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Chocolate, Wasabi, Ginger and Black Sesame Cake (or, Black Pearl Layer Cake)

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The recipe for this cake is here at Epicurious. In short, it’s three layers of chocolate and ginger sponge, doused in ginger and vanilla syrup, sandwiched with chocolate and wasabi ganache, coated in whipped cream frosting and sprinkled with black sesame seeds. If you think it sounds weird… well, I can understand that, but allow me to assure you that it’s not. I also have pictures, in an attempt to convey the wonder of the cake. Many, many pictures. Here are some of them now:

Fresh from the oven

Easily tall enough for three layers

This last photo is to demonstrate how flat I managed to get the top of the cake, even though I sliced it by hand. Well, alright, by knife, but without the aid of a cutting wire is what I mean.

This was quite a cake; a bit adventurous, a bit unusual, a lot delicious. I have to say that despite the exotic title, the predominant flavours were chocolate and whipped cream – two excellent flavours, I think you’ll agree. I would definitely make it again, but I’d bump up the amount of wasabi, and I’d follow the recipe directions better when it comes to the ginger. The instructions call for you to make a ginger and vanilla syrup with sliced root ginger, then drain the syrup and use the ginger pieces to flavour the cake mix. Unfortunately I’d decided to make both syrup and sponge on the same night, so I had to swap in some ground ginger instead of the fresh ginger. The flavour would have been far more intense, and I’d like to try it.

Ginger and vanilla syrup

One layer soaked in the syrup - see how it shines? Oh, how it shines.

I doubled the amount of wasabi powder the recipe stated for the ganache, and even then there was only a hint of heat. Mostly the heat came from biting into the tiny undissolved bits of wasabi from adding the powder to the ganache and not whisking it thoroughly enough… I quite liked the wasabi bombs, they kept everyone on their toes. I also added half a teaspoon of wasabi to the whipped cream topping – again this gave a very subtle flavour, next time I’d go for a little more. It’s hard to judge, though, especially as wasabi powder takes a little time to give its full flavour, just like mustard powder, but then loses it again when exposed to the air. A couple of the commenters on the Epicurious post also suggested that wasabi paste is a better choice for a stronger flavour, so I may go down that road next time. I didn’t hit the mark spot on this time, as far as I’m concerned, but the cake was still enormously well received. And just enormous.

Wasabi and black sesame ganache applied...

...and spread.

I’ve never made a three-layer cake before (though I have done a seven layer rainbow cake) so that was quite exciting. The recipe suggests using three eight inch tins and baking the layers separately, which is always a very safe (if time consuming) way to go, but I decided to go ahead and bake the whole lot at once in a nine inch tin. This took about an hour and twenty minutes to bake, though I think an hour and ten may have been enough as the cake was pretty crumbly on taking it out of the tin. Luckily, you baste the sponge layers in loads of syrup before sandwiching them together with ganache, then topping with a sweet whipped cream frosting, so the end result was far from dry. The low temperature also meant that, even after such a long time in the oven, only the very top of the cake was a bit singed, and since I was slicing that off anyway there was no problem. There was also some spare ganache and spare whipped cream. The G man really reaped the benefits of this happy accident, which almost makes up for him not getting a slice of the finished product.

Three layers syruped, ganached and stacked.

Oh, I left out the corn syrup and butter from the ganache. This doesn’t really fit in with any of the other paragraphs, but it’s worth mentioning… I just made a normal ganache – equal volumes of melted chocolate and cream – and then added the spices.

Another thing to note about this cake is that it’s very heavy – as in, if you have to carry it very far, be prepared to swap arms a lot. It’s a far distant cousin of the feather-light Victoria sponge, which should practically dissolve on your tongue like wafer. No, this is a bruiser of a cake. It’s also heavy in the sense of flavour, being very dense and rich inside, as we realised when I’d cut monster-sized pieces for everyone and we all started to go into a cake trance half way through eating them… The frosting does balance this richness out nicely, though, with a cleaner, lighter taste and soft texture. Speaking of texture, I loved the black sesame seeds in the ganache and round the edges of the cake. The tiny crunch from each of them added another element to an already interesting mouthful, without changing the sweet flavour at all. I also loved applying them to the cake, which I did by throwing little pinches of them at the freshly-iced sides. They stuck on so readily, it was obviously meant to be. It was a bit like pebble-dashing, but for baked goods. To minimise the inevitable mess, I placed two overlapping sheets of greaseproof paper on top of the cake board; when I was finished decorating, I gently (but firmly) slid the sheets out from under the cake. This left a mostly clean board and had the advantage of feeling like I was performing a magic trick.

Whipped cream frosting (and stray cake crumbs, bah).

Sesame seeds and chocolate stars applied

Now with inadvisable but irresistible glitter.

For the final touches, I went with chocolate stars around the top and, since I never know when to leave well enough alone, added a big L of glitter, because this was my beautiful sister in law’s birthday cake (and her name starts with L). I wish I hadn’t, but it looked so bare without any writing on it… At least I knew better than to try using writing icing; with the moist frosting it would have been indecipherable by morning.

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