What is génoise?

If the word itself sounds like a French-ified pronunciation of the Italian city of Genoa, then you get today’s cash prize (null and void in all areas). It is, in short, sponge cake of the type that the Genoese made, though it’s become phenomenally important to French pastry makers over the centuries. It is the foundational cake in a host of pastries including petits fours, ladyfingers and tea cakes, cookies like madeleines, rolled cakes like Swiss rolls, jelly rolls and bûches de Noël and countless layered tortes and gâteaux.

The cake has been around for at least 200 years, since the late 1700’s at least, the period known here at joepastry.com as the Century of Foams. It was the time when the egg foam really took off in Continental cuisine, especially in France, where dishes like mousses were high fashion. Given how much experimentation was going on with foams at the time, it’s hardly surprising that some of them found their way into baked goods. Genoa, it seems, is where this particular type of foam-leaved cake was perfected, a fact that’s hardly surprising, since the great courts of Italy were as well-known for their food as any others.

Some food historians make the claim, in fact, that much that what has become known as classic French technique was actually invented in Italy. That’s too big a question for me to tackle in one week of posting on sponge cake. I’ll let them fight it out while I tend to the mixer.

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