Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Endings and Beginnings – Celebrating with Elegance, Part 1
What’s cooking? Mocha Dacquoise

So much to celebrate – Christmas and Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, and maybe just a time of focusing on good will to others. The holiday season also has much to do with beginnings and endings – winding up the old year, ushering in the new.

It’s a perfect time of year to drag out the crystal, china, and sterling silver flatware, if you have them. But “elegance” when you’re entertaining doesn’t require “fancy,” just a sense of specialness. At a minimum, you want to use your best cloth napkins and something festive in the center of the table. And, of course, as many candles as you can stand.

When it comes to beginnings and endings, the Kitchen Goddess thinks there’s no better way to make the evening more memorable than a great start or a spectacular finish. The first course or main hors d’oeuvre sets the tone for the full meal and gives your guests a hint of deliciousness to come. If the dinner is thematic, the start should be part of that theme. In other words, don’t open with an antipasto platter if you’re having coq au vin for the main course.

By the same token, a beautiful dessert can foster a lasting memory of your dinner even without a standout main course. Finish it with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, or maybe a sprinkling of, well,... sprinkles. Silver dragées can dress up anything, and those sorts of details make your guests feel like you’ve gone to a bit of extra effort for them. Everyone likes to think they’re special.

In line with the old “Life is short – eat dessert first” maxim, today the Kitchen Goddess will reveal her most outstanding dessert ever. The dessert she herself will be serving New Year’s Eve. Elegant, sophisticated, and delicious, it is – at least in the KG’s experience – universally loved, even by friends who are not sugar freaks. The last time she served it, one guest actually pronounced it “orgasmic.” So there.

The dessert is a Mocha Dacquoise, in essence, a cake made from layers of nut-based meringues sandwiched with a filling of buttercream. Every bite is a textural symphony, bringing chewy, almond-flavored meringue together with smooth-as-silk caramel-coffee buttercream, in a perfect harmony of flavors.

The recipe originally appeared in Ruth Reichl’s second memoir, Comfort Me with Apples, wherein Reichl declares that dacquoise was crazy popular as a dessert in New York in the 1970s. It takes a bit of work, but it’s not hard. You can make the parts a day or so ahead and assemble them on the day of the dinner. And the finished “cake” is sufficiently rich that most guests will be happy with a small piece, allowing you to serve as many as 16 from a single recipe. A small bonus is that it happens to be gluten-free.

Mocha Dacquoise

For the almond meringues:
1¼ cups whole or slivered blanched almonds
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
6 large egg whites
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch of salt

For the mocha buttercream:
1 cup granulated sugar
6 large egg yolks
½ cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons instant espresso
¼ teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter, cut into eighths and allowed to soften to room temperature

For the garnish:
Confectioner’s sugar
¼ cup toasted sliced almonds

Step 1: Make the meringues

Preheat the oven to 275º. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper and draw a 10-inch circle on each, using the bottom of a 10-inch cake pan as a guide. Flip the papers over so that the pen/pencil is on the underside – don’t worry, the circles will show through.

Pulse the almonds in a food processor with 2 tablespoons of sugar until the nuts are finely ground. Add the cornstarch and pulse until combined.

In a standing mixer on high speed, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the remaining ¾ cup of sugar, then return the mixer to high speed until the whites form stiff, glossy peaks. Using a rubber spatula, gently but thoroughly fold in the almond mixture.

Divide the meringue mix evenly between the two parchment circles, spreading to the edges of the circles. Bake the meringues in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, switching the pans halfway through the baking time, until they are firm and pale golden in color. Total baking time should take about an hour. When the meringues are done, slide the parchment paper with the meringues onto racks to cool.

If you are not assembling the dacquoise on the same day, wait until the meringues are cool and carefully peel off the parchment, then either wrap the meringues in cellophane or put them in an air-tight container until ready to assemble.

Step 2: Make the buttercream

Start by cutting the butter into tablespoons and setting it out to soften.

In a standing mixer, beat the egg yolks with ½ cup of sugar on high speed until thick and pale, about 4 minutes.

While the yolks are beating, whisk the cream with the remaining ½ cup of sugar in a small saucepan, and bring it to a boil, stirring only until the sugar is dissolved.

With the standing mixer running, slowly pour the hot cream into the yolk mixture. Add the espresso powder and the salt and continue mixing just until combined. (Do not be concerned if the espresso powder appears grainy – it’ll dissolve in the custard as it cooks.)

Kitchen Goddess CAUTION: You are about to pour the custard into a saucepan and cook it, stirring constantly until it reaches 170º. And then you’re going to need a CLEAN mixing bowl for it. If, like the Kitchen Goddess, you have only one bowl for your standing mixer, and no helpers waiting breathlessly by to clean it out while you stir the custard, you will then holler “Holy shit!” and race to get that bowl clean. So a word to the wise: Pour the custard into the saucepan and set it aside briefly while you wash your mixing bowl. Or buy a second bowl.

Ready? goes...
Pour the custard back into the saucepan and cook, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula to keep the custard from adhering to the bottom of the pan, until an instant-read thermometer registers 170º. [The Kitchen Goddess also doesn’t have an instant-read thermometer, so has to use the kind that clips onto the side of the pan, which means she goes a little crazy moving the thermometer around the edges of the saucepan to keep the custard from clogging up behind the clip as it cooks. You’d think she’d get an instant-read just to avoid that, but we’re all crazy in our own ways.]

Once the custard reaches 170º, transfer it to the clean mixing bowl and beat at medium speed until cooled completely, 5-6 minutes. [This phrase, “until cooled completely,” is critical, as you do not want the butter to melt when you add it to the custard. I find that 5-6 minutes will produce adequately cooled custard.]

When the custard has cooled, with the mixer running, add the butter 1 tablespoon at a time, watching that each piece gets fully incorporated before adding the next. When all the butter is incorporated into the buttercream, transfer it to a smaller bowl (I do this only out of convenience because the mixing bowl is large and unwieldy), cover it and chill it for at least 30 minutes before proceeding.

Step 3: Assemble the dacquoise

At right is the 2nd meringue, smooth side up. It goes on top of the meringue/buttercream at left.

Carefully peel the parchment from the backs of the meringues. Place one of them smooth side down on a plate and spread about 90 percent of the buttercream evenly on top of it. Place the remaining meringue smooth side up on top of the buttercream. Use that final 10 percent of the buttercream to fill in the gaps along the edges of the meringues, and decorate the outside edge of the buttercream with the toasted almonds.

Cover the dacquoise loosely with cellophane wrap and chill until firm, at least 2 hours. When ready to serve, dust the top with confectioner’s sugar.

Final notes:

You can make the meringues and the buttercream a day ahead, but it’s best not to assemble the dacquoise until the day you plan to serve it.

■ Keep the meringues in an airtight container at room temperature. If they start to feel damp and sticky, put them in a 275º oven for 5 minutes.

■ Keep the buttercream tightly covered in the fridge. Remove it – to let it soften slightly – about 20 minutes before you plan to assemble the dacquoise.

No comments:

Post a Comment