Monday, December 15, 2008


The birthday celebration of someone special demands cake. The birthday celebration of someone who recently graduated pastry school and is quite accomplished in the kitchen substantially raises the bar. I have been feeling the pressure of trying to come up with something that would be more than adequate; something that would be amazing.

My friend shared with me his recipe for a Dacquoise - a French cake made out of layers meringue augmented with nut flour and buttercream. After finding out that traditional recipes are naturally gluten free... well I really couldn't resist trying it out. The birthday cake recipient is a big fan of salted caramel, so I thought and thought and came up with the concept of an almond Dacquoise with a salted caramel buttercream and at least one layer of bittersweet chocolate ganache. After some more tinkering and discussion, it seemed more appropriate to do layers of the merangue and buttercream and enrobe the entire thing in chocolate ganache.

My friend's recipe, Pecan Dacquoise with Carmelized Honey Ganache was the launching pad for this idea. The buttercream is an adaptation of a recipe in the magazine Chocolatier, which was for Praline buttercream and worked off this recipe for Salted Caramel Frosting. The ganache is a modified version of the online Joy of Baking Ganache Recipe.

This cake is very involved, with lots of steps, but again, I think its worth it to splurge for days of celebration. If you are going to attempt this, I recommend pre-measuring and laying out all of your ingredients ahead of time and making the dacquoise and buttercream the night before, so that assembly the day-of is much faster.

Almond Dacquoise
7 egg whites
1 cup of almond meal
3/4 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cream of tartar

1. Preheat oven to 350F
2. Prepare 7-8" parchment rounds. Take a piece of parchment paper and with a pencil, trace a circle with an 7-8" diameter on the paper. Allow at least 1" between circles. Flip the parchment paper over onto a cookie sheet. (These pencil marks will be your guide for spreading the batter.)
3. Mix the almond meal and 3/4 cup of sugar in a bowl. Set aside.
4. Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar with a whisk until they form soft peaks.
5. Sprinkle in 2 tbsp of sugar into the egg whites and beat until shinny and hold stiff peaks.
6. Using a rubber scrapper, gently fold in the almond meal and sugar mixture.
7. Gently spread the mixture out onto parchment circles.
8. Bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.
9. Allow to cool completely before peeling off the parchment paper.

Salted Caramel Buttercream
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 egg whites
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups of unsalted butter, softened until shiny (butter that is too firm will cause the buttercream to have a separated appearance)
1 vanilla bean
2tbsp vanilla extract

Special equipment: Parchment paper or Silpat, candy thermometer, mixer with wire whisk attachment and paddle attachment.

1.Caramelize 1 1/2 cups sugar in a heavy bottom sauce pan. You are looking for a dark amber color, but once it reaches a golden amber hue, pay very close attention. (Do not answer the phone, door, or turn your attention away from that pot! The sugar is very very hot and burning quickly and will go from luscious caramel to charred mess in seconds. I am serious about this.)
2. Once the you have reached the appropriate color, pour onto a cookie sheet lined with a silpat or parchment paper.
3. Allow to cool completely, then break into pieces.
4. Place egg whites in a grease-free mixing bowl of a mixer. Place this bowl in a larger bowl filled with warm water. Swirl the egg whites around a few times. Leave them alone while you make the syrup.
5. Place the caramelized sugar, salt and 1/2 cup of water in a small, heavy bottom sauce pan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the sugar dissolves. Dip a clean pastry brush in warm water and wash down the side of the pan to remove any sugar crystals clinging to the side of the pan. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a bowl. Cook the mixture for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the syrup registers 240°F (soft ball stage) on a candy thermometer. When the syrup reaches 230°F on a candy thermometer, start preparing the beaten egg whites.
6. Remove the bowl of egg whites from the bowl of water. Using the wire whip attachment, beat the egg whites at low speed until frothy. Gradually increase the speed to medium and continue to beat the whites until soft peaks begin to form.
7. At this point the sugar syrup should register 240°F on the candy thermometer. While continuing to beat at medium speed, gradually pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the beaten whites. Continue beating for 5 to 8 minutes, or until the mixture is cool and forms stiff, glossy peaks when the wire whip is lifted.
8. While the mixture is beating, open and scrape the seeds and pulp of one vanilla bean. In a separate bowl, combine vanilla pulp and vanilla extract. Mix well until most of the vanilla seeds have separate and there are no clumps of pulp remaining.
9. Change the wire whip to the paddle attachment. In three additions, at medium speed, beat the softened butter into the meringue. Scrape down the side of the bowl and continue beating for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the buttercream no longer has a separated appearance. Slowly beat in the vanilla. Beat for 1 minute, or until thick and smooth.

Cake Assembly
I recommend using a cake round or making your own by cutting cardboard to the size of your cake and covering it with aluminum foil. For frosting purposes, its helpful to use little pieces of parchment paper tucked under the bottom layer to help in the transfer of the cake to its final presentation plate.

If you make the buttercream ahead of time, and refridgerate it, you need to bring it to room temperature before attempting to frost with it. THIS IS A MUST. If you try to mix it cold, you will break the emmulsion and the frosting will separate. To bring back to room temp, place the frosting in a mixing bowl, submerge the bowl into a second, larger bowl filled with hot water for a few seconds. Remove from the hot water for a few seconds, then submerge again. Doing this a few times and then beating it with paddle attachment - stopping and dunking it in the hot water again - will warm the buttercream and make it workable.

1. Place a small dab of buttercream on your cake round.
2. Center one one merangue atop the buttercream, press down gentely.
3. Add a thin layer of butter cream (a little less than 1/4 of the batch) atop the merangue. Place buttercream in the center and work out.
4. Repeat until all the layers have been added. Try to keep they layers as level as possible. It will help when it comes time to pour on the ganache.
5. When you add the final layer, use the remaing buttercream to cover the top and sides.
6. Place frosted cake in freezer for 15-20 minutes.

Chocolate Ganache
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp vanilla extract

1. Place the chopped chocolate and butter in a glass or metal bowl.
2. In a saucepan, heat the milk till it just begins to boil.
3. Pour immediately over the chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes. (Do not futz with it, leave it alone.)
4. Whisk until smooth. Add in vanilla and stir until incorporated.
5. You can allow the mixture to cool slightly if its hot to the touch.
6. Remove the cake from the freezer, place it on a cooling rack with a pan or cookie sheet beneath it to catch the excess ganache.
7. Pour the ganache over the cake. Using a spatula push off the excess from the top and allow to poor down the sides.
This is tricky because the cake is cold and the ganache is hot. Do not worry, it will not melt the cake, but it will start to freeze to the sides and if you play with it too much, it will begin to lift the buttercream off the sides of the cake.
8. All the ganache to set for 20-30 minutes after it stops dripping down the sides.
9. Decorate.


  1. Wow. But, of course, you had me from "enrobed in chocolate ganache."

    I bet you could sandwich some sweetened mascarpone between the layers as well?

  2. I really wanted a bittersweet chocolate compliment to cut the sweetness of the cake. I think it worked pretty well, but would aim for a thinner layer next time.

    I am not sure if the water in the cheese would mess up with meringue or not. (Melt the sugar and cause it to weep.) But maybe?