Episode 8, GBBO 2015, technical challenge


I’m gonna be honest here. I couldn’t find anything on the history or origins of mokatines, except for a candy company in Belgium that makes a coffee-flavored toffee called Caramella Mokatine. That would just about sum up the flavor profile of this episode’s technical challenge for patisserie week — Mary Berry’s mokatines — a genoise sponge sandwiching a layer of coffee buttercream, surrounded by almonds and decorated with coffee-flavored crème au beurre, then topped with fondant icing.

Yes, three different types of icing. But that was not the most difficult part of this challenge. It turns out, making a well-risen genoise sponge is the most difficult part, as contestant Paul Jagger could attest.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t think it would be that difficult. After all, I thought to myself, I’ve made a genoise sponge before, so I went into this bake with a bit of a swagger.

Too much of a swagger, I’m afraid. I soon learned that genoise cakes are not that easy. Like Paul’s flat sponge in the mokatine challenge, my first attempt did not rise enough either. This sent me down a rabbit hole of research on how to make the perfect genoise. 

My mind was swirling with questions: To grease the sides of the pan or not? Is Mary’s use of self-raising flour sacrilege? And what about heating the egg yolks over a bain-marie? Is that step necessary? Why didn’t Mary use that method in her recipe? In the midst of my research, I even learned a unique way to fold in the flour, which I will share with you later on in this post.

Genoise is traditionally made without chemical leavening, like baking powder or baking soda. It achieves its light and airy texture from the eggs, which must be beaten well, before the flour and melted butter are gently folded in. Mary’s recipe calls for self-raising flour (or, as we in the U.S. call it, self-rising flour), which contains a small amount of baking powder, but not enough, in this case, to raise the cake to its full potential. (In the recipe below, I have substituted all-purpose flour and a little bit of baking powder for the self-rising flour.)

In my first attempt, I could tell you exactly when I knew my genoise wouldn’t rise enough. About halfway through folding in the flour, right before my eyes, it’s like the batter spontaneously deflated. And so did my heart.

I determined, after looking at other recipes, that the cause for deflation was most likely not beating the eggs long enough. Although I beat them to ribbon stage, as Mary’s recipe describes, other recipes specify to beat the eggs for 8 to 10 minutes, whereas I only beat mine for 3 to 5. 

Through my research, I learned that the traditional method of making genoise is by whisking the eggs and sugar together over a bain-marie. This might save a few minutes of beating time, but the real advantage, apparently, is that the heat “unfurls” the proteins in the eggs, allowing them to hold more air and stabilizing the mixture, at least according to 2012 GBBO finalist James Morton in his 2015 book, How Baking Works

Jacqueline Bellefontaine, in her blog Only Crumbs Remain, does an excellent side-by-side comparison of these two methods and demonstrates the results. She also introduced me to a new technique of folding the flour into the egg mixture, literally by hand. She attributes this technique to another chef, James Martin, who says that using your hand to mix the flour is faster, because it’s like using five spatulas in one.

So in my second try at a genoise sponge, I incorporated the bain-marie method and folded the flour in with my hand, fingers spread apart. In addition to working faster, this folding method makes it easier to tell when the flour is fully incorporated, because I could feel if there were any pockets of flour left, unlike when I use a spatula.

The other thing I learned when researching genoise cakes is that the melted butter, which is added at the end, should be drizzled down the side of the bowl. This not only helps to prevent the batter from deflating but keeps the butter from sinking to the bottom of the bowl. It also must be folded in gently.

As for greasing the pan, I found one genoise recipe that said not to grease the sides, which is the prevailing advice for angel food and other cakes that use beaten egg whites as their leavening agent. But genoise gets its rise from the entire egg, and every other recipe I found called for greasing the pan — in addition to lining the bottom of the pan with parchment paper — so I did.

Fortunately, all this research paid off, and my second attempt was a success.

As I continued following Mary’s recipe, however, I found some differences between her mokatines recipe on BBC.co.uk and the recipe she used on the Masterclass episode. 

First of all, the coffee buttercream icing recipe on BBC.co.uk calls only for 4 tablespoons melted butter, a tablespoon of instant coffee and 2 cups of powdered sugar, which would make for a pretty thick icing. No wonder the contestants had trouble spreading it on the cake. Yet in the Masterclass episode, Mary adds 2 tablespoons of milk. I have, consequently, added that ingredient to the recipe below.

Also, the recipe on the BBC website says to brush the sides of the cakes with apricot jam before dipping in chopped almonds, but the bakers in the Great White Tent were clearly spreading the coffee icing on the outside of their cakes, which is also what Mary does in the Masterclass episode. I have adapted the recipe to reflect that, too.

And as for the fondant icing, the recipe on BBC.co.uk says to soften the fondant by kneading it and then to “beat with a wooden spoon until smooth” before adding the water. This sounds really difficult — and I had pictures in my head of literally beating the fondant with a wooden spoon — but in the Masterclass, Mary simply cuts the fondant into smaller pieces, places them in the bowl of a stand mixer with a few tablespoons of water and uses the mixer to slacken it into a thin icing. Much easier. So I changed those instructions in my recipe, as well.

Since the Bake-Off contestants were given pared-down recipes without a lot of instruction, I figured it would be okay if I changed around the method a bit, too. For the crème au beurre, I used the method I adapted for one of my bakes from the 2012 season: First, I heat the egg yolks, sugar and water over a bain-marie until they reach 155°F; then I transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and whip it for about 8 minutes until it’s light and fluffy but beginning to stiffen up. Then I add the butter, a little at a time, beating continuously. When the mixture is thick and creamy and spreadable, I add a tablespoon of French coffee extract, which I make following the recipe I found here for Essence de Café. Not only does the bain-marie method avoid the precarious step of boiling sugar and water to thread stage, it has the added benefit of ensuring the egg yolks are fully cooked, to prevent the possibility of foodborne illnesses.

The other change I made was more for personal preference. I really don’t like the taste of fondant, especially store-bought fondant, which is what we’re using here for the fondant icing. So instead of coloring the fondant with brown food coloring, I used a little bit of the coffee essence. Not only did it result in a nice mocha color, it also flavored the fondant with a strong but pleasant coffee flavor. 

Outside of my first genoise sponge failing to rise, the only other problem I encountered with this bake was that I ran out of crème au beurre before I finished piping around the edges of all the cakes. Fortunately, I had just enough coffee buttercream to finish the job, and I don’t think anyone was the wiser (although Paul and Mary might have noticed, if I had had to place my mokatines on the gingham altar!). In future, if I make this again, I would double the recipe for crème au beurre in order to make sure I have enough — but also because I love it so much I wouldn’t mind eating the leftovers by the spoonful!

I was pleased with how my mokatines turned out. Although the recipe is a bit fiddly, the result looked fairly professional and would not seem out of place in the pastry case of a patisserie! With three kinds of frosting, all flavored (in my version anyway) with coffee, these tiny cakes pack quite a punch with coffee flavor. But for a coffee lover like me, that’s not a problem! 

You can find Mary Berry’s original recipe here, but I’ve adapted it for American bakers (with my own modifications) below.

Mary Berry’s Mokatines

Credit: BBC.co.uk
(Adapted for American bakers)

For the genoise sponge:

  • 3 T. butter
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/3 c. superfine (baker’s) sugar
  • ½ c. all-purpose flour
  • ¾ t. baking powder
  • 1 T. cornstarch
    • For the coffee icing:

      • 4 T. butter
      • 1 T. instant coffee powder
      • 2 c. + 2T. powdered sugar, sifted
      • 2 T. milk

        For the crème au beurre moka:

        • 3 T. superfine (baker’s) sugar
        • 1 large egg yolk
        • 2 T. water
        • 5 T. softened butter
        • 2 tsp. coffee essence*

          For assembly:

          • 1 c. slivered almonds, toasted and chopped
          • 3½ oz. white, ready-to-roll fondant
          • 4 T. water
          • Brown gel food coloring, or 1 t. coffee essence*


            1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and line a shallow 7-inch square cake pan and line the base with baking parchment. (NOTE: I used an 8-inch square pan because I didn’t have a 7-inch pan.)
            2. To make the genoise, gently melt 3 tablespoons butter in a small pan, then set aside to cool slightly. Sift the flour, baking powder and cornstarch together and set aside.
            3. Place the eggs and sugar in a large bowl over a pan of simmering water (making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the surface of the water). Using an electric whisk, whisk the mixture over medium heat until doubled in volume and pale in color. (You’ll know it is at the right stage when it forms a ribbon trail on top of the mixture when the whisk is lifted up.) Remove the bowl from the pan and turn off heat.
            4. Gently spoon two-thirds of the flour into the bowl and fold it into the egg mixture with your hand, fingers spread apart. Add the remaining flour and fold again, trying to keep as much of the air in as possible. Drizzle the cooled melted butter down the sides of the bowl into the mixture and gently fold that in as well. (Reserve the pan from melting the butter for the coffee icing.)
            5. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan, keeping the bowl close to the pan so the batter doesn’t have to fall from a great distance. This will help keep the air in the batter.
            6. Bake for 35-40 minutes until well-risen and the top of the cake springs back when lightly pressed with a finger. Leave to cool in the pan for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack, peel off the parchment and allow to finish cooling.
            7. To make the coffee icing, measure 4 tablespoons butter into the same pan used to melt butter for the sponge, and gently heat until the butter is melted. Remove from the heat and stir in the instant coffee until dissolved. Transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth and glossy. Add milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating after each until the icing is smooth and spreadable. Leave at room temperature until ready to use.
            8. To make the crème au beurre, combine 3 tablespoons superfine sugar and 1 egg yolk with 2 tablespoons water in a heatproof mixer bowl. Whisk until completely blended together.
            9. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (making sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the surface of the water). Stir and scrape the egg yolk syrup constantly with a flexible spatula until the mixture reaches 155°F. (This should only take about 5 minutes; if it seems to be taking too long, simply turn up the heat.)
            10. Transfer the bowl to a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and whisk at high speed until mixture is fluffy and stiff and beginning to ball up around the whisk — about 8 minutes. By this time, the bottom of the bowl should be cool to the touch.
            11. With the mixer still running, add butter, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, waiting only a second or two between additions. This should result in a thick, creamy and spreadable texture. (If the mixture seems to break apart, keep mixing; it will come back together.)
            12. Stir in the coffee essence.* Spoon mixture into a piping bag fitted with a small star nozzle. Leave at room temperature until ready to use.
            13. To assemble, trim the cooled cake, if necessary, so the top surface is flat and the corners are square. (My cake pan had rounded corners.) Slice the cake horizontally into two layers and spread about half the coffee icing onto one layer, then place the other layer on top. Cut the cake into 9 equal squares.
            14. Spread the remaining coffee icing on all four sides of each of the cake squares, then dip them into the chopped almonds to coat. Place the cakes on individual doilies or parchment paper squares (alternatively, use flattened cupcake papers).
            15. Pipe tiny rosettes of crème au beurre very close together around the top edge of each cake. (The rosettes should create a border that can be filled with fondant icing). Pipe more tiny rosettes of crème au beurre around the bottom edges of the cakes.
            16. To make the fondant icing, cut the fondant into small pieces and place in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add water, a tablespoon or two at a time, mixing after each until the icing is thin enough to flow but not too liquid. Stir in a few drops of brown food coloring or the coffee essence* to make a coffee-colored glaze. Carefully spoon the glaze onto the top of each cake, and use a toothpick to spread it into the corners, if necessary. Leave to set.

            *To make Essence de Café, dissolve 4 ounces of instant coffee in 7 ounces of water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. In another, larger saucepan, add 1 cup of sugar and heat it until the sugar dissolves and turns a dark amber color. (Don’t stir!) When the sugar is the right color, slowly pour in the hot coffee. (It will bubble and sputter, so be careful!) Stir until all of the caramel dissolves. Cool and store in the refrigerator.

            Up next: Chocolate Tart

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