Something I’d never heard of, let alone made or used until recently, chocolate modelling paste (chocolate plastique) is becoming a favourite decorative medium for me.
Now, I am certainly not one to focus on cake decorating: my real passion food-wise is most definitely the baking itself, with the combination of flavours and ingredients and the application of the right techniques that work in harmony, whether it is a cake, bread, pastry…..
Yes, a cake should look like it wants to be eaten but most importantly it has to taste fantastic inside; I have eaten plenty of cakes that were jaw-dropping to look at but disappointing to eat with dry or heavy sponge, overly sweet icing, an element of the synthetic and the like.
However, I do like to present my cakes well and I will happily flirt with creativity if the flavours are there to back it all up! Normally I use tempered chocolate for the slightly more elaborate chocolate cakes I do, which panders to my unashamed love of chocolate! It is simple to prepare, easy to apply and tastes wonderful. But chocolate plastique is easier to mould than tempered chocolate and it does have a great chocolate flavour without tasting at all synthetic.
The chocolate plastique doesn’t go crisp as it sets, but it goes firm enough and has a light chewiness about it that melts rapidly in the mouth, giving a wonderfully intense chocolate hit. However, mixing chocolate plastique and chocolate sugarpaste in equal quantities is the way forward when wanting to coat a whole cake, as the icing firms up more.
Decorative flourishes such as collars around cakes, random swirly things and more precise geometric touches can turn even the most standard of cakes into something very special.
But I couldn’t make up a few batches of chocolate plastique without using it to have a go at decorating a cake, so I made a chocolate Genoise sponge, cutting it to give 4 thin layers. I lightly brushed each layer with rum and sandwiched them together with whipped cream flavoured with vanilla seeds.
For the decoration, I rolled out pieces of the chocolate quite thinly between two sheets of cling film and cut it into strips.
Starting from the top of the cake, working downwards and slightly overlapping with the strip above, I placed the strips around the cake, pressing it against the cream to stick to it and slightly ruffling it randomly as I went – and I do love a bit of rufflage on those truly impressive (and very expensive) cakes you get in fine pâtisseries!
Raspberries were studded into the cream filling to give nice sharp bursts of fruitiness amid the rich sweetness of the rest of the cake – they were frozen raspberries from last autumn’s allotment pickings and although I would normally go for fresh raspberries, I don’t mind the frozen ones releasing some of their lovely juice inside the cake.
I normally don’t buy fruit out of season but I was swayed by some large strawberries that smelled and tasted fantastic. And gave more than a promise of summer! A few shards of tempered dark chocolate were placed around the rim for added colour and texture.
The result is very much a dessert cake and, with the white chocolate plastique having been made a couple of days earlier, it took just over an hour and a half to make and decorate the cake.
For a first attempt at a full cake using chocolate plastique I was happy with the results and I can’t wait to experiment with more decorative touches.
Chocolate Genoise Sponge Gateau – makes one four-layered 7″ cake.
- 40g unsalted butter
- 6 large eggs, at room temperature
- 190g vanilla-flavoured caster sugar
- 170g plain flour
- 20g cocoa powder
- generous pinch of salt
- 300ml double cream
- the seeds of a vanilla pod
- rum or Amaretto
- 1/2 quantity of chocolate plastique (see recipe below)
- 225g chocolate sugarpaste
- fresh strawberries and/or dark chocolate shards
(1) Preheat oven to 170C(fan) and line two large swiss roll tins with greaseproof.
(2) Whisk the eggs and sugar for up to 10 minutes until it reaches the ribbon stage: it becomes thick and mousse-like and when you lift the whisk a trail of the mixture will stay on the surface for a few seconds before slowly disappearing.
(3) Sift half of the flour and cocoa onto the egg mixture and gently fold in until most of the flour and cocoa has been incorporated. Make sure you scrape against the bottom of the bowl as clumps of flour do tend to find their way there! Sift the remaining flour and cocoa over the mixture and fold in until the flour and cocoa is not visible.
NB: you need to fold gently to retain as many of the air bubbles as possible as it is these air bubbles that are the raising agent.
(4) Pour the melted butter into the side of the bowl and fold this in carefully until no streaks of butter remain. Pour into the two tins and flatten out. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until well risen and leave to cool in the tins.
(5) Make the filling: whisk the cream and vanilla until thick. You can whisk it with a tablespoon or so of icing sugar although I don’t think it needs it here. Refrigerate until needed.
(6) Cut 7″ circles out of the cooled cakes, getting two from each tin. The remaining cake is excellent made into smaller layered cakes or in a tiramisu-style dessert, and it freezes well. NB: you can, of course, bake in individual tins or trim these cakes for a large rectangular cake.
(7) Assemble the cake: sprinkle a little rum over each of the cakes and layer them with the cream, putting a few raspberries in each layer. Spread a thin layer of cream around the cake and on the top. Don’t worry about it being perfectly smooth.
(8) Decorate the cake: gently knead the chocolate plastique with the sugarpaste until soft and malleable. Roll thinly between two sheets of cling film or florist’s cellophane. Refrigerate for 5 mins or so if it feels as if it is getting too soft. Cut and shape however you want and place it around the cake in any way you want, pushing it against the cream to fix it in place. Add fresh strawberries and dark chocolate shards.
Chocolate Plastique recipe (makes 450g)
There are quite a few recipes out there for chocolate plastique and I have made a few small batches using various recipes. The proportion of liquid glucose to the chocolate gives a soft finish but you can go for a firmer finish using less glucose syrup: a batch I made using 60g white chocolate and 20g liquid glucose resulted in a firmer set when used on a cupcake (great to practise with!).
It can be made with golden syrup but I wasn’t too impressed with a small amount I made using it: it was too sweet and the syrup slightly detracted from the flavour of the chocolate. For me, liquid glucose gives the best results.
- 300g best quality white or milk chocolate (I use Lindt for this)
- 150g liquid glucose
(for dark chocolate plastique use 300g dark chocolate and 220g liquid glucose)
(1) Melt the chocolate and heat the liquid glucose to about the same temperature as the chocolate. I find putting the tub of liquid glucose in a bowl of hot water while the chocolate is melting is ideal, but you can heat it in the microwave.
(2) Add the liquid glucose to the chocolate and stir with a wooden spoon until it forms a soft ball: it will literally change in moments from being a thickish liquid to a soft paste.
(3) Flatten it out somewhat and wrap tightly in cling film. Leave overnight until set.
(4) When ready to be used, break into smaller chunks and knead each gently until they become malleable.
Tips when making & working with chocolate plastique:
- Don’t over-heat the chocolate or the liquid glucose
- Don’t over-mix the chocolate and liquid glucose otherwise it is likely to go too oily or gritty: stop as soon as it forms a ball
- Leaving the freshly made plastique to set at room temperature (and wrapped tightly in cling film) is better than the fridge, as refrigerating it makes it go rock solid
- It is easier working with smaller pieces of the chocolate plastique at a time: the rolled out pieces will stick together easily when gently rubbed with your fingers at the join
- Gently knead the chocolate plastique to soften: the heat of your hands does this easily but don’t over-work it or it can become oily
- If the chocolate plastique becomes too warm or soft, do not continue working with it: pop it in the fridge for a while to firm back up a little
- If it becomes too firm, heat very gently in the microwave for a few seconds at a time – but do not over-do this!
- Roll between two sheets of cling film is the easiest way to roll the plastique out as thinly as you like
- Store wrapped tightly in cling film: it needs to be airtight or it will dry too much and crumble, making it very difficult to use
- You can colour white chocolate plastique by gently working the colours (gel based or powder) into it
- The chocolate can be flavoured with fruit powder, coffee and the like: mix into the chocolate when you add the liquid glucose
- Chocolate plastique can be flavoured by adding the dry flavours to the melted chocolate: fruit powder, vanilla seeds, ground coffee work well.