My friend Andrew loves to bake cakes. He is completely comfortable baking a cake without a recipe. So, when I called him and told him that I wanted to make a cake called “Vert-Vert” with green fondant fromMonet’s Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet , he couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. The cake called for, among other things:  pistachios, kirsch, 2 1/4 cups of butter, about 8 eggs, and spinach for coloring. We headed for Hannafords and about $50. later had our ingredients.

“Vert-Vert”, detail of photo by Jean-Bernard Naudin from “Monet’s Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet”.

The cake was to be cooked in a single pan, sliced into three layers and filled with pistachio cream – thus the need for 2 1/4 cups of butter. Andrew, who is not known for his patience, decided he would “soften” the butter in the microwave. A few seconds later we had enough melted butter to cover all the artichokes in Castroville, California. If we were going to proceed we would have to go back to the store for another pound of butter. But first, the cake had finished baking and was ready to be pulled from the oven.

Andrew Ciccarelli with my painting of him.

The half pan of batter had baked into a half pan of cake. It didn’t rise. Instead it buckled and lifted from the pan like a ribbon. It also had a rubbery consistency. It was obvious that three layers could not be cut from this frisbee  sized hockey puck. Absolute, utter disaster!

One bite confirmed what our eyes already told us – this cake sucked.  And there was no way that the green coloring seeping  from the spinach was going to make the icing assume the luminous green glow that it had in the book. Khaki green fondant was not what I had in mind.

On top of that, we had already invited a friend we ran into at the grocery store to come over and sample the cake. Andrew and I agreed that the hockey puck, iced or not, was not going to be served.

Undeterred, Andrew emptied my cabinets and in under an hour produced a perfectly tasty chocolate cake with a chocolate ganache icing.

Andrew’s Cake

Later that year, when I had a chance to speak at the New England Culinary Institute about ” Monet and his Gardens in Giverny”, I challenged their students to produce the cake. I was happy to see, that while edible, it seemed nearly as squat and unspectacular as our version.

This is what happens when you are seduced by the color of a cake and have no feeling for its ingredients. Clearly, something was lost in translation.

Books Mentioned:

Monet’s Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet

Text by Claire Joyes, Photographs by Jean-Bernard Naudin

If You Want to Try Your Luck:

Recipes of Claude Monet

Recipe that Andrew Recommends

If You Go:

Claude Monet Foundation

84 Rue Claude Monet, 27620 Giverny, FRANCE

Castroville Artichoke Festival

P.O. Box 1041, Castroville, California 95012. Tel (831) 633-2465 • Fax (831) 633-0485 info@artichoke-festival.org

New England Culinary Institute

56 College Street  Montpelier, VT 05602 – info@neci.edu877-223-6324

NECI has several great restaurants on campus.

 

Andrew is a master gardener and great cake baker living in Granville, New York.

Since Andrew makes up his recipes as he goes along and doesn’t write them down, I asked him to recommend a recipe for a cake that he loved.

Andrew’s Favorite Cake Recipe from Food and Wine Magazine:

Double-Chocolate Bundt Cake with Ganache Glaze

Recipe by Kate Neumann

Ingredients

    1. Vegetable oil spray
    2. 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
    3. 3/4 cup canola oil
    4. 1 cup sugar
    5. 1 large egg
    6. 2 cups all-purpose flour
    7. 1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
    8. 1 tablespoon baking soda
    9. 3/4 teaspoon salt
    10. 1 cup strong-brewed coffee
    11. 1 cup buttermilk
    12. 1/3 cup heavy cream
    13. 1/2 tablespoon corn syrup
    14. 1/2 tablespoon unsalted butter

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 12-cup Bundt pan with vegetable oil spray. In a small saucepan, melt 2 ounces of the chopped chocolate over low heat, stirring constantly. Scrape the chocolate into a medium bowl and let cool slightly. Whisk in the oil and sugar until smooth, then whisk in the egg.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add half of the dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture along with 1/2 cup of the coffee and 1/2 cup of the buttermilk; whisk until smooth. Add the remaining dry ingredients, coffee and buttermilk and whisk until smooth.
  3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the lower third of the oven for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Let the cake cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then turn it out and let cool completely.
  4. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. In a heatproof bowl, combine the remaining 3 ounces of chopped chocolate with the corn syrup and butter. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let stand until melted, about 5 minutes. Whisk until smooth. Let the ganache glaze cool until thick but still pourable, about 5 minutes.
  5. Pour the ganache over the cooled cake. Let the cake stand until the glaze is set, at least 30 minutes, before serving.

Make Ahead The glazed cake can be stored in an airtight container for 3 days.

Andrew with yet another great cake. Note the fleur de lis on his shirt!

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