display | more...

After spending much of my childhood lusting after immaculately decorated birthday cakes from the grocery store, I decided to learn to bake cakes that were more beautiful than any of those in the store windows. In the process, I found that I had outgrown the desire for food that looked better than it tasted, and that a powerful new desire for delightful flavors had taken its place. I stopped developing my skills in cake-decorating and instead began to create desserts with delicious taste. At last, in a lushly illustrated and intriguingly narrative cookbook, I discovered the gateaux and torten of the old coffeehouses of France and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Often with six or more delicate layers, always with complex flavor combinations of fillings and icings, these creations were in a completely different category from the layer-cakes of my youth. Like fine wine, they stimulated the mind and the soul as much as the palate.

I wanted to create a dessert inspired by these delights, built around my own favorite flavors, using ingredients I could reliably find nearby. I began to experiment. I created a walnut torte that my family proclaimed “delicious,” but it did not produce the transport of delight I was seeking. I created a toffee gateau for which my neighbors requested the recipe, but I knew that its unmixed sweetness lacked the sophistication of its inspirations. Then one day, all at once, I hit on the perfect recipe: a highly complex gateau, built on thin layers of dense chocolate cake and its opposite, crisp meringue japonaise. Filled with piquant raspberry jam, rich and smoothly melting bittersweet ganache, and lightly sweetened Chantilly cream. Nuanced with the luscious, worldly taste of crème de cacao. As of that day, it was purely the product of my imagination, but I knew that after all my investigations I had the power to bring this dessert to life.

In order to retain their air of sophistication, the cake layers had to be different from the light and puffy American cake layers I was used to making. I decided that they had to be very thin, in order to prevent the finished result from being too tall; but also quite sturdy and dense, in order to support the generous filling. I arrived at the following delightful recipe:

Cake layers:

8 tablespoons butter

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate

4 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

½ tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

1 1/3 cups flour

1/2 cup milk

Melt the butter and chocolate together. Cool the result before beating in the egg yolks. This will create a smooth creamy mixture with few air bubbles, ensuring that the finished product is sufficiently dense. Stir in the milk, then the other ingredients to create a dark, extremely stiff paste. It will be only about ¼ inch thick when divided between three 8-inch cake pans (lined with greased parchment, of course). Then bake them for ten to fifteen minutes at 350° F.

The result will be a bit dry, like Sachertorte; a bit chewy, like a brownie; and very rich, like a truffle. The layers will be slightly sunken in the middle. Remove them to a cooling rack, carefully tear off the parchment paper, and sprinkle each layer liberally with crème de cacao; this will counteract the dryness and add an inimitable flavor. While they cool, move on to the next component: the meringue japonaise.

There will be four egg whites, left over from the cake layers, and you will need another to add to the ganache. (Egg yolks in ganache thicken it and help it stay shiny.) Beat the five whites with:

1 cup powdered sugar

A pinch of cream of tartar

½ tsp. strong, real vanilla extract

A few drops almond extract

After this comes to stiff peaks, fold in about a cup of finely ground almonds. Spread this into three 8-inch circles drawn on parchment, and bake the circles on cookie sheets at 170° F until crisp, about two and a half hours. Then melt two and a half cups of semisweet chocolate chips, and mix them slowly with two cups of whipping cream and the last egg yolk. This is the ganache. Allow that to cool on the counter while melting a 12oz jar of seedless, fruit-sweetened raspberry jam. (Fruit-sweetened jam is a bit more tart and intense than its sugar-sweetened cousin.) Pour some of the jam over each of the layers, both the chocolate ones and the meringue ones, until it is completely used up. While the jam cools, whip another two cups of whipping cream with 1/3 cup of powdered sugar and a teaspoon of vanilla. Do not whip it any stiffer than it must be to hold up the cake layers. I whip it just past soft peaks, to the very softest stiff peaks possible. This sort of whipped cream tastes better, because it has a higher ratio of cream to air. Then spread the chocolate mixture over the jam-coated layers. Once the layers cool, it is time to assemble.

Place a meringue layer on a cake plate or stand. This layer should be uncracked and sturdy, since the rest of the cake rests on it. Pick out a cake layer for the top. Spread the bottom judiciously with whipped cream. (About ½ inch thick.) Place a cake layer on top of the cream-covered meringue layer, cover it with whipped cream, and repeat until you only have the selected cake layer left. Poke three or four bamboo skewers into the stack for stability, and cut them off level with the surface of the whipped cream. Then end with the selected cake layer; do not finish with whipped cream. The stack will look like this:

(---------|----------ganache--------|---------)

(---------|-------------jam---------|---------)

(chocolate| cake layer with crème de| cacao---)

(---------|------whipped cream------|---------)

(---------|----------ganache--------|---------)

(---------|-------------jam---------|---------)

(---------|-----meringue layer------|---------)

(---------|------whipped cream------|---------)

(---------|----------ganache--------|---------)

(---------|-------------jam---------|---------)

(chocolate| cake layer with crème de| cacao---)

(---------|------whipped cream------|---------)

(---------|----------ganache--------|---------)

(---------|-------------jam---------|---------)

(---------|-----meringue layer------|---------)

(---------|------whipped cream------|---------)

(---------|----------ganache--------|---------)

(---------|-------------jam---------|---------)

(chocolate| cake layer with crème de| cacao---)

(---------|------whipped cream------|---------)

(---------|----------ganache--------|---------)

(---------|-------------jam---------|---------)

(---------|-----meringue layer------|---------)

(---------|--------cake plate-------|---------)

(The vertical bars represent the skewers.)

If the meringue did much spreading during baking, now is the time to trim the sides even, with short sawing motions of a sharp serrated knife. Spread any leftover whipped cream over the sides. Cover the sides with 2 cups toasted almond slices.

The gateau is complete. Somewhat surprisingly, this is not monstrously tall. It is usually between five and six inches thick. Due to the crispiness of the meringue, it is difficult to slice on the first day, but still perfectly edible. However, if you are serving it for guests you may want to make it one or two days ahead, so that you can slice it more easily.

This is really shockingly delicious. Ever since creating it, I’ve had a curious drying-up of creativity in the dessert department, which I think is due to being completely satisfied with this recipe. I’ve made it at least ten times now, and it has been wonderful each time. Do try it, if you enjoy making long complex recipes; or if you can, conscript someone to prepare it for you. I find it quite worth all the effort.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.