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Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Caper Continues:
Why the Rolled Angel Food Didn't Rock

So our hard boiled detective has already investigated the mystery of the disappointing zabaglione. Although the case isn't definitively closed, there are some good suspects. Now for the rest of the mystery. Why was this apparently innocent attempt to make a high-brow version of rolled angel food cake a disaster? Rolled angel food cake with macerated Bing cherries and brandy sounds like a great dessert, right? Read on to find out how an adapted recipe goes awry.

It started out innocently enough. I wanted a dessert that would taste great, travel well, be easy to eat at a picnic, and would be healthy. On second thought, maybe that wasn't a simple beginning. But somehow the combination of those demands lead me to the conclusion that a rolled dessert would be easier to transport. I could wrap the whole thing up like a sausage in a snug roller of plastic wrap. Then it was nothing but cut and serve when we got to the Ravinia picnic grounds.

I remembered that I had a Pampered Chef cookbook that featured a rolled angel food cake. This seemed like a good idea. My mother makes a pumpkin cake roll that is delicious and has always seemed fail-proof. I studied the Pampered Chef recipe. The angel food portion seemed simple enough. Make the angel food as the box (or from scratch, as the recipe) instructed. Then pour it into a jellyroll pan that has been lined with parchment paper. Dutifully, I got out my stoneware jelly roll pan (even using the very pan recommended by Pampered Chef!) and lined it with parchment. Confident that this portion of the recipe was not taxing, I poured the batter in. I was a bit concerned as I poured, because the batter seemed too high up the pan's shallow sides. I looked at the recipe again, nothing seemed amiss, so I put the pan into the oven as instructed.

Here is where two mistakes happened. Have you caught them yet? The first mistake was not trusting my own instincts. As a fairly competent baker, with each passing experience you earn the right to trust your instincts more fully. I knew the amount was too much, I knew angel food rises precociously when baked, but I didn't reduce the amount in the pan. This would later come back to haunt me.

The second error is one you could not have caught. But the specter of my home ec teacher looms large as I am reminded to read the instructions closely. The recipe for rolled angel food stated to bake as instructed on the box or recipe for your angel food. So I merrily popped it in for the time and temperature specified. However, later in the PChef instructions for the rolled angel food cake it specifically mentioned only baking for 30 minutes because the cake was so thin compared to the standard pan. Oops. I noticed this, of course, after removing my unusually browned cake after the standard 50 minutes of baking.

These two mistakes combined to give me a cake base that was both too thick and too hard to be rolled well. Refusing to concede defeat, I rolled the cake up in parchment while still warm, as directed in the instructions. Although it was warm, the thickness and crustiness conspired to form cracks. As the monster cooled it sunk heavily into its own weight, forming an oddly misshapen "log" indeed.

Undeterred still, I turned my attention back to the original recipe. The PChef recipe used fruit jelly as a layer and then spread Kool Whip (mixed with food coloring) to form the second cream layer. I thought I could do one better. I decided to substitute macerated Bing cherries for the jam, and to substitute zabaglione for the commercially produced whipped cream. We all know by now how the zabaglione turned out.

What you don't know is that the cherries were actually delightful. I let them soak in a combination of brandy and port wine, to compliment the zabaglione filling while drawing out some of their natural juices, but also a hint of balsamic vinegar to draw out the late summer savoriness that underlies the sweetness in the cherries. I tasted them after soaking for 20 minutes, they were divine. Despite the obvious drawbacks of the angel food, I was heartened that the taste of the zabaglione and cherries was good.

I went about putting it all together. I unrolled the angel food, spread it with the cherries, spread it with cream, and rolled that sucker back together. Here again I made the error of not trusting my judgement. Still trying to salvage the presentation, I duly rolled the darkest side inside. When I photographed this, like a diva with a big hairy mole, I tried to find its "best side." I cut the edge even and photographed the part that showed the most fruit and cream.

Looks aside, it will perhaps not shock you that jelly, loaded with sugar, packs a stronger punch, ounce for ounce, than does fresh fruit. I had estimated the amount of cherries I would need, and had considerably increased it from the initial amount recommend when using jelly. But if the final combination is the ultimate test, then I clearly did not add enough. The cherries in the final taste combination sank beneath the taste of the angel food cake. They were not sufficiently present to compete for taste-attention in the dessert. This of course, was further exaggerated by the too-plump cake roll. Had I doubled the cherries and reduced the cake by a third it would have been ideal.

The verdict? I won't try rolling a dessert any time soon, but the essential impulse to combine these tastes was a good one. In the future I would consider cutting small rounds out of the angel food, and topping separately with the fruit and zabaglione, which would allow me to better control the proportions until I had worked out the ideal balance.

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