Is it a mountain of yellow cake smeared with billowy buttercream, or something more along the lines of a dark chocolate tart?
Maybe it's easier to start along the lines of what someone woudln't want in a birthday cake. Take my sister, for example. She wouldn't want ginger in her cake, no way. Cooked fruit wouldn't really make her very happy either. As for orange blossom, well, she's allergic to it.
This is why my sister's birthday cake had orange blossom mousse. No joke. Obviously, I wasn't planning a remake of a Roman tragedy: my sister falling over in the middle of a restaurant clearly wasn't my goal. I wanted her to fall over, sure, but in surprise, joy and excitement over the fact that it was her birthday and she was spending it in Paris. So let's make something clear: she's mildly allergic to orange blossom, but loves it. And what my sister loves, I do. (Aww.)
A french party cake isn't usually a butter or oil cake like you find in the United States. In France it's all about the génoise. Genoise is a sponge cake, made mostly with eggs and hardly any butter. The result is light and airy, and filled with mousse, it becomes a great dessert for any occasion. Frost it with almond dark chocolate ganache, and then, you've got yourself a proper birthday cake.
What better way to celebrate a birthday in France than a French birthday cake? Having it sliced, plated and served in a restaurant probably belongs on that list--but maybe I was the one falling over at that point.
After her allergy headache went away, my sister's verdict was that this was quite a tasty cake. For anyone who enjoys orange blossom and almonds (allergies or not, but watch out though), this cake is a great way to have the two flavors meld together without being overwhelming.
And since I didn't do enough overwhelming with the cake, I'll be overwhelming in my extension of what a "birthday weekend" really is. It's already Thursday, six whole days later, but that's alright:
Happy Birthday, Biquetta!
makes one 9-inch cake
4 eggs, separated
1c. + 2 TB granulated sugar
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 1/2 TS baking powder
Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C.
Butter and flour a 9-inch cake pan.
In a medium bowl, mix flour and baking powder.
Beat egg whites to stiff peaks in a stand mixer or with a handheld mixer. Add sugar and keep beating at medium speed. Decrease speed, add egg yolks all at once, followed by flour mixture.
Beat until just incorporated and immediately pour into cake pan. Bake until golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, 20 to 30 minutes.
Let cool in pan. Serve the same day or the next. The génoise can also be frozen if well-wrapped.
To assemble cake: cut génoise in half and spread mousse between layers. Cover with ganache frosting and decorate with toasted almonds.
Orange Blossom Mousse
makes 500g mousse, more than enough to fill a 9-inch cake
6.5 TB water
1 1/2 TB orange blossom water
1 TB powdered gelatin
1 1/2 c. Italian Meringue (recipe follows)
1 3/4 c. whipped cream
1 3/4 c. whipped cream
for Italian Meringue:
3 egg whites
1/4 c. water
1 3/4 c. + 1.5 TB granulated sugar
Boil water and sugar until mixture reaches 240°F on a candy thermometer.
Beat egg whites to soft peaks on high speed. reduce speed to medium and add syrup. Beat until mixture cools slightly.
Heat water, orange blossom water and powdered gelatin until dissolved.
Delicately mix Italian meringue and whipped cream. Add water/gelatin mixture and combine. Use immediately or refrigerate up to one day before using.
Dark Chocolate Almond Ganache
makes enough to frost a 9-inch cake
7 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
1 c. heavy cream
1 TS almond extract
Place chopped chocolate in the bowl of a food processor.
Scald heavy cream until bubbles appear at the sides of the saucepan.
Pour cream and almond extract over chopped chocolate and process for approximately one minute until smooth. Pour into a dish and refrigerate, stirring every hour, for several hours or until you reach desired consistency.
Frost cake immediately, or refrigerate ganache until ready to use. Bring to room temperature before using.