Let Them Eat Cake: I Don’t Think So

15

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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  1. Megan
    Megan07-16-2010

    I see the temptation – the green cake is seductive. Perhaps better for painting than eating? And this is a killer sentence: “One bite confirmed what our eyes already told us – this cake sucked.”

    • Leslie Parke
      Leslie Parke07-17-2010

      I wish I knew enough about writing to know a killer sentence when I saw one!

  2. Serena Kovalosky
    Serena Kovalosky07-24-2010

    What a great project – even if it didn’t turn out to be edible! There’s something about bringing a painting to life……..I can imagine the excitement in the kitchen as you assembled the ingredients! For now, we’ll just have to settle for tasting that cake with our eyes!

  3. emt training
    emt training07-25-2010

    Great site. A lot of useful information here. I’m sending it to some friends!

  4. david z
    david z08-05-2010

    …………he bakes, and has great hostas, too !

  5. Anna Cunningham
    Anna Cunningham08-08-2010

    Argh! Moi et les belle-meres just finished the same exact experience with the Vert-Vert. $50 later, we have a gooey flat mess dripping with melted goo containing what we think may be uncooked eggs. Oui, we think something must be lost in translation indeed. And don’t even mention the fondant/sugar shards. I’m enough of a masochist to want to try it again – we know confectioner’s sugar should have been used in the filling, and the spinach and pistachios should have been ground to a fine powder, but no idea why the cake was flat as a pancake. So glad to hear we aren’t the only ones! Merci!

    • Leslie Parke
      Leslie Parke08-08-2010

      Anna, they must have left something out of the recipe. Their cake, after all, doesn’t look flat as a pancake. Arrgh, in deed! Perhaps we should compile a new cookbook of recipes that look beautiful in pictures, but fail utterly in the kitchen. This one could go on the cover!

  6. Anna Cunningham
    Anna Cunningham08-08-2010

    Hey Leslie – here’s what my sister had to say about the Vert Vert:

    ” I made that cake, back in the old house. I had a can of prepared fondant and a marble slab (you’ll recall) to roll it out on. It still sucked. Don’t get me wrong, it turned out EXACTLY the way it was supposed to, right down to the bilious green, but the cake was utterly lacking in all respects- and the texture was bad: mealy, slack and off-putting. no amount of booze would save it. And fondant blows chunks taste-wise on its best day.

    It’s just mildew-colored sponge cake, people. for god’s sake just put some damn baking powder in it.”

    Giant shrug here – not sure what to make of it. Perhaps the key is to master the art of fondant-making, make your own buttercream (with pistachios) for the filling and spongecake (with pistachios) for the cake.

    Thanks again for posting – we all felt better after seeing your account. Hope other recipes in Monet’s Table turn out better – I was foreseeing a fabulous winter based on the soups.

    A toute l’heure!

    • Leslie Parke
      Leslie Parke08-08-2010

      As soon as I stop laughing I will reply to your post. I think that in taking on this cake we thought we might somehow touch the great maestro. Perhaps sit down and enjoy a slice of cake with Monet himself. Well, just as with his paintings, I think it take a little “je ne sais quoi” to produce such a masterpiece. In the meantime, let us eat twinkies!

  7. yahoo answers
    yahoo answers07-01-2011

    Thanks for some great information reagrding this

  8. Melanie White
    Melanie White11-20-2011

    I made this cake back in 1990, and it turned out just like the picture in the book. I didn’t have any equipment back then, so made it by hand, just like the recipe. I remember making the fondant on a granite surface and being surprised that it turned out so well, but it took a long time to get it like that. Could it be that the flour is different? I know Australian flour is different to American flour.
    I intend to make this cake again this week, it will be interesting to see how it turns out this time!

    • Leslie Parke
      Leslie Parke11-20-2011

      Melanie,
      This is so exciting! Not even the Culinary Institute had very good results with this. Please, please take pictures as you make it and send them to me. With your permission I will post them on the blog!

      You may be right about the flour. Our cake flour is probably too refined. I am not sure what flour we tried to use, but the cake was rubbery and flat. There was no way you could make even two layers out of it, let alone 5. You can contact me through my website:

  9. sarah
    sarah12-21-2011

    oh thank you for posting this!!!! i was going to make that vert vert cake for xmas because it looks so amazing in the book. but now i won’t! you saved me! whew!

    • Leslie Parke
      Leslie Parke12-21-2011

      Oh please, don’t give up on my account. The recipe makes a stellar hockey puck. I would just modify the recipe a little. Make the cake and when it doesn’t rise and turns rubbery, cut out several circles with a cookie cutter, then spray paint phlorescent green. Freeze over night and it should be good for the first quarter of pond hockey.

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