Genoise (pronounced "JENN-wahz") is a simple sponge cake made with eggs, sugar, cake flour and melted butter along with vanilla extract.
It's made using the foaming method of cake-making, in which the sugar and eggs are combined and gently warmed, and then beaten with a whisk until thick and foamy. Warming the mixture helps generate a fluffier foam. The vanilla extract is added at this stage.
Next, cake flour is carefully folded into the whipped egg mixture, a little at a time. Folding (rather than stirring) helps to prevent the foam from deflating. Lastly, the melted butter is also folded in before transferring the batter to a pan and baking.
Thus, genoise cakes are leavened only with the air whipped into the eggs rather than a chemical leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder, or a biological leavening agent like yeast.
Chocolate genoise is a standard variation on the plain genoise and is made by substituting cocoa powder for part of the flour.
In culinary school, one of our tests was to make a genoise cake, and our instructors made a big deal about making sure that the oven temperature was just right, because if it was too hot, the cake would rise unevenly, and if it was too low, it wouldn't rise at all. We were so paranoid that we'd stand guard by our ovens during our tests to make sure no one came along and changed the temperature or opened the oven door or something. Not intentionally, but people were always moving through the kitchen searching for available ovens.
Anyway, there was one student, "Mike" (not his real name; I don't remember his real name), who could be a little bit on the inattentive side and made a lot of mistakes. I forget exactly what the temperature was supposed to be, but it was something like 360°F for 25 minutes. Anyway, halfway through his test, he realized it had been set way too low. Like 310° or something. So he shrugged, and assuming he was going to fail anyway, he bumped it up to 400° for the rest of the baking time.
By this time everyone knew what was going on and we all stood around the oven shaking our heads, knowing that poor hapless Mike's cake was going to be a disaster. Only when it came out, it was beautiful. He let it cool, and the instructor came around and cut into it and pronounced it a perfect genoise. Better than anyone else's, he added.
The point being, sometimes you just get lucky, but also, for all the conventional wisdom that baking has to be so much more precise than other types of cooking, some recipes are harder to mess up than you might think.
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