This cake is very special to me – it brings back warm memories of a quaint, little bakery called McRennet in Madras. It was my next stop wonderland, of pastries, biscuits, cream puffs and walnut cake; ah the walnut cake!
I don’t recollect a single birthday without a cake from McRennet. In fact, before the new bakeries started hitting the streets, McRennet was the only place people would order cakes from. And no amount of avant-garde bakeries bearing swanky French names can replace the old-world charm of bakeries like McRennet.
When I was a child, bakeries were personal. They were not just a get-in-get-out place. It was a meeting point for people, for couples, and I for some strange reason can’t get this picture of a couple sharing a single piece of “green-nut” cake between the two of them, beside a large, glass window (of McRennet on Chamiers Road) out of my mind.
One of the things I would always buy from McRennet was the “Japanese” cake – one of the famous misnomers in the pastry world; Japanese is actually Japonaise (in French) and I, like most of you, believed that the cake hailed from Japan, when it is in fact a classic French pastry, well of course it is!
It’s quite bizarre actually, that in a time when “French patisserie” was not so common and the likes of Instagram and Facebook were nonexistent, these bakeries were so European in their demeanor. And somehow today, pastries like Japonaise and éclairs are fizzling out from these bakeries in the shadow of kitschy, gum paste flowers strewn, fondant cakes. No offense to cake decorators, it’s just that I am a buttercream girl, and I’ll always remain one. Covering all that luscious buttercream with colour-washed fondant icing doesn’t quite cut it for me.
Coming back to the topic of the hour, Japonaise is an almond-meringue disc. A light, spongy savarin is doused with a kirsch-sugar-syrup and is then sandwiched between two discs of Japonaise with coffee buttercream. The cake is then spread with whipped cream and decorated with glace cherries.
For all those lovely birthday cakes, which didn’t bear an ounce of pretentiousness on them and for educating my palette for sweet things among other baked goodies and more importantly, for giving me some of the fondest childhood memories, I dedicate this cake to McRennet; you will always remain my favourite bakery in the world.
For the savarin
- 80 g flour
- 30 g butter
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp active dry yeast
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp instant coffee powder
- 2 tbsp boiling water
- Pinch of salt
For the Japonaise
- 2 egg whites
- 100 g caster sugar
- 75 almond meal
For the syrup
- 75 caster sugar
- 55 ml water
- 50 ml kirsch/rum/sherry/brandy (optional)
For the coffee buttercream
- 100 g butter
- 200 g icing sugar, sifted
- 1 tbsp instant coffee powder
- 150 ml whipping cream
- Glace cherries
- Dissolve the instant coffee powder in 2 tbsp of boiling water. Add sugar and yeast to it. Let it rest. Line a 7” round cake tin with parchment paper.
- Combine flour and butter. Rub them together till you obtain sand-like texture. Make a well in the centre. Add the yeast mixture. Sprinkle some of the flour from the side over the yeast mixture. Allow it to rest till the flour sprinkled on top starts to disintegrate. Preheat the oven to 180 C.
- Add the egg into the yeast mixture and combine the ingredients with a wooden spoon till you get a smooth batter.
- Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Cover with cling film and allow it to prove till it doubles in volume (30 minutes).
- Once proven bake the savarin for 20 minutes. Allow it to cool on a wire rack.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 160 C and switch to preheat mode again.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Draw two 8” circles on the parchment paper. Grease the paper with butter.
- Beat the egg whites till you obtain soft peaks.
- Add half the sugar. Beat for 3 minutes on medium speed.
- Add the remaining sugar and beat till you obtain stiff, shiny peaks.
- Fold in the ground almonds. Mix well.
- Divide the mixture in half and spoon them over on both the circles. Spread the mixture with an offset spatula evenly, within the circle (see pic above).
- Bake for 30-35 minutes.
- Allow them to cool on a wire rack.
- Bring water and sugar to the boil until sugar dissolves. Allow to cool and add alcohol of your choice.
- Place the savarin over a wire rack. Spoon over the syrup over the savarin. You don’t have to use all of the syrup. You should not make the savarin soggy.
- Beat the sifted icing sugar and butter together. Add the instant coffee powder and beat again till combined.
- Spread the coffee butter cream on the underside of both the Japonaises. Place one Japonaise over a cake board, buttercream side facing up, place the savarin on top and place the other Japonaise over it, buttercream side facing down.
- Spread the buttercream around the cake, on the sides (see pic above).
- Whip the cream to soft peaks. Spread some of the cream on top. Fill a piping bag fitted with star nozzle with remaining cream. Pipe lattice pattern on top (see pic above). Decorate with glace cherries.