Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Espresso Yourself

A few weeks ago I got a call from my friend and ex-roommate Eli, who is at Torrisi now.  He wanted a special cake for a buy-out at the restaurant- the birthday party of a VIP customer who loves tiramisu.

     I love to make tiered wedding cakes, but it’s the carved novelty cakes that really get me excited.  Being a puzzle-fiend at heart, I find the problem-solving aspects deeply satisfying.  Every new shape brings a new set of questions to be answered. 

My challenge was to create something fun without knowing anything about the birthday boy’s interests.  Objects make the best novelty cakes, and the best objects to replicate have a wide base and a rounded shape: cups, cans, bottles, balls of all sizes, etc.  With this in mind, I opted for an espresso cup in its saucer.

To shape the cup, I started with three thin cakes, each 1” larger in diameter than the one below.  

Golden vanilla cake soaked with espresso syrup, filled with mascarpone buttercream and dusted with cocoa powder
      My first espresso and my first bite of tiramisu came to me in the same week: when I was 14 on vacation in Rome with my family.  That trip had a huge impact on my development both culturally and culinarily, expanding my young mind and palate.  It was the first time I tasted so many of what would become my favorite things, including crispy sage fried in nutty brown butter, heady fresh white truffles, and of course, booze-soaked, creamy, cocoa-dusted tiramisu.  From the first bite I was hooked (and probably a little buzzed).  It was the only dessert I ordered for the next five years.

I used two small wooden dowels in each cake for support, then ran a center dowel through the three tiers to keep it all together.

I trimmed the cake then covered the sides with buttercream.


Using the turntable to spin the cake, I shaped the sides with a plastic bowl scraper.

     In high school I took ceramics and spent most of my free periods at the pottery wheel, caked to the elbows in dried clay.  Not a whole lot has changed besides the medium, which is infinitely more delicious now.

 After the cake was chilled, I covered it with rolled fondant, leaving the cocoa exposed on the top.  I shaped the saucer around the base of the cup using another circle of fondant.

Earlier in the week, I used fondant to make a handle and a curled strip for the lemon peel, and left them to dry hard.  I attached the handle to the cake and painted a blue line to decorate.

Using an X-acto knife, I cut out a “Happy Birthday” stencil, then dusted the top of the cake with powdered sugar. 

"Garnish" with a lemon peel.

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