decided to give the recipe for green tea genoise cake a go.
I recently went to see Michael Haneke's Amour. If you've seen the film you'll know that it raises quite a lot of complex issues that require a lot of thought. You know - love, mortality, that sort of thing. But the main thing I came away thinking about was a boiled egg that never got eaten. You hear one of the characters tapping away at the shell to slice the top off, and then something dramatic happens that means the egg is forgotten by all, except me. Similarly, while watching Looper (which admittedly provides slightly less in the way of thought-provoking subject matter), my main feelings were for the steak and scrambled egg platters that are ordered, only to fall victim to a brawl in a diner. This doesn't say much for my capacity for human empathy, but it says a lot for my appreciation of a good egg.
Which is why I am so very excited about Rose Carrarini's new book How To Boil An Egg. An entire book of egg recipes, from the simple - boiled, scrambled, poached, fried - to the more extravagant. There are cakes, meringues, sauces, soups. There is a recipe for popovers - that is, sweet Yorkshire puddings to eat for breakfast (i.e. the best idea ever). There is a whole section on savoury custards. I didn't even know savoury custards were a thing. There is an omelette sandwich. An omelette, in a sandwich. Heaven. The book is a loving tribute to "something so simple but special, nourishing and generous". Amen, sister.
And on top of all that, it's beautiful. (But then, if you've seen any of Phaidon's other cookery titles - like Ferran Adria's The Family Meal - you would expect nothing less. If anyone can save the physical cookbook from obsolescence in a world of iPad apps, YouTube channels and typing "how to boil an egg" into Google, Phaidon can.) The recipes here are accompanied by specially commissioned paintings by Fiona Strickland - a botanical artist by trade - which makes for an interesting change from your usual high-gloss photography, but still manage to be mouth-wateringly delicious.
At some point I'll end up making most of this book, because there's nothing in it that doesn't sound amazing, but to begin, I'm trying out the green tea genoise cake, mainly because it sounds delicious, but also because there's a bundt tin sitting in a cupboard in my kitchen that just doesn't get enough to do.
It's the tin, though, that throws up the first problem. Although the illustration definitely shows a cake made in a bundt tin, the recipe has clearly been written with a more regular tin in mind. The simple instruction 'oil and line with parchment paper' suddenly becomes very complicated. I think you'd need a degree in paper engineering to line this tin, and, to my eternal shame, I don't have one. So I just brush it with (an awful lot) of oil, and hope for the best. If, in the photo of the finished cake, you notice it's been a little over-dusted with icing sugar, you'll know this hasn't worked.
As you would expect from a book about eggs, this recipe uses a lot of them. I beat six yolks with some caster sugar, and then add sunflower oil and water. I'm told to beat thoroughly until it has 'the consistency of mayonnaise'. I do my best, but my arm muscles just aren't up to it. It gets to the point of being something like a thin, fairly badly made mayonnaise, and I'm done.
Next, I fold in the flour and matcha green tea powder. (I actually began this recipe by walking into town to the Japan Centre to buy the matcha powder. I could have got the bus, but beginning a cake with a seven-mile pilgrimage for ingredients seems to me an extremely auspicious start. Not that I'm superstitious or anything.) The mixture at the moment looks pretty much exactly like creamed spinach. Which doesn't seem quite right.
Now, the thing that's going to make the whole cake rise: the egg whites. Eight of them*. I whisk them into soft peaks, then add the rest of the sugar, and keep whisking until they're firm and glossy. Folding stuff into cake mixture without knocking the air out is something that requires a level of subtlety I simply do not possess, which is a problem in a recipe that uses no other raising agents. I concentrate my hardest and carefully fold the egg whites into the rest of the mixture, before transferring it to the tin, and into the oven. (It still looks like creamed spinach, by the way.)
After letting it cool in the tin for a bit (the Internet says this is the trick with bundt tins), it actually comes out relatively easily, and most importantly, in one piece. It's a little unimpressive compared to picture in the book, but I comfort myself that that's a painting, and therefore not necessarily an accurate portrayal of reality.
And it tastes... nothing like creamed spinach! It's sweet, but with the green tea flavour adding a delicious savouriness, which is especially good when served with a spoonful of crème fraîche. Even with my cack-handed attempts at gentle folding, the sponge is extremely light, and that's due entirely to the natural alchemy of introducing egg whites to air. Maybe I'm an easily impressed idiot and should read more books about science or whatever, but that's amazing. Any ingredient capable of such a nigh-on magical transformation as that totally deserves a cookbook as good as this.
*The mathematically astute amongst you will have noticed this recipe requires two more egg whites than yolks. While I would usually advise using this as an excuse to make a custard tart, today I used the excess to make double-yolked fried eggs for breakfast. Try it. Double the fun of a normal fried egg.
Read Gayle's previous blogs on making Oliver Peyton's teacakes, The Hummingbird Bakery's Guinness cake, Dan Lepard's apple, walnut and custard cake, Marcus Wareing's egg custard tart, Marianne Magnier Moreno's chocolate éclair, Mark Hix's macaroni pie and Katie Quinn Davies' blood orange and rosemary cake.