Earlier this week I shared my Julia Child-inspired cookies. They weren't a Julia recipe, but they look like Julia. What I have to share with you today is pretty much the Willy Wonka ("strike that, reverse it") of those cookies. These cupcakes come from a Julia Child recipe, but you wouldn't necessarily know that by looking at them. Just something interesting I thought about...
Julia Child's Gateau A L'Orange et aux Amandes (Orange and Almond Sponge Cake for those who, like me, do not read French) was actually not terrible to put together. The experience of making the cake and icing was a lot like making my first Martha Stewart cupcake. A lot of steps, none of them impossible. Let the record show, however, Julia Child's steps are significantly more difficult and delicate than Martha Stewart's.
The first thing that Julia got me to do that Martha never did was assemble and measure all my ingredients ahead of time.
Mise en place, she calls it. Here's what I had:
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup sugar
3 egg yolks
zest from one orange
1/3 cup orange juice, strained
1/4 tsp almond extract
3/4 cup pulverized almonds
1/2 cup cake flour
3 egg whites
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar
I do not have Mastering the Art of French Cooking, so I followed Danielle's very carefully posted recipe at Cooking for My Peace of Mind. Since I was largely baking for my peace of mind this weekend, it just all felt right.
I began by gradually beating 2/3 cup of sugar into the egg yolks until the mixture formed a ribbon when I pulled the beater up.
Note the ribbon in the bowl there and the amount of left-handed, perfectly timed picture taking skill it took for me to capture it.
Next I added the orange juice, orange zest, and almond extract. The orange et amandes bits. (Is that at all right, French speakers?) After the mixture became light and foamy, I added the pulverized almonds, mixed, and then added the flour, mixed again.
In another bowl, with another mixer, I beat the egg whites and pinch of salt to soft peaks. Once the soft peaks showed up, I added a tablespoon of sugar and continued to beat to stiff peaks, the ones you see in the picture there.
Back to the batter, I added one stick of melted butter and stirred yet again.
Finally, I folded the beaten egg whites into the gorgeously fragrant orange almond batter.
Julia and Danielle said I could fill my cake all the way to the top, but my fancy cupcake liners were quite a bit taller than my tin. So I kept it conservative and I'm glad I did. You'll see in a minute that the cakes rose perfectly.
Now for the topping bit...
I followed the recipe for Julia's Italian Meringue in Julia's Kitchen Wisdom. This book I actually do have. :)
Here's what I gathered (and forgot to photograph):
2/3 cup egg whites (4-5)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (I didn't have this so I went without)
pinch of salt
1 and 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup water
Julia's instructions: Beat egg whites, cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt to soft peaks and turn machine to slow. Meanwhile, boil water and sugar to the thread stage. (Amanda's note: You'll know you've reached this when you drizzle a bit of sugar water off a spoon into a glass of water. The sugar should form a thread in the water. Also... don't ever stir the sugar... Idk why... but it must be important b/c everyone stresses that.) Beating the eggs at moderate speed, slowly dribble in the hot syrup. Increase speed to moderately fast and continue beating until the meringue is cool and forms stiff, shining peaks.
Let me just say... this takes a hot minute. You can go ahead and walk away. And then walk away again after you check it. And then walk away again when you talk yourself out of checking it.
I'm just sayin... it takes a minute.
But... oh em gee... when it works? It's a thing of absolute beauty. This meringue is Julia's basic meringue. She provides variations for making this into a buttercream, flavoring it, and all sorts of other things... but honestly... this pure form is better than my attempt at her buttercream.
I frosted my mini cupcakes with an offset spatula and they look almost as if they were piped. Gorgeous. I'm... in love. I cooked sugar - I cooked an icing - and I'm in love with the result. I am as surprised as you are.
And what of the cupcake as a whole?
Well... I told you the batter was fragrant and lovely? The cake was just as nice. The sponge is light and fluffy and just slightly sticky. Both the orange and almond flavors are noticeable but delicate. Pairing the fresh, airy sponge with meringue was an excellent choice, since I'm certain anything heavier (an American buttercream, for instance) would have killed it. The Italian Meringue, on the other hand, provided sweetness that was as subtle as the cake itself.
In the words of my idol, Ms. Paula Deen, "Y'all are gonna have to excuse me while I finish makin love to my tater."