Friday, March 25, 2016

Have Fun – Play with Your Food!
What’s cooking? Milk and Dark Chocolate Dacquoise

Did your mother ever tell you not to play with your food? Mine certainly did. Finally, here’s your chance to let loose.

Whether or not you’re having an Easter egg hunt this weekend, you can have fun with this dessert. It reminds me of a project from my granddaughter’s pre-k school. So I don’t want you to be intimidated, in spite of its sophisticated name.

You may remember the Mocha Dacquoise the Kitchen Goddess posted about here. A most elegant dessert of rich mocha buttercream sandwiched between layers of almond meringue, and one I only trot out for a dinner party because of the work involved. And while it’s true that the ingredients are similar for today’s dessert, this version is way faster and easier to make, and the presentation is just F.U.N. You could even let your kids or grandkids help.

Not surprisingly, this version is yet another product of the young and energetic chef, Justin Warner, whose book, The Laws of Cooking, now has a prominent place on my shelf. Warner has reduced the calories and streamlined the process for both the meringue and the buttercream, and both can be made hours before you have to start worrying about dinner. Assembling the final presentation will take you all of 5 minutes, while someone else is clearing the table.

Warner includes this delightful dessert under his “Law of Coffee, Cream, and Sugar,” so I probably don’t need to add that the combination of chocolate and coffee flavors is a hit, along with the textural combo of crispy meringue, the buttercream, and the toasted salty hazelnuts. So I won’t.

Kitchen Goddess’s shameless plug for a friend: Speaking of playing with food, for those of you in the vicinity of Fairfield County, Connecticut, I should bring to your attention a terrific opportunity called Play with Your Food. It’s a unique program run by a ridiculously creative friend of mine, combining gourmet lunch, professional theatre, and insightful discussion -- all in an hour and a half. With performances in Westport, Fairfield, and Greenwich, this not-for-profit organization is now in its 14th season of providing a mix of plays that are intelligent, thought-provoking, and humorous. If you’re anywhere nearby and want more information, check it out here.

And now, back to the cooking...

Kitchen Goddess note: Except when I am feeling particularly obstreperous, I like to follow the directions at least the first time I make a dish. But you are under no such restrictions. Warner’s recipe calls for milk chocolate chips, and now that I’ve made it a couple of times, I plan to try the buttercream with semisweet chocolate, or maybe even bittersweet chocolate, both of which have a more chocolatey flavor. Also, be aware that milk chocolate (because of the milk solids it contains) can scorch easily, so if you’re melting it in a microwave, try zapping about 15 seconds at a time on the 50% setting, and stirring between zaps.

Milk and Dark Chocolate Dacquoise

Adapted from Justin Warner in The Laws of Cooking (Flatiron Books, 2015).

Serves 4.

For the dark chocolate meringue:
3 egg whites (room temperature)
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon instant espresso crystals
1 teaspoon water (room temperature)
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted

For the milk chocolate buttercream:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup powdered sugar
½ cup milk chocolate chips
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
¼ teaspoon kosher salt

For the garnish:
½ cup hazelnuts
½ cup fresh raspberries (optional)

For the meringue:
Preheat the oven to 200º. Line a half-sheet baking pan (18x13 inches) with a single sheet of baker’s parchment, or a silicone baking mat.

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until they turn frothy. Increase the speed to high and add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time, while the mixer is running. Whip the whites until stiff, shiny peaks form, about 4-5 minutes.

While the mixer is running, stir the water into the instant espresso until the crystals are fully dissolved. Once the whites have formed stiff peaks, stop the machine briefly and pour the coffee mixture into the whites. Turn the mixer back on until the coffee is fully mixed into the whites.

Remove the bowl and sprinkle the cocoa powder over the whites. Using a rubber spatula, fold the cocoa into the whites until it appears to be evenly distributed. Pour the whites into the parchment-lined pan and gently – again using the spatula – spread the whites in a thin, even layer as fully covering the parchment as possible.

Bake the meringue at 200º for one hour, without opening the oven door. At the end of the hour – again without opening the oven door – turn off the heat and leave the meringue in the warm oven for another hour.

The meringue stores best in the closed oven; so if, at the end of the second hour, you’re not yet ready to serve, leave the oven door open for just long enough that the heat dissipates, then close it again until time to serve.

For the buttercream:
In a clean bowl of a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the powdered sugar until the mixture lightens, about 5 minutes.

In the meantime, melt the chocolate chips in a small bowl using the microwave, working in 15-second zaps at 50% power. Stir well between zaps, stopping when the chocolate is smooth and fully melted.

Add the chocolate to the butter/sugar mixture a spoonful at a time, stopping the mixer then returning to medium-high speed to incorporate the chocolate each time. At each stop, use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Once all the chocolate is incorporated, add the cocoa powder and salt and mix well again.

If you’re not serving the dessert immediately, cover the buttercream and store in the fridge. Remove the buttercream an hour before serving, so it has time to come to room temperature. You’ll need it to be soft before you can plate it.

For the hazelnuts:
The skin on hazelnuts is bitter, so most recipes tell you to remove it. If you can buy hazelnuts without their dark brown skins, go for it. If you can’t, there are two ways to do so.

1. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet and roast at 360º for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Immediately wrap them in a clean dishtowel and let them steam 5 minutes, then rub them vigorously in the towel to remove most of the skins. This method won’t get all the skins off, but that’s ok. Also, the dishtowel will get stained, so use one you don’t care about. With this method, you will have already roasted the nuts and can just toss them with salt before chopping them coarsely and using as garnish for the dessert.

2. For each ½ cup of nuts, bring 1½ cups of water to boil. Add the nuts and 2 tablespoons of baking soda (which will spit and boil furiously), and boil 3 minutes. Drain the nuts and rinse well under cold water, then use your fingers to remove the skins. This method is a bit painstaking but will remove all the skins. Then you’ll need to roast the nuts at 350º for 10 minutes and toss them with salt before chopping them coarsely and using as garnish for the dessert.

To Serve
Place a dollop of the milk chocolate buttercream in the center of each plate.

Slowly and carefully peel off the parchment from the meringue. Break the meringue into shards and arrange them like modern art sculpture in the buttercream.

Scatter roasted, salted, coarsely chopped hazelnuts around the plate. Distribute the fresh raspberries (if you choose) around the plate as well.


  1. I'm so glad you liked it! Looks awesome!


    1. So glad you think so, Justin. It's a great concept -- fresh and delicious.

  2. Looks divine!
    Eileen in Atlanta