When Rose came to stay, I confessed to her that I’d never dared to make a genoise. I could swear that her eyes lit up with delight as she whipped out some Wondra.
“I’ll show you how,” she said. “It’s easy.”
The lemon genoise that Rose made that day in my kitchen was one of the most perfectly moist and tender cakes that I have ever tasted. It floated softly like a cloud before melting on my tongue into waves of syrupy lemon sea. And although the recipe as a whole had seemed dauntingly complicated, Rose’s patient explanation of each step showed me that I really had nothing to fear from such an infamous undertaking.
I waited awhile before making a genoise entirely on my own, however. Although each step in itself now seemed to be quite manageable, my three little kitchen helpers added an extra layer of complexity that I wasn’t sure would be entirely beneficial to the proceedings. Finally, one morning last week when only my two-year-old T was with me at home, I plucked up the courage.
I was spurred on partly by the packet of Carr’s Sauce Flour that was sitting in my flour cupboard. I was curious to discover whether or not it would perform similarly to Wondra flour, a product that is unavailable in the UK.
Rose introduced Wondra to the genoise-making public in her presentation on flour to the Experimental Cuisine Collective at New York University in 2008 (see the third and fourth parts). Marketed as a ‘quick mix wonder’ for thickening sauces and gravies, Wondra is manufactured by a process called agglomeration. This involves hydrating or wetting the flour to form clusters among the particles. These large, agglomerated clusters are then spray-dried to produce uniform particles that flow freely, like salt or sugar. The resulting ‘instantized’ flour dipserses easily and quickly in water. This is because the larger particles are able to overcome the natural surface tension of water better than the finer particles of non-instantized flour (which is also why regular flour tends to forms lumps that are wet on the outside but remain dry on the inside when added to water).
Rose found that this enhanced dispersibility of Wondra was particularly useful when used in a genoise – the flour particles mixed easily and quickly with the batter, which helped to avoid overstirring and deflation of the whisked eggs.
As I said earlier, we can’t get Wondra in the UK. We can get a flour that is similarly marketed as being ‘thickeningly easy’ in sauce and gravy-making, however – Carr’s Sauce flour.
It’s not quite the same. It isn’t bleached, for a start. Or agglomerated (unless they’re just not admitting to that bit). Apparently, it’s made from “wheats that by nature do not form glutinous lumps with the addition of liquids.”
It doesn’t really look the same as Wondra, either. It doesn’t flow freely but behaves like regular flour in the packet and on the spoon. It’s also whiter.
It does disperse easily in water, however … and also in genoise cake batters.
I’m a shockingly inexperienced genoise-baker, but I can certainly confirm that the texture and taste of the orange whisky genoise I made last week with Carr’s Sauce flour were at least as good as I remember them being when Rose made her genoise with Wondra flour. If my own cake didn’t rise quite so high as it should have done, it was purely because about a third of the batter ended up all over T, my little kitchen helper!
I have some Wondra left over from Rose’s visit, so perhaps I will attempt a direct comparison one day soon. For now, I’m happy in the knowledge that I can ‘face my fear and do it anyway’ .