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!