“Gansito” Petit Gateau

My friend Frances once described gansito to me as “a Mexican Twinkie”. So that is what a gansito is, in broader terms. But more specifically, gansito is a vanilla snack cake with a layer of strawberry jam, a cream filling, and it is covered in chocolate. So it is like a Twinkie, but with strawberry jam and chocolate! I wanted to use that as a springboard for a completely new dessert, because I felt like with what a Gansito was, there was a blank enough canvas in terms of components and flavors for me to work with here. A cake, strawberry jam, a cream, and chocolate? Literally the makings of a plethora of good desserts here. In this case, I did not want to outright change any of the flavors in any of the components. The vanilla cake stays vanilla-ish, there will still be strawberry as the main fruit, there will still be a cream component, and chocolate will still be in the dessert in some form or capacity. But I wanted to also include another inspiration in this dessert, and that was Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, aka November 1st. There are so many different motifs to pull from in that holiday, which was why I tried to stick to two: calavera(sugar skulls) and marigold flowers. I wanted my gansito-flavored dessert to be shaped into a skull as an homage to the colorful sugar skulls you would see during Day of the Dead. And I will be honest, but the skull mold I purchase was…not the greatest. The shape was gorgeous and exactly what I was looking for, but filling that skull mold was a semi-nightmare. I literally had to look up the item’s description on Amazon and see the exact amount of fluid ounces it can hold, just so that I could scale up my recipe to match that. And even then, I made enough mousse just for 3 skulls, and that was after 4 attempts. Usually my recipes take maybe 2 attempts to develop, so needing twice as much time was…tasking for me, but we got there eventually. For the marigolds, I absolutely had to include those in this dessert, as that is the national flower for Day of the Dead. The flower represents life and brevity, and act as a way to lead the dead back to the land of the living. So with both a skull and marigold motif, we are able to embrace Day of the Dead properly here!

There were slight additions I added to the components of my dessert that differentiate it from your usual gansito. In the strawberry filling, I included lime to add acidity and tartness. Gansito can veer on too sweet, since they are a snack cake, and I did not want to run the risk of that happening with my recipe. If sugar is powering anything and everything else, that to me is the mark of a bad dessert. With the cream, I went with a coconut mousse that is aerated with Mexican crema and scented with a little cinnamon for fragrance. I went with coconut since it pairs beautifully with lime. I did use a foaming gun/siphon to aerate my mousse, but since not everyone owns one of those, I included a method to making the mousse without it. I would highly suggest using a piping bag with a small round tip that fits through the hole in the skull mold to pipe the mousse in with. That is the easiest way to do that. The cake is a coconut Tres Leches cake, since I wanted to make sure that the cake did not dry out, and the usage of coconut ties back in with the coconut being used in the mousse. For the chocolate component, I did two. The first is a spiced chocolate shortbread, using earthier spices such as clove and allspice, just to give it a muskier flavor to contrast the plainer coconut flavor, while also playing off of the cinnamon as well. The second is a spiced chocolate crown, made by piping tempered chocolate into ice. The spices are cinnamon, allspice, and clove, just to tie in with the spices used in the rest of the dessert! The crown is half for texture, and half to hold the marigold petals in place, to create essentially a crown of marigolds that sits around the head of the coconut mousse skulls. This dessert had its ups(the visuals which I was super happy with), and downs(trying to fully fill the skull molds so that my skulls did not come out looking wonky), but all and all, it was a ton of fun to make, just because it all came together quite nicely!

Makes 3 skulls(using this mold):
For the strawberry-lime center:
1/4 cup finely diced strawberries
juice and zest from 1 lime
1 tbsp granulated sugar
a pinch of salt
1/4 tsp agar agar

In a pot, heat everything together on low heat while stirring occasionally, until the strawberries are completely softened and any liquid that leeched out of them and the lime juice has been cooked down by about half. Pour into silicone 1-inch half sphere molds and freeze solid. Prior to assembling, press the half spheres together to form full spheres to assemble with.

For the coconut tres leches cake:
1 egg, separated
3 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tbsp coconut milk
1 tbsp coconut oil, melted down
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
a pinch of salt

Whip the egg white with sugar to stiff peaks. In another bowl, combine the egg yolk with coconut milk and oil. Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt into the egg yolk mixture, then fold the egg white through to combine. Pour into a lined quarter sheet tray and bake at 350 degrees F for 18 minutes. Allow the cake to fully cool before pouring on the soak.

For the tres leches soak:
.5oz coconut milk
1oz evaporated milk
.5oz crema
a pinch of salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
a pinch of cinnamon

Mix everything together. Keep chilled for soaking with.

For the cinnamon-coconut crema mousse:
2 tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp gelatin powder + 1 tbsp cold water
6oz coconut milk
4oz evaporated milk
1oz coconut oil
2oz granulated sugar
a pinch of cinnamon
a pinch of salt
2oz crema
2oz heavy cream, whipped stiff

In a pot, mix together the cornstarch, gelatin, milks, coconut oil, cinnamon, salt, and sugar first. Whisk the mixture over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, or until it thickens considerably and all of the lumps are mixed out. Take the mixture off heat and whisk in the crema first. Then pass the mixture through a sieve onto a sheet tray and allow it to come down to room temperature. Pour the mixture back into a bowl and fold the whipped cream through it to form your mousse.

I also used an ISI foaming gun with two CO2 cartridges to charge my mixture with, in which case I kept the cream un-whipped, mixed cold cream through the mousse base, and foamed it that way. Though since not everyone has a foaming gun, I wanted to give options! If not using the foaming gun, simply transfer your mousse base that was made using the steps from the first paragraph into a piping bag. If using a foaming gun, luckily the nozzle does fit through the holes in those skull molds!

For initial assembly:
Fill 3 of the half-skull molds about 3/4 the way up(you are only using half of the mold at this point, and preferably the side with the eye indentations). Add in soaked 1/4-inch disks of cake and the strawberry lime spheres into the mousses, pressing them in. Place on the lid of the mold and pipe the rest of the mousse mixture through the holes, making sure you fully fill them(the easiest way to tell is after tapping down the molds a couple of times, trying to pipe more mousse in and seeing if it overflows or not). Freeze the skulls for at least 3 hours before attempting to unmold. Using a knife or vegetable peeler, carefully shave off any excess mousse that leaked out from the sides of the molds. Reserve this though! If the strawberry core is peaking out through the eye or nose indents, you can “paint” over those spots, as well as any spots with air pockets, using the mousse you just shaved off! Keep the skulls frozen until time to fully assemble.

For the spiced chocolate shortbread:
2 tbsp masa harina
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tbsp black cacao powder
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2 tbsp granulated sugar
a pinch of ground clove
a pinch of ground allspice
a pinch of salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp cold water

In a bowl, mix together everything but the water first, until a crumbly dough forms. Add the cold water to it to form a dough. Chill the dough for 15 minutes first. Then roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 1/8-inch thickness. Cut out 3-inch disks from the dough and transfer those to a lined sheet tray, spacing them about 1 inch apart from one another. Bake the disks at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes. Allow the shortbreads to fully cool before attempting to use.

For the chocolate decorations:
1/4 cup dark chocolate
a pinch of ground cinnamon
a pinch of ground clove
a pinch of ground allspice
Ice water

Over a double boiler, melt down half of the chocolate completely. Finely chop up the remaining chocolate and slowly stir it into the melted chocolate in increments, doing about 1/4 of it every 2 minutes of stirring. Then add in your spices. Transfer the chocolate into a piping bag and pipe thin circles of the chocolate over ice water to form like a crown or almost like a small chocolate bird’s nest – you want it to roughly be the same size as the top of the skulls, since the decoration will be a crown to hold the marigold petals with. Dry off the chocolate on a paper towel and store in an airtight container until time to garnish.

To garnish:
Marigold flowers

Place the mousses on the shortbreads first. Garnish with the chocolate decoration crowns and finish with the marigold flowers.

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