Last week it was my roomie’s 21st birthday and she had made me tiffin for my birthday, which went down a treat, so I needed to make a showstopper in return. I knew her parents were going to provide a cake but I wanted to see how far I could push myself for this occasion. I wanted to make something a little out of the ordinary but one with flavours I knew she’d like. The two that came to mind were pistachio and dark chocolate.
I’ve previously wandered round a shop in Bordeaux called Labo Gato: it’s a patissier’s heaven, laden with moulds, chocolates, colourings, posh syrups, and on one wall, rows of tiny bottles labelled with different arômes. If anybody has read Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine and been inspired by it, this is the shop to make a confectionary version.
The flavouring I used was called pistache gourmande instead of natural pistachio – the man serving me recommended this one because it had the taste of pistachio-based confectionary like ice-cream and as I was making a cake this would give me the flavour that I wanted.
I still had no scales, and this time no recipe – I tried to find a pistachio cake recipe but all of them used ground pistachios which I had decided not to use. The closest thing I found was this recipe from The Cake Blog whose pistachio cake with white chocolate and raspberry featured pistachio paste, but its American quantities were neither use nor ornament to me. I decided to throw caution to the wind and try to whip up pistachio perfection by myself.
The crumb was of good consistency and quite moist, which was excellent, and it rose, I think because I was using a different oven instead of my one, enabling me to slice it in half and fill it with icing as well as cover it – a huge plus. I was delighted with the arôme too: I think it tasted slightly of almonds but it had the most delicious, light taste and gave the sponge the sophistication it needed to cement its status as a celebration cake. I also added a bit of vanilla essence which made a huge difference. Pistachio and vanilla is a love affair that should be brought out more often.
I ummed and ahhd a bit about the icing. I wanted to incorporate dark chocolate in there somehow but thought dark choc butter icing all over would drown the pistachio. After trying the mix après pistachio essence I decided to make pistachio buttercream for the sandwich layer and the top layer, then improvised with a dark chocolate buttercream for the sides. I impulsively spread some of my homemade jam on the sandwich layer and drizzled melted dark chocolate on top for a bit of jazz.
I was sooo happy with it! First, because it is my own creation and second because I went with my gut instinct and it was a success. As soon as you took a bite the almondy, slightly nutty fresh taste of the pistachio came through, enhanced by the creamy icing. The dark chocolate added a bit of sultry sweetness and the jam some tartness to prevent it from being sickly. The image that came to my head was a wander across cream paved stones with the sun shining down through leafy trees speckled with bright red berries. People who ate it enjoyed it too, although I’m not sure if they had that image in their heads, so I might try and adapt a recipe’s measurements and create a proper recipe I can write down in my book.