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Genoise, a European sponge cake, is an Italian cake named after Italy's city of Genoa. It is one of the most useful foam cakes. The ways in which the Genoise cake can be decorated and filled are myriad. It is often cut into layers and because it tends to be dry, it is brushed with a flavored syrup or spirits, and layered with buttercream, mousses, whipped ganache, pastry cream and then fruit and other fillings. It makes a great foundation cake for both elaborate or simple concoctions, such as wedding cakes, layer cakes, tortes, ice cream cakes, Baked Alaska, petits fours and simpler desserts. Ladyfingers are made from Genoise batter.
The genoise differs from the traditional American sponge cake, as well as the classic French biscuit, in that whole eggs are gently heated with sugar and whisked until they are foamy, slightly pale, and read 110 to 120 degrees F with an Instant Read Thermometer. The heated egg foam passes through various stages as it is beaten - it first becomes foamy, then light and aerated and finally it thickens until it forms a thick ribbon when lifted from the bowl, called ribboning. What happens is that the protein in the egg foam becomes partially coagulated from the heat, transforming it into an elastic mass. As it is beaten, the recipe holds large volumes of air, which, in turn, results in a batter with high volume and a cake that bakes light and tall.
Once the egg-and-sugar foam has reached maximum volume or ribbons properly, sifted flour (with any dry flavorings) is folded in several additions so as not to deflate it. Optionally, melted and browned (buerre noisette) or clarified butter is folded in at the very end. The cake contains no chemical leavener, such as baking powder or baking soda and is not normally flavored, except for a small amount of vanilla. During baking, the cake rises when the air trapped in the whipped eggs and the air produced as the water in the butter turns to steam, expands.
SARAH SAYS: Warming the egg-and-sugar ingredients helps dissolve the sugar better and improves the emulsifying properties of the eggs. As a result, it helps the eggs reach maximum volume when beaten. I like to make sure the sugar is dissolved by rubbing a small amount of mixture in between my fingertips. It should not be sandy. If it is, I stir rapidly until the sugar is thoroughly dissolved. I like to use superfine sugar because it dissolves faster than regular table sugar. It's very important because if the sugar is NOT dissolved all the way, the egg structure won't be as strong and the cake won't rise as high and be dense.
Known in Italy as "Savoiardi", Ladyfingers are sweet, little, fairly dry, tongue depressor-shaped Sponge Cakes, but are they can also be referred to as cookies. Ladyfingers are used to make charlottes, tiramisu, and other desserts or filled and eaten as is. They rely heavily upon eggs for their characteristics; separately beaten eggs and egg whites are folded in with flour and sugar
Ladyfingers can be made at home or purchased in bakeries or supermarkets. I like the Forno Bonomi Ladyfingers Brand.