Mise en place. Note small, sneaky hand at bottom right.
As I read Tara Dairman’s delicious ALL FOUR STARS, my mouth watered. I longed to eat all the delightful desserts described therein. What better way to celebrate Tara’s delectable debut than to eat something scrumptious? And what better way to honor the indefatigable Gladys Gatsby than to invent a dessert?
And so, in the spirit of Gladys, and because ALL FOUR STARS is, let’s face it, totally amazeballs, I decided to invent some, you guessed it:
The vague vision: The final product would be 1) shaped like a ball and 2) amazing enough to please Gladys. Maybe it wouldn’t garner all four stars – that’s a little ambitious for the first draft of a new recipe – but perhaps I could achieve three! I initially thought about adapting a Mexican Wedding Cakes recipe, because those things are heaven. But then the author herself, Ms. Tara Dairman, mentioned something about how she thought amazeballs ought to involve coconut. So I decided to make…
Spherical mini-lamingtons! Don’t know what a lamington is? You clearly have not watched enough episodes of MasterChef Australia. A lamington is a square serving of sponge cake dipped in chocolate icing and rolled in coconut. Let’s begin, shall we?
Part 1: Baking
To satisfy a true gourmet like Gladys, I knew I’d have to aim high. So I opted to use Julia Child’s Biscuit au Beurre butter sponge cake recipe, which I won’t reprint here because I don’t have permission (any good sponge cake recipe will do).
I recruited my three-year-old sous chef to help me with the process. For some reason (temporary insanity?), I let him use one hand to pour egg yolks out of a martini glass and into the mixing bowl (right). Fortunately, and perhaps miraculously, nothing broke. Amazeballs proceeded in style.
Julia Child’s sponge cake recipe first asks us to beat egg yolks and white sugar together for several minutes. Then vanilla is added, and it all becomes a lovely, lemony color. So far, so good – I think that Gladys would approve!
Julia’s recipe doesn’t call for baking powder. Instead, it gets its magical lightness from the careful whipping and folding of egg whites, which looks pretty gross while it’s happening.
Eventually, the sponge cake gets baked, then cooled on a rack. If your cake turns out a little raggedy looking, like mine, then take a picture from farther away so that no one will know. Also, the picture will look all glowy and meditative. Or something.
Part 2: Balling
I don’t have photos of Part 2, because things got a little crazy at this point. I split the cake into thirds, to experiment. One third went into the freezer. One third went into the fridge. One third was supposed to remain at room temperature. Instead, it got eaten.
I used a melon baller to get spherical, bite-sized sponge-cake pieces from the frozen and refrigerated cakes. (For the record, the refrigerated cake worked better, which was not what I anticipated.) However, it didn’t yield as many balls as I had hoped, and I was running out of time. Which brings me to the moment where I fell far short of Gladys’s bar:
I went to the grocery store and bought a frozen Sara Lee pound cake. Oh, the shame. While this choice moves me further away from Gladys-level invention and much closer to Gladys’s parents’ level of cookery, I confess that it was easier (and oddly satisfying) to ball the pound cake with the melon baller. When I make this again, I’ll do a scratch pound cake rather than a sponge.
Sara Lee pound cake on the left, from-scratch sponge cake on the right.
And then the melon baller snapped halfway through, so I had to resort to cutting the rest of the cake into squares.
Part 3: Dipping
Once you’ve got balls of cake ready for dipping, make your icing. Mix together 4 c powdered sugar, 1/3 c cocoa, 1/2 c warm milk, and 2 tbsp melted butter. You’ll also need shredded coconut, toothpicks, and a tray covered in wax paper.
(Note to coconut haters like my husband: this recipe still works fine if you decide to leave off the coconut… it’s just not amazeballs.)
If you have a small sous chef handy, this part is fun. Lots of pouring, mixing, and dipping, and no raw ingredients, so plenty of opportunities for licking fingers.
Using a toothpick, dip a cake ball in the icing, and then in the coconut. Set aside on the wax paper, repeat.
After making a half dozen of these, I ate one and realized that immersing the cake ball in icing is overkill. With a traditional lamington it works fine, because the square of cake is much bigger, but with these little spheres, full icing resulted in a mouthful of sugar. Bleh.
Since the little mini-spheres were overwhelmed by full dunkage, I decided just to dip their tops in the icing and then the coconut. This resulted in a better balance of flavors as well as, I think, a cuter bite-sized treat.
Back row: dunked and drenched. Front row: dipped and cute.
And there we have it: Amazeballs! But would my invention pass muster with Gladys Gatsby, our celebrated sixth-grade connoisseur?
Well, I didn’t want to bother Gladys. She was busy with the launch of her writing career! So I took the amazeballs to my family’s 4th of July celebration, where they were a big hit. I think that, in the end, Gladys would give this dish 3 stars: 3.5 for taste, minus 1 star for using store-bought pound cake to supplement, plus 1/2 star for determination to see it through.
(p.s. For more recipes, check out Tara’s blog, where she’s been posting all kinds of yummies inspired by Gladys’s cooking and eating adventures in ALL FOUR STARS!)
Remember, you can get your own copy of ALL FOUR STARS from your local independent bookstore (find one here), or order it from your favorite national or online retailer such as Penguin, Powell’s, B&N, or Amazon.
And, don’t forget, comment on any post this week for a chance to win a signed copy!