Chocolate Espresso Dacquoise

R I D I C U L O U S! That’s all I can say.

Food may taste amazing but not always look amazing. This not only looks stunning, (well, not mine, maybe), but also tastes like pure heaven.

The buttercream is the best I’ve ever had. The meringue is so flavorful. The ganache? Off the hook.

I made the components over a three day period. The day it finally all came together, I was meeting up with friends and showed up with flour all over my shirt and flip-flops. Awesome.

This is, to date, my proudest post….just need to nail the presentation. There’s always next time. 🙂

So where did this recipe come from? America’s Test Kitchen, AKA, Cook’s Illustrated. I highly recommend checking out the video to fully understand the preparation.

A few good lessons learned……

Whipping egg white: Room temp eggs and a cold bowl.
Meringue: It’s delicate and they’re not kidding when they say, ‘leave it in the oven for 1.5 hours to cool’.
Equipment: Get yourself an offset spatula. It’s virtually impossible to spread the meringue, evenly, with anything else.
Improvise: My meringue cracked and I was only able to make a three layered cake but that’s ok! It was still pretty. 🙂
Nuts: I wouldn’t recommend buying pre-blanched / toasted almonds. If you’re going to put in the time to make this, do it right.

So speaking of nuts, here’s a few tricks to blanch/toast/peel the almonds and hazelnuts.

Almonds:

Get a pot of water boiling and add the almonds. Only boil them for about 60 seconds. Strain them and the skins should fall right off.

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For the hazelnuts, toast them for abut 8-10 minutes. Once they’re golden brown, put them on a dish towel and gently rub off the skins.

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They get tossed in the food processor and here’s what you get (nutty yuminess!!).

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Next up? Whipping the egg white. Don’t forget to save the yolks….you’ll need them later, to finish the buttercream.

From frothy to stiff peaks!

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Then comes the measuring for the meringue.

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This was such a fulfilling adventure and my nieces and mum enjoyed it for days!

Here’s step-by-step instructions, courtesy of http://www.districtkitchenette.com/blog/new-years-eve-2014-chocolate-espresso-dacquoise

Chocolate Espresso Dacquoise
By America’s Test Kitchen, from the Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book, with my annotations and slight changes in the process. Serves 10 to 12, but it’s delicious so good luck making it go that far. Special tools you will need include: large baking sheet, parchment paper, ruler, offset spatula, serrated bread knife, and long rectangular cake plate or cake board for display. I STRONGLY recommend you READ THROUGH WHOLE RECIPE THOROUGHLY BEFORE BEGINNING to familiarize yourself with the process.

Preparations:

1. Roast 1 3/4 cups blanched, sliced almonds on a baking sheet at 360 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes. When golden in color (be careful not to burn) remove from the baking sheet and let cool.

2. Roast 1/2 cup, plus 12 hazelnuts on a baking sheet at 360 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes. When glistening, and the skins start to peel away, remove from baking sheet and carefully transfer them to a kitchen towel. Gather up the sides, and hold ends of towel in one hand, using the other to massage the hazelnuts inside of the towel. The scraping of the hazelnuts against each other and the towel should remove the bitter hazelnut skins without any problem. You won’t get it all off, but any large leftover pieces can be removed by scraping gently with a knife. Put 12 skinned hazelnuts into a small bowl and set aside for decorating later on.

3. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees F. Using ruler and pencil, draw 13 by 10 1/2-inch rectangle on piece of parchment paper. Grease with butter, a large, flat baking sheet without sides (or upside down baking sheet) and place parchment on it, ink side down. Grease top of parchment with butter.

4. If you do not have a long, rectangular cake platter, make one out of cardboard or a cake board. I measured mine to be 15 inches by 5 inches. Cover board with tinfoil, and secure with tape if need be.

5. Get a clean spray bottle and fill with cool water. Make sure the setting is on “mist” which should be the spray bottle’s tightest setting.

5. Seperate 4 eggs. Place egg whites in large bowl and let sit until they come to room temperature (about 30 minutes). Place egg yolks in a small bowl, cover, and refrigerate until you are ready to make the buttercream.

Meringue:

3/4 cup blanched sliced almonds, toasted
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg whites, room temperature (in a large bowl)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

2. Process almonds, hazelnuts, cornstarch, and salt in food processor until nuts are very finely ground, 15 to 20 seconds. Add 1/2 cup sugar and pulse again to combine, 2 to 3 pulses.

3. Using an electric hand mixer fitted with beaters, whip egg whites in the large bowl with the cream of tartar on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high and whip whites to soft, billowy mounds, about 2 minutes. With mixer running at medium-high speed, slowly add remaining 1/2 cup sugar and continue to whip until glossy, stiff peaks forms. This could take up to 20 minutes or so. Do not get frustrated, keep going until you get that stiff peak consistency. **America’s Test Kitchen actually recommends you do all of this with a stand mixer fitted with a whisk. Unfortunately, I do not have that luxury, but if you do, go ahead and follow their recommendation. It is my understanding that this step may take much shorter — about 3 minutes.

4. Fold nut mixture into egg whites in 2 batches with a rubber spatula. Make sure this is done gently so the volume developed by beating the eggs does not deflate too much.

5. With offset spatula, spread meringue evenly, and gently, into the 13 by 10 1/2-inch rectangle on your parchment-lined baking sheet, using lines on parchment as guide.

6. Using a spray bottle, evenly mist surface of meringue with water until glistening.

7. Bake meringue for 1 1/2 hours. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN AT ANY POINT DURING BAKING. Turn off oven and allow meringue to cool in oven for 1 1/2 hours, once again WITHOUT OPENING THE OPEN.

8. Remove meringue from the oven and let cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes. If you are dividing this project up amongst a couple days, you can wrap the meringue tightly with plastic wrap and store at room temperature over night and up to 2 days.

Buttercream:

3/4 cup whole milk
4 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons amaretto
1 1/2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1. Heat milk in small saucepan over medium heat until just simmering (small bubbles form). Meanwhile, with a whisk, mix together the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in bowl until smooth and well-combined.

2. Remove milk from heat and add half of milk to yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Return the mix and yolk mixture to remaining milk in saucepan, still whisking constantly. Return saucepan to medium heat and cook mixture, still whisking constantly, until mixture is bubbling and thickens to consistency of warm pudding (this should happen simultaneously at the 3 to 5 minute mark). This forms the pastry cream for the buttercream.

3. Transfer pastry cream to a heat proof bowl. Cover and refrigerate until it sets, at least 2 hours. Again, if this is a multiple day project for you, you may refrigerate it up to 24 hours.

4. Before using pastry cream to make the buttercream, warm gently in microwave at 50 percent power, stirring every 10 seconds until it comes to room temperature.

5. Mix together the espresso powder and amaretto in a small bowl and set aside.

6. Beat the butter in a large mixing bowl with an electric hand mixer on medium high speed until light and fluffy.

7. Add the pastry cream to the butter in 3 batches, beating and incorporating the pastry cream into the butter after each addition.

8. Add the amaretto-espresso mixture to the butter mixture, beating well for about 3 more minutes until the buttercream is well-combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Set buttercream aside. If you need to store the buttercream overnight, cover and refrigerate it. When ready to use, let come to room temperature. You may need to rebeat it in order to bring it back to its fluffy consistency.

Ganache:

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces (I used Ghiradelli 60% chocolate baking bars)
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup

1. Place chopped chocolate in a heat proof bowl and set aside.

2. In a small saucepan on medium heat, and whisking constantly to prevent burning, bring the heavy cream and corn syrup to a slow simmer (small bubbles will form).

3. Pour heavy cream mixture over the chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute.

4. Whisk chocolate and heavy cream mixture until smooth. Let cool until soft mounds form when spoon is lifted out of the ganache. If at any point the ganache hardens too much, gently warm in the microwave on low power, checking at 10 second intervals.

Topping:

12 whole hazelnuts, toasted and skinned (follow same process for toasting as those used in meringue)
1 cup blanched sliced almonds, toasted

Assembly:

1. Carefully invert meringue and peel off the parchment paper. Reinvert meringue and place on cutting board or other flat work surface. Using serrated knife, ruler, and gentle, repeated scoring motion (gently drawing the knife straight down the edge of a ruler, creating a groove, over and over again, until you finally cut through the meringue) trim edges of meringue to form 12 by 10-inch rectangle. Discard trimmings. Or taste test them. Yum!

2. With long side of rectangle parallel to counter, use ruler to mark both long edges of meringue at 3 inch intervals. Using serrated knife, score surface of meringue by drawing knife toward you from mark on top edge to corresponding mark on bottom edge. Repeat scoring until meringue is fully cut through. This may take a while, but slow and steady prevents breakage. Repeat along each score line until you have four 10 inch by 3 inch rectangles. If any of the meringue slabs break during this process, you may use them as the middle layers.

3. Using an offset spatula, spread 1/4 cup ganache evenly over the surface of 3 of the meringue slabs. Refrigerate until ganache is firm, about 10 to 15 minutes. Set aside the remaining ganache (you will use this as the final coating for the dacquoise).

4. Using offset spatula, spread top of fourth rectangle with 1/2 cup buttercream. Place meringue on your cake platter or cake board.

5. Invert one ganache-coated meringue on top of the buttercream-coated meringue on the cake platter, and press gently to level. Repeat, spreading meringue with 1/2 cup buttercream and topping with inverted ganache-coated meringue. Spread top with buttercream. Invert final ganache-coated strip on top of cake. Use one hand to steady top of cake and ensure the layers do not shift under pressure, spread half of remaining buttercream to lightly coat sides of cake, then use remaining buttercream to coat top of cake. Smooth until cake resembles box. Your offset spatula will help create crisp edges.

6. Refrigerate cake until the buttercream is firm, about 2 hours. At the one hour mark, feel free to remove the cake from the refrigerator and sharpen up the edges of the cake with a wet offset spatula, then return to the fridge to chill again for another hour or so. If this is a multi-day project, the assembled cake with firmed buttercream may be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerated for up to 2 days.

7. Warm remaining ganache in a heatproof bowl in the microwave on low-power, checking at 10 second intervals. The ganache should be more liquid like, but not too warm.

8. Keeping assembled cake on wire rack, pour ganache over top of cake. Using offset spatula, spread ganache in thin, even layer over top of cake, letting excess flow down sides. The ganache should completely cover the top of the cake, but if it fails to make an even coating on all of the cake’s sides, that’s okay. Even if the sides have a thin coating, you can hide this when you stick on the almonds. Do the best you can.

9. Garnish top of cake with reserved 12 hazelnuts. Gently press almonds onto sides with your hands.

10. Chill cake for at least 3 hours or up to 12 hours (overnight). Cut into slices with sharp knife that has been dipped in hot water and wiped dry before each slice. Serve as is or with a mound of fresh whipped cream.

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