Biscuit and French Buttercream

Week 12.

Hello dear reader. I am back. I know, I owe you several weeks of posts, and I apologize. Life hopped into the front seat and took over there for a little bit, but I am back behind the wheel, so off we go again.

Biscuit. [Bis qwee] Not to be confused with an American [bis kit], but rather to be confused with American sponge cake. Well, not really. Biscuit is actually the French term for sponge cake. I am sure it is not translated as such in French, but it is basically what Americans know as sponge cake (and also includes lady finger “cookies”). And when the biscuit is filled with something, say French buttercream and raspberry jam, and then rolled up, it is called a biscuit roulade [bis qwee roo lahd], or, a jelly roll cake. Think buche de Noel [bush doo no el], you know, the chocolate log cake seen around Christmas time. That’s a biscuit roulade (or jelly roll cake if you insist on speaking English)

According to Chef, biscuit (remember, bis qwee) is one of the best cakes to make because it is easy and versatile. I liked the sound of that – easy and versatile. Biscuit is made with egg yolks, sugar, egg whites, sugar and cake flour. (Yes, two separate amounts of sugar, not a typo.) The egg whites and sugar are combined to make meringue, but the key to all good biscuit is how the meringue is handled. It is this same crucial meringue and the high ratio of egg yolks (and no other fat) to flour that gives biscuit its airiness, or sponginess as it were, and flexibility to be rolled, cut or otherwise handled. However, because there isn’t any fat in biscuit other than the egg yolks, it tends to go stale very quickly. Hmmm…lots of twists and turns for such an easy cake.

However, I am happy to report that it did turn out to be an easy cake to make. But before we get to the photo review that I know you’ve been waiting for, there’s one other thing we need to discuss: French buttercream. As I mentioned, to make biscuit roulade, the biscuit needs to be filled (layered, really) with something and then rolled. French buttercream with some raspberry jam mixed in, as we did in class, is lovely. Or perhaps you want to show off a little? How about some lemon curd or chocolate mousse on the inside, French buttercream mixed with raspberry jam on the outside, and then some 10x sprinkled all over to really hit it out of the park? If anyone can find an argument against this, I would like to hear it.

Back to French buttercream. Remember in my Cake! post way back in September the discussion on the types of buttercream? Cooked versus uncooked, French versus American, respectively. And how there is a French buttercream called Italian meringue buttercream? Guess what? It gets wackier! There is a French buttercream called…French buttercream. Sigh. Why must it be so complicated?

French buttercream and Italian meringue buttercream are pretty much the same thing: egg product, butter, and sugar cooked to the dreaded softball stage. The only difference is that when these buttercreams were first created the French got greedy and used the whole egg, while the Italians exercised a modicum of restraint and used only the egg whites. That’s probably not how it really happened, but it is true about the whole egg versus egg whites.

This time when Ally and I cooked the sugar to the softball stage, we handled it like pros. Literally. We numbed our fingers in a quart container of ice cold water, mustered every ounce of courage we had, stuck a few fingers into the boiling sugar to grab some of it and confirmed that we had softball stage sugar. Candy thermometers be damned.

(That boiling sugar looks pretty scary, huh? Hence the hand suspended tentatively above the cold water.)

And so, with the biscuit and French buttercream in place, I made my first ever biscuit roulade. Let’s take a look:

Egg yolks and sugar mixture

Nina, class assistant extraordinaire, up to her shenanigans. I am pretty sure she is laughing with our meringue, not at it.  

Biscuit batter being spread out in the pan.

The baked biscuit. See how flexible it is?

Biscuit covered in the French buttercream mixed with raspberry jam, waiting to be rolled.

And there it is: biscuit roulade! And another one in process…we were on a roll. (Ba dum bum!)

Biscuit roulade demonstrating its flexibility. Cutting slices and layering them around each other in a circle shape creates a “zebra cake,” like another classmate, Renee, made. She’s always showing off…just kidding, Renee! No, it doesn’t look like a zebra here (or ever actually), but you can see the stripes when it’s cut…

Like here, thus, the name zebra cake. Oh, those kooky pastry chefs. A slice of biscuit roulade, a slice of zebra cake and some honey ice cream that Chef had made to go with it all.

I knew I liked the sound of “easy and flexible.”

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