Hello, sous-vide fam, and welcome back to another instalment of Will It Sous Vide?, the column where I make things with my immersion circulator.
All photos by Claire Lower.
This week’s winning topic was not chicken hearts, but cake. This is great news, because the chicken hearts I ordered have yet to arrive, and also I just like cake a whole lot. I had seen a few recipes for sous-vide cake on Anova’s site, but could not for the life of me figure out what the advantage would be.
I just wanted to use sprinkles.
I decided to try two recipes: A sprinkle recipe that had been developed specifically for sous-vide cooking, and chef Jean-Georges’ molten chocolate cake. I mixed up the batters, poured them into little jars (filling them no more than halfway), and placed them in a water bath set to 90C.
Cake, cake, cake, cake, cake, cake, cake…
According to their recipe, the sprinkle cakes needed a whole three hours in the tub to get baked, as it were. Given the fact that I was aiming for the chocolate cakes to have liquid centres, I didn’t think they would need as long, so I took them out after an hour to give them a little look.
Please forgive the state of my nails. I’m really embracing the “teenage dirtbag” aesthetic.
The little cakes were shiny and springy on top, with just a little bit of condensation that was easily poured away. The cake inside was spongy and chocolatey, but fairly unremarkable, with no molten chocolate in sight. Obviously less heat and time were in order. (But that would have to wait.)
I had a couple of hours to kill, so I met some friends at a bar for a drink, informing them that I would have to run back to my apartment in a bit to pull some cakes out of a water bath. They were unfazed. Two hours later, it was time to check on my sprinkle specimens. I told the bartender I would be right back, and bopped over to my kitchen.
I pulled the jars out, and removed the lids so moisture could escape while they came to room temperature. I then went back to the bar for another beverage, because watched cakes never cool, or something. When I returned, I ran a knife around the edge of the jar and dumped each cake out onto my marble slab. The little guys were heavy for their size, and rather dull and sticky on top. I sliced into one to check out the crumb situation.
Though quite colourful, the inside of the cake looked dense, damp and gummy. I took a tentative bite.
Sadly, these tasted just how they looked: Sweet, heavy and a bit wet. Even the sprinkles seemed saddened by their fate, as if they were bogged down by the weight of this rather heavy-for-its-size baked good.
To make sure this outcome was in fact a fault of the cooking method, and not the recipe itself, I had baked a couple of little cakes using a silicone mould my mother had sent me last Easter.
I sliced into the rainbow-speckled chick, to see if baking had resulted in a more fluffy, tender interior. Wonder of wonders, actual baking resulted in a better baked good. This cake was much fluffier, with a tender crumb and lighter texture.
But about those chocolate cakes. To see if a lower temp and less time would result in centres of molten chocolate goodness, I decreased the bath temp to 85C and whipped up a little more batter. At the half-hour mark, there was still a good bit of liquid sloshing around at the top of the jar, so I left them in there for another 15 minutes. After a total of 45 minutes, I pulled the cakes out and gave them a taste.
There was still no molten chocolate centre, but the texture of the cake was somewhere in between a chocolate souffle and a pudding. It was actually pretty good, but it wasn’t a molten chocolate cake.
So now we need to as ourselves (and society): Will cake sous vide?
The answer: Nah, at least not in any way that I’m happy with. Though the chocolate cake was good, it wasn’t a freaking molten chocolate lava cake, and I wanted a god damn molten chocolate lava cake. This is probably due to the fact that the cooking method is too even, and lacks the high heat required to form a baked outer crust quickly while leaving the centre hot and liquidy.
The sprinkle cake was simply a complete disaster. Texture-wise, it was one of the worst cakes I’ve ever had, and not even sprinkles could save it from its dense, damp reality. It also took three hours, which is an absurd amount of time to wait for cake. So next time you want to make a cake, skip the sous vide and just use your oven like a normal person. (Unless you’re making cheesecake. Sous-vide cheesecake is pretty good.)