A Lovely Cake with a Lovely Name to Match: La Fleur

I had neglected Flo Braker's The Simple Art of Perfect Baking cookbook for quite some time, until I recently found myself in need of a ladyfinger recipe so that I could make tiramisu. As I flipped through the book I also noticed a pretty photo of a layer cake called "La Fleur." I made a mental note that it would be a great choice for an upcoming office birthday where the honoree doesn't like chocolate.

La Fleur consists of two layers of honey génoise, soaked with pear liqueur syrup, sandwiched around a filling of poached pears, and frosted with milk buttercream flavored with pear liqueur. I didn't even know that milk buttercream existed -- but more on that later.

I am getting more proficient with génoise as I get more practice -- and Braker's honey génoise recipe turned out great. You heat eggs, egg yolks, honey, and sugar in double boiler until warm; take the mixture off of the heat; and then whip it until tripled in volume. I incorporated the sifted dry ingredients (cake flour, sugar, and salt) in stages using my massive Matfer 18-inch balloon whisk -- my go-to tool when making génoise. Then I folded a little bit of the batter into a mixture of warm melted butter and lemon zest, and incorporated the butter mixture back into the rest of the batter (again using the whisk). I poured the batter into a parchment-lined pan and it rose beautifully during baking.

The poached pears can be made up to three days ahead -- you simply peel, halve, and de-seed two pears, and simmer them in a poaching syrup of water, sugar, a vanilla bean, and lemon peel. You cool and refrigerate the pears in the syrup until you are ready to use them.

The most interesting part of this recipe to me was the milk buttercream. I have made all sorts of buttercreams -- Italian, Swiss, even German -- but I've never made a buttercream like this one. According to the headnote, "milk gives the frosting a richer, more satiny texture than classic buttercream." The method is similar to an Italian buttercream, except that it's made with hot milk syrup (milk and sugar) instead of hot sugar syrup (water and sugar), and it includes a whole egg and not just egg whites. You beat a whole egg and an egg yolk until increased in volume; pour in milk syrup that has been heated to 220 degrees; continue beating until the mixture is cooled; and slowly incorporate three sticks of butter. For this recipe, the buttercream is flavored with two tablespoons of poire William (French pear brandy distilled from bartlett pears).
To assemble the cake, you split the génoise into two layers, place one layer on a cardboard round, and brush it with a soaking syrup made from water, sugar, lemon zest, and poire William. You spread on a very thin layer of buttercream, pipe a fat rope of buttercream around the top edge, and fill the area inside the frosting border with poached pears. The recipe instructs you to cut the pears into thin slices or cubes; I went with cubes (a decision I came to regret later). You put the second cake layer directly on top of the pears, brush the layer with syrup, and then frost the cake with the remaining buttercream.

I kept the finished cake in the refrigerator overnight -- because I was worried about what would happen to the pears inside if I didn't -- but I let it warm to room temperature before serving. It sliced beautifully, except that tiny cubes of pear came tumbling out with each cut. Perhaps if there was a layer of frosting on top of the pears they would have held together -- but as it was, the filling was just loose bits of fruit (although at least the rope of buttercream worked perfectly to keep the outer edge of the filling layer tidy). That's why I wish that I had sliced the pears instead of diced them.

This cake was excellent, and definitely worthy of a special occasion. The moist génoise didn't have a detectable honey taste, but the pear flavor of the filling, soaking syrup, and buttercream definitely came through. I'm not a drinker, but poire William has a lovely flavor. My favorite part of the cake was the frosting. It had an amazing texture -- it was dense and kept its shape perfectly for decorating and slicing, but it was satiny smooth. The frosting was very rich and buttery, so a little went a long way... but it was hard to stop eating it! I don't know why milk buttercream isn't more popular, because it's some pretty amazing stuff.

Recipes: "La Fleur," Honey Génoise" and "Milk Buttercream" from The Simple Art of Perfect Baking by Flo Braker.


Bourbonnatrix said…
You make this cake sound so good! I love pear flavored anything really, so I can't wait to make this! Hope I can find the recipe somewhere on the net!
Bourbonnatrix -- you can find the recipe (mostly) here: https://puddingpop.wordpress.com/2006/12/12/honey-genoise-cake-with-poached-apples/. Just poach two pears instead of two apples, use poire William in the soaking syrup instead of calvados, add one tablespoon lemon zest to the soaking syrup, and add two tablespoons poire William to the milk buttercream at the end.
Bourbonnatrix said…
You. Are. Awesome!