I baked this for a New Year’s party at a friend’s house (yes, I am aware that it is the middle of January, but sometimes life gets in the way of my blogging!). They had a lovely potluck dinner in which each couple made one course of the dinner and the hosts paired everything with wine. It was absolutely delicious! The hosts asked me to do the dessert. Last year, I had gone with a traditional Howe family New Year’s dessert of Kit’s Chocolate Mousse from The Williams-Sonoma Collection: Dessert. The dinner had been fantastic and everyone was a foodie so this year I decided that I needed to up my game.
Browsing through my e-mail, America’s Test Kitchen beckoned me with thoughts of a Chocolate-Espresso Dacquoise as the perfect New Year’s Eve dessert. I remembered that it was the cover picture of their Best of 2013 and it looked quite impressive! I talked it over with Alex and he encouraged me to make it and volunteered to be my sous chef. So we were off! Here is our tasty journey. One warning, allow yourself at least a day and a half to make this. It takes time, just trust me.
¾ c. blanched sliced almonds, toasted
½ c. hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
1 T. cornstarch
⅛ t. salt
1 c. (7 oz.) sugar
4 large egg whites, room temperature
¼ t. cream of tartar
¾ c. whole milk
4 large egg yolks
⅓ c. (2 ⅓ oz.) sugar
1 ½ t. cornstarch
¼ t. salt
2 T. amaretto
1 ½ T. instant espresso powder
16 T. unsalted butter, softened
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
¾ c. heavy cream
2 t. corn syrup
12 whole hazelnuts, toasted and skinned
1 c. blanched sliced almonds, toasted
FOR THE MERINGUE
- Begin with the hazelnuts. You need to skin them first. This looks like a huge task, but it turns out it isn’t quite as hard as you might imagine. Julia Child has a lovely video on YouTube all about an easy way to skin hazelnuts with boiling water and baking soda. If you are lucky, you have your wonderful sous chef husband doing the skinning while you start in on the rest of the recipe.
- Once the hazelnuts are skinned you need to move on to toasting them and the almonds. To toast the nuts, heat the oven to 350°. Then spread the nuts on a cookie sheet. Put the almonds on one sheet and the hazelnuts on another because they take different amounts of time to cook. The hazelnuts will take around 15 minutes to toast and the sliced almonds somewhere between 5-10 minutes. Keep an eye on the sliced almonds, they will burn quickly. You want cook them until they are golden and smell toasty.
- Next, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 250°. Using ruler and pencil, draw 13 by 10 1/2-inch rectangle on piece of parchment paper. Grease baking sheet and place parchment on it, ink side down.
- Process almonds, hazelnuts, cornstarch, and salt in food processor until nuts are finely ground, 15 to 20 seconds. Add ½ cup sugar and pulse to combine, 1 to 2 pulses.
- Using stand mixer fitted with whisk, whip egg whites and 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 1 minute. With mixer running at medium-high speed, slowly add remaining ½ cup sugar and continue to whip until glossy, stiff peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes. Fold nut mixture into egg whites in 2 batches. With offset spatula (go buy yourself one if you don’t have one – I tried to do it without and it and it was really hard!), spread meringue evenly into 13 by 10 ½-inch rectangle on parchment, using lines on parchment as guide. Using spray bottle, evenly mist surface of meringue with water until glistening. Bake for 1 ½ hours. Turn off oven and allow meringue to cool in oven for 1 ½ hours. (Do not open oven during baking and cooling.) Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature, about 10 minutes. (Cooled meringue can be kept at room temperature, tightly wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 2 days.)
FOR THE BUTTERCREAM
- Heat milk in small saucepan over medium heat until just simmering. Meanwhile, whisk yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in bowl until smooth. Remove milk from heat and, whisking constantly, add half of milk to yolk mixture to temper. Whisking constantly, return tempered yolk mixture to remaining milk in saucepan. Return saucepan to medium heat and cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is bubbling and thickens to consistency of warm pudding, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer pastry cream to bowl. Cover and refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours or up to 24 hours. Before using, warm gently to room temperature in microwave at 50 percent power, stirring every 10 seconds.
- Stir together amaretto and espresso powder; set aside. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter at medium speed until smooth and light, 3 to 4 minutes. Add pastry cream in 3 batches, beating for 30 seconds after each addition. Add amaretto mixture and continue to beat until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes longer, scraping down bowl thoroughly halfway through mixing.
FOR THE GANACHE
- Place chocolate in heatproof bowl. Bring cream and corn syrup to simmer in small saucepan over medium heat. Pour cream mixture over chocolate and let stand for 1 minute. Stir mixture until smooth. Set aside to cool until chocolate mounds slightly when dripped from spoon, about 5 minutes.
FOR THE ASSEMBLY
- Carefully invert meringue and peel off parchment. Reinvert meringue and place on cutting board. Using serrated knife and gentle, repeated scoring motion, trim edges of meringue to form 12 by 10-inch rectangle. Eat trimmings just to make sure they are tasty enough. 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. Repeat until you have four 10 by 3-inch rectangles. (If any meringues break during cutting, use them as middle layers.) This part made me incredibly nervous because I didn’t want to break anything so I made Alex do it. His engineering side took over and he cut them up fantastically.
- Place 3 rectangles on wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet. Using offset spatula, spread ¼ cup ganache evenly over surface of each meringue. Refrigerate until ganache is firm, about 15 minutes. Set aside remaining ganache.
- Using offset spatula, spread top of remaining rectangle with ½ cup buttercream; place on wire rack with ganache-coated meringues. Invert 1 ganache-coated meringue, place on top of buttercream, and press gently to level.
- Repeat, spreading meringue with ½ cup buttercream and topping with inverted ganache-coated meringue. Spread top with buttercream. Invert final ganache-coated strip on top of cake. Use 1 hand to steady top of cake and 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. Refrigerate until buttercream is firm, about 2 hours. (Once buttercream is firm, assembled cake may be wrapped tightly in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)
- Warm remaining ganache in heatproof bowl set over barely simmering water, stirring occasionally, until mixture is very fluid but not hot. 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. Spread ganache over sides in thin layer (top must be completely covered, but some small gaps on sides are OK).
- Garnish top of cake with hazelnuts. Holding bottom of cake with 1 hand, gently press almonds onto sides with other hand. Chill on wire rack, uncovered, for at least 3 hours or up to 12 hours. Transfer to platter. Cut into slices with sharp knife that has been dipped in hot water and wiped dry before each slice. Serve.