From Sunaina’s Kitchen
Aaaaaaand we’re back! Milena and I have been traveling, so we haven’t had time to post in a while. I was attending a friend’s wedding in the Bay Area and then a family wedding in India. But, at last, I’m back in Hawai’i and I baked something new!
I made a mimosa cake for my auntie’s birthday this weekend. Did you know that a mimosa is more than just something millennials drink by the bucketful at brunch? It’s also a flower, which was probably what the drink is named after. The cake the I baked is also named after this flower:
Mimosa cakes are an Italian dessert. According to NPR, and also Manuela Zangara (the author of the recipe that I used), mimosas are the symbol of the “Festa della donna” (International Women’s Day) in Italy. Men are supposed to give women mimosa flowers, and often people make this cake to celebrate. The festival happens on March 8, when mimosa flowers are in bloom. Their cheery yellow color also celebrates spring. It was just good timing that I made a cake that celebrates women at the same time as the Kavanaugh hearings were going on (ughughugh). It’s also a pretty complicated bugger, so I would not recommend attempting it unless you have some cake baking experience.
I had never heard of a mimosa cake before my auntie requested it for her birthday. It’s a sponge cake, which is the sort of cake that you find in a jelly roll or Swiss roll cake. It’s leavened with beaten eggs instead of baking powder or baking soda, has very little flour, and no added liquid (like milk) or fat (like butter). This results in a light and airy cake with very mild flavor. It’s usually used as a base for some kind of filling in something more elaborate, and is often soaked in syrup. This cake has two layers of sponge cake soaked in Grand Marnier syrup with whipped cream and pastry cream in the middle. It is then covered with more pastry cream, and topped with squares or crumbs of sponge cake to represent the small puffy balls that make up a sprig of mimosa flowers. Following Manuela Zangara’s recipe, I finished it off with a little powdered sugar and a mimosa flower made out of marzipan. It was deeeeelicious. If you like custard, moist baked things, and boozy desserts, you will like this cake!
The recipe that I am posting here differs from the original a little. That is because I was really tired and I forgot to follow a key instruction in the cake recipe—you’re supposed to beat 4 whole eggs until they’re done being whipped and then add 8 egg yolks and beat a little longer. I think these egg yolks are to make the cake yellow like a mimosa flower, which at the same time, make it more flavorful. I beat all of the eggs and yolks together, which made the finished cake about 1/3 the height that it was supposed to be. Fortunately, the crumb turned out fine (usually if the cake doesn’t rise enough, the crumb is coarse, dense, and dry) and I thought that the finished product turned out really well! The original recipe also had potato flour in additional to all-purpose, which would have made the cake softer. I couldn’t find potato flour, so I used only all-purpose.
I made the mimosa flower on top of the cake freehand with practically no planning ahead of time, so I can’t explain how I put it together step by step. You can do as elaborate a flower or as simple as you want. Or just don’t do it. I wasn’t entirely happy with the color of the flower, though. The gel food coloring that I used was “golden yellow” and it turned out to be orange. Oh well. In the end, though, I was pleased with how the whole flower turned out.
Original recipe by Manual Zangara here. The original recipe is mostly by weight, so I don’t have volume conversions.
For the sponge cake:
- 240 grams/8.4 oz. all-purpose flour
- 4 eggs + 8 egg yolks
- 220 grams/7.75 oz granulated sugar
For the pastry cream:
- 300 ml/1.25 cups heavy cream
- 300 ml/1.25 cups whole milk
- 200 grams/7 oz. granulated sugar
- 8 egg yolks
- 55 grams/1.95 oz. all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
For the syrup:
- 100 ml/3.4 fl. oz. water
- 30 ml. Grand Marnier
- 50 grams sugar
For the whipped cream:
- 200 ml/6.8 fl. oz. heavy cream, cold
- 20 grams/0.7 oz. confectioner’s sugar
For the mimosa flower decoration (optional):
- Yellow gel food coloring
- Green gel food coloring
Bring all of the cake ingredients to room temperature (or set them out to come to room temperature).
Make the pastry cream: Place the heavy cream and milk in a pot and heat on low heat until scalded (hot but not boiling–little bubbles will form around the edge). Meanwhile, mix the sugar and egg yolks together in a medium bowl. Add the flour and vanilla extract and mix to combine. When the cream mixture has scalded, pour a little—approximately a quarter cup—into the egg yolk mixture and combine. Add a quarter cup more and combine. Continue adding more cream mixture in increasing amounts until you’ve transferred all of the cream mixture into the bowl.
Transfer this mixture back into the pot. Stirring constantly on low heat, heat the mixture until it has substantially thickened. You really must stir constantly—the pastry cream sticks to the bottom of the pot very easily and burns. I like to use a rubber spatula for this because it allows you to scrape the bottom of the pot easily. When the mixture has thickened enough (and all of the taste of raw flour is gone from the pastry cream), pass it through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl. This removes any accidental scrambled egg and makes the pastry cream smooth. Place a piece of plastic wrap right on top of the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming, and put the bowl in the refrigerator to cool.
Make the sponge cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease the bottom of one 9-inch round cake pan and one 10-inch round cake pan. Cut out rounds of parchment paper to fit the pans and place in the pans. Grease and flour the parchment rounds and sides of pan.
Measure the flour in a medium bowl and set aside. Put the eggs, egg yolks, and granulated sugar into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until very pale and fluffy. This should take about 15-20 minutes with a hand mixer on high or 7-8 in a stand mixer on medium. The eggs will look done only after a few minutes with a hand mixer and perhaps one or two with the stand mixer, but you must continue beating them for the full duration or your cakes won’t rise properly.
The picture on the left is an under-beaten egg mixture–it LOOKS done, but it’s not. The one on the right is done. It will form a ribbon but will quickly sink back into the egg mixture.
Sift the flour over the egg mixture and fold in gently but quickly. The best way to do this is by using a large whisk: Bring the whisk under the mixture and then with a sweeping motion bring it just above the batter. Shake the whisk until the batter inside of it falls out. This last step is crucial. If you don’t shake out the batter, you’ll smash the batter in the whisk into the rest of the batter and pop all of the air bubbles. It’s the same motion as folding with a rubber spatula but with this extra shaking step. If you don’t feel comfortable doing this, use a large rubber spatula.
Scrape the batter into the pans so that there is an equal amount in each. The 10-inch pan will look like there is less batter in it. Bake for approximately 15-20 minutes or until the cakes are browning on top and start to pull away from the sides. The 10-inch cake will likely be done first. Immediately remove the cakes from their pans and onto wire racks. Peel off the parchment paper. Let cool to room temperature.
While the cake bakes, make the syrup: Heat the water, sugar, and Grand Marnier in a pot just until the mixture boils and the sugar dissolves. Alternatively, put the water, sugar, and Grand Marnier in a glass measuring cup and microwave just until the mixture boils and the sugar dissolves. I prefer the glass measure method because it easily allows you to pour the syrup onto the cake, as opposed to transferring it to the cake from a pot somehow. Let cool to room temperature ( I recommend putting it in the fridge).
Once the pastry cream is cold and the cake and syrup are at room temperature, you can assemble the cake. First, make the whipped cream: Place the cream and confectioner’s sugar in a medium bowl or stand mixer and beat until still peaks form. Scrape all but approximately two tbsp of whipped cream into the bowl with the cold pastry cream. Fold gently.
Scrape or cut off the browned top of the 9-inch cake. Split in half lengthwise with a serrated knife so that you have two layers of cake. Place a dab of the pastry cream mixture onto the plate or surface from which you will serve the cake. Place the bottom of the 9-inch cake on the plate or surface and pour half of the syrup onto it evenly. Spread the remaining 2 tbsp whipped cream onto this cake evenly. There will not be much whipped cream and it might dissolve a bit into the syrupy cake. Place about a cup and a half of pastry cream on top of this and spread evenly. Place the second half of the cake on top of this, right side up, and pour the remaining syrup evenly onto it.
Pile several cups of pastry cream on top of the cake and spread evenly over its top and sides. I mounded the cream slightly at the very top to give a slight domed effect. You will likely have some pastry cream left over.
Scrape the browned top and bottom from the 10-inch cake. Cut into 1-inch cubes with a serrated knife. Place these cubes all over the top and sides of the cake. I used all of them, even the ones shaped more like triangles than cubes. Dust some confectioner’s sugar on top of the cake.
If desired, make the marzipan mimosa flower: Break off two pieces of marzipan, each about the size of a golf ball, from the rest. Dip a toothpick or wooden skewer into the yellow food coloring and scrape onto one of these two pieces, repeating several times. Knead until combined. Repeat until you reach your desired color. Repeat with the green food coloring and the second piece of marzipan. On a piece of wax paper, shape the yellow piece into small balls and flatten them, placing them into the shape of a mimosa sprig. Lightly indent the edge of each flattened ball with a toothpick. Break off a small piece from the green marzipan for the stem for the flower sprig. Form the rest into two long leaves. Press the toothpick down the middle of each leaf and then across it along the whole length of the leaves. Form a stem coming off of the leaves. Form a stem for the flower sprig with the remaining green marzipan and attach. Transfer the sprig and the leaves separately with a spatula onto the top of the cake. Attach the stems of the leaves to the stem coming off of the sprig.
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