Friday, May 18, 2007

Black Forest and Hidemi Sugino’s Charme – Searching for the Perfect Griotte

If you asked me what my all time favorite cake is, I’ll probably say black forest. Growing up in Shanghai, it was one of the few western desserts available, and mom used to buy me a piece from the bakery as a treat on special occasions. Ask Jason what his favorite cake is, he’d definitely say black forest. Maybe he had the same childhood memory or maybe it’s just a testament to black forest’s universal appeal.

I used to make a killer black forest when we lived in Tokyo. Jason and a friend who came for a visit had it for breakfast, tea and after dinner dessert, finishing it in 24 hours! I haven’t been able to make one as good since leaving Tokyo, because I haven’t been able to find the perfect kirsch soaked griotte. Sure, the chocolate mousse must be just-so and the chocolate cake must be moist, and there’s also the balance of whipped cream and chocolate mousse, but the perfect griotte is what sets a fantastic black forest apart from the ordinary bakery bought type (yes, my taste buds have become more discerning over the years). The perfect griotte has to be sufficiently boozy to give the cake its characteristic flavor, but it must not taste overly alcoholic that it overpowers the chocolate components. Just my two cents anyway.

Since moving to Singapore I’ve made three black forest cakes. The first two were made when we were still in the service apartment and without knowing any suppliers I used cherries in syrup and soaked them in kirsch myself. The result was less than satisfying. The kirsch flavor did not take, despite soaking the cherries for almost 2 whole days. Combined with the inhibitive alcohol prices in Singapore, the DIY griotte idea was axed.

I made the third black forest after finding griottes from a local fine food supplier. An entire liter of griottes soaked in brandy arrived in a glass jar, all uniform in size and looking promising. After trying one, however, my enthusiasm was checked as I felt the brandy taste was too sharp and unrefined. Mind you, I’m no brandy connoisseur. In fact my extent of alcohol consumption is sipping the occasional glass of wine through an entire four-course dinner, but that doesn’t mean one can’t tell good booze from not-so-good booze. So why did I make it into a black forest even though I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the initial taste test? Because, besides my personal obsession with the black forest, I had a customer inquiry to answer to.

There is really nothing new making the black forest, except I shrunk it this time and made a 14cm mini version. It turned out really cute, but as suspected, the griotte tasted too harsh. Rather than enhancing flavors, it was distracting. Jason and I each had a slice the day I made it and another slice the next day, just to make sure that we gave it a second chance. Unfortunately, it was a no-go on both tries.

Now I have a problem. Specifically, a huge-jar-of-useless-griotte problem. So what do I do? I make them into a Hidemi Sugino version of black forest, the Charme. I don’t know what I was thinking. Was I expecting that the Idemi magic would miraculously mellow the harsh alcohol tone of the griottes? Or did I think that they would taste better in a different recipe? I have no idea. The only saving grace is that I had fun making it. I had to double the milk chocolate mousse to fill my tall mold but still came a little short so the top surface was not as smooth as I would’ve liked it to be. My chocolate plaques are not nearly as thin as Mr. Sugino’s version but my excuse was that I was making another thicker plaques on the other half of the same sheet so I couldn’t spread the chocolate too thin. The honest truth, however, is that I probably would’ve never achieved the same paper-thin effects, not without a couple of failed attempts anyway. I also still don’t own a pistolet so I dusted the top with coco powder, which looked almost half decent. Overall I can’t say I have any problems with how it turned out visually, but when I tasted it, the griottes disappointed again.

This is a recap of our reaction when we ate it:
Mmmm, yummy milk chocolate mousse!
Yummy chocolate joconde biscuit!
Yummy dark chocolate mousse!
Oooooh, bad griotte!

So there you have it: a still more than half full 1L bottle of untouchable griottes. I wonder if the pungent cheap alcohol taste would evaporate if I baked it, because bad as they are they did not come cheap and I who never waste food now have a mission to find a use for them. Oh goodie, more bad desserts to look forward to!


Anita said...

your cakes are gorgeous even if they didn't taste the way you wanted them to! I've had some bad griottes before too, icky!

Kate said...

wow this cake looks mind blowing and i really wish i could have a slice of that cake especially since you mentioned the kirsch soaked griotte.And doesnt this guy have only japanese there a english version available ??....okie now this is definately not helping ..."Mmmm, yummy milk chocolate mousse!
Yummy chocolate joconde biscuit!
Yummy dark chocolate mousse!
Oooooh, bad griotte!"....!

susan said...

Hi Lynn,

I'm enjoying your blog.
Try adding some sugar to the jar and let it dissolve. The sugar should balance the harshness of the alcohol - although it will take awhile.

best regards,

Lynn said...

Anita, thank you for that! I never knew "bad" griottes existed before this, sigh

kate, if you ate the cake without the griottes, it's actually very nice =o)

Susan, thanks for the advice. I was thinking of soaking them in some plain water just to get rid of the alcohol, now I'll split them into two baches. Half in water and half in intensified syrup.

Ales said...

I am not a big fan of the black forest, but Hidemi Sugino's version does look pretty appealing, I must say! A girl can't live without decent griotte in maraschino!!! Cherries in syrup are a staple in our house as my daughter loves them (I still make them with the old time method of layering the cherries (or sour cherries) with sugar and leave them out in the sun for 40 days until a nice syrup is formed, yum). I would be happy to ship you a jar of decent maraschino cherries from Italy. It's a matter of priorities ; ) Just let me know, ok?

Mae said...

Congratulations on winning DMBLGiT!!! The photo looks superb and i couldn't agree more with the judges. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm enjoying your blog - congratulations on winning DMBLGiT!!! Mouthwatering picture! And the recipe??????

thepassionatecook said...

what a perfect picture! congrats on your win...
this cake is a staple back home and probably a secret test every woman must pass to prove she is worthy of being married. i have never managed to make one (blind-folded my husband the day he was reading the T&Cs ;-))
i wish i could find griottes here, sour cherries are not a staple in britain! but i am sure if jamie or nigella came up with a recipe, the shelves would overflow with them... again, congratulations!

ambrosia ananas said...

That cake is beautiful. I second what kate said--I'm dying to have a slice.

I don't know if this would help with the dyi kirsch griottes, but when I do port cherries for cakes, I simmer them briefly in the port before soaking and the flavor seems to take better.

mimosa said...

waou amazing!!!

Anonymous said...

beautiful blog. Do you mind sending the recipe for blackforest cake please.I want to give a try for my husband's birthday;
Thanks in advance.

klvn said...

Hey everybody,

a couple of days ago I asked yesasia whether they would sell Hidemi Sugino's "The Dessert Book" from their shop.

They made it available now:

If you add an item for 1.01$, there aren't any shipping costs, so this might be the cheapest way of buying it.

This shouldn't be advertising - I'm just really happy that I finally can buy it for a more affordable price and would like to share that knowledge.

Best regards,
(from Germany)