Tabard Inn pastry chef Huw Griffiths managed to squeeze us in at the end of the day, with barely an hour to spare before dinner service started at the historic Dupont Circle restaurant.
To make things worse, his original decorating idea had already been taken. "I was thinking about toffee and chocolate," he began.
Um, sorry, Huw, but Rita's already done that.
"Okay, let me think for a minute," he said, walking slowly away. Four minutes later, he was back. "How about something light and lemony for summer?"
A native of England, Griffiths is soft-spoken and serious. He's been in the United States for 17 years, and at the Tabard for nearly seven years. He personally prefers rich, chocolate cakes. But pale, lemon frosting garnished with curls of white chocolate and fresh berries would surely be a crowd pleaser, he said.
To make the frosting, he mixed melted white chocolate and bottled lemon curd into fluffy white frosting. He carefully smoothed it over the cake with an icing spatula, trimming the excess frosting from the top by swiping it down the side of the cake to create a smooth, rounded top edge.
Griffiths suggested using a fork or the serrated edge of a knife to make ridges in the frosting around the side of the cake. Then he pressed toasted coconut halfway up the side and piped some frosting around the bottom. The cake went into the refrigerator for 10 minutes or so to firm up.
While the cake chilled, Griffiths made small white chocolate curls by running a melon baller down a block of white chocolate. To make larger shaved pieces of white chocolate, he took melted white chocolate that he had poured onto a piece of marble and chilled, and he used the sharp blade of a chef's knife to shave off thin pieces. The curls and pieces were arranged on top of the cake, framed by fresh strawberries.
More berries were put around the bottom edge of the cake, with flowers he picked from the inn's garden for a garnish. A little powdered sugar was scattered over the cake and silver tray for a final touch.
As we carried the cake out to the garden to photograph, it was obvious that the makeover was a success. Nearly every table of guests stopped talking in order to ooh and aah. One man even offered to buy it right there. "Who needs dinner?" he asked. "We'll just have dessert."
-- Candy Sagon