I know it’s hard to picture but there IS such a thing as too much chocolate.
This weekend I finally made the cake pictured above for my dear friend’s birthday. I had made the cake before and it came out great taste-wise but it’s look were a bit sub-par. My friend’s birthday was in May and we’ve been trying to get together before and since. Trying to coordinate people’s social calendars is a pain.
The cake is from a recipe in Pure Chocolate. The recipe is called ‘Blanc et Noir’ for obvious reasons. It’s a fantastic concoction of dark and white chocolate. The cake itself is a flourless chocolate cake. The filling is a white chocolate ganache. And the outer coating is a dark chocolate ganache. It would be hard to imagine cramming more chocolate per mouthful. Even the decorative swirls on top are done with white chocolate.
Making the cake is a two day process. The cake is made first and then must cool for at least 4 hours (or overnight) in the refrigerator. The white chocolate ganache also needs to be made in advance as it needs an overnight sit on the counter to setup properly. These two steps were done on Friday night after work.
The cake comes together fairly straightforwardly but there’s a lot of folding and chocolate melting. Last time I made it I used a stainless steel bowl set over a simmering pot of water to melt the chocolate and this required a lot of standing over the pot and stirring to ensure that the chocolate didn’t burn. This time I decided to try the microwave. Normally, I adopt a snooty attitude about using the microwave for “fine” baking. I *have* to do it “right”…from scratch…the old-fashioned way. Eh. Melting is melting. And, if you’re careful and do the melting in small increments, it works just fine. There was still plenty of hand mixing to do when it came to folding the whipped egg whites and sugar into the melted chocolate, butter, sugar mixture.
It’s a pretty heavy batter but it looks (okay, and it tastes) fantastic. The heavy chocolate, sugar, egg yolk mixture is lightened with lots of folding of stiff egg whites (beaten with sugar).
The batter goes in a buttered, parchment lined and rebuttered quarter-sheet pan. I diagonally cut the corners of the parchment and overlap to get nice crisp corners. The batter is smoothed into the pan making sure that you get it even and the edges and corners have an equal amount of batter. (Last time I didn’t pay enough attention to the corners and edges and they came out too thin and brittle).
I use pretty high end chocolate for my chocolate concoctions (in this case El Rey and Guittard for the cake, Valrhona white chocolate for the filling and Scharfenberger for the dark chocolate ganache). I may be rethinking this after the later developments of my chocolate weekend.
Once the cake was in the oven, I proceeded to the white chocolate ganache. Ganache is surprisingly easy to make. Heat some cream to just boiling and dump in a bunch of chocolate. Let the chocolate warm for a minute and then mix together. You need to make sure the cream is well heated so all the chocolate can get warm enough to melt. Stir until all chocolate is melted and then cover with plastic wrap touching the surface (to prevent a skin forming). Just leave it on the counter overnight to setup.
The only bad part about making this wonderful confection is the cleanup. It creates a LOT of cleanup: bowls, pans, counters, utensils all covered in dark chocolate. Although there are a lot of things to wash they do clean up pretty easily (chocolate melts off in hot water) compared to cleaning up after making bread. Dough does not melt…it clumps.
The cake bakes for about 45 minutes and then it briefly cools on a wire rack in the pan. Then it’s placed in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours (or overnight – if overnight wrap it completely in plastic after it’s been in the frig for an hour or so).
The next day is mostly assembly. First the dark chocolate ganache is prepared by heating a cup of cream and pouring it over 8 ounces of dark (I used 66% El Rey) chocolate. I gave it a minute to get melty and then stirred (and stirred and stirred) to get a smooth velvety consistency. 1/4 cup is placed in the frig to harden up a bit while the rest is left to cool down and reach a thick, pourable consistency.
The cake is removed from the pan by inverting another pan on top of it, flipping the whole thing over and then removing the parchment paper. Now for the construction! Carefully measure the cake (it shrinks some when cooled) and figure out the widths for three even pieces (from the length of the cake). In my case, the cake had shrunk to about 11 1/2″ in length so I made each piece 3 3/4″ by measuring and putting a toothpick in to mark the spot. Then I used a T-square to get nice perpendicular cuts. Now you have the three cake layers.
The white chocolate ganache should be the consistency of warm butter (not melted but gooey) after setting up overnight. It gets whipped in the mixer to create a light mixture to use as the filling. I created a base for the cake by cutting a 4″X8″ piece of cardboard. Then I cut a larger piece of cardboard and covered it in parchment paper to make a foundation to put the cake on. It looks nicer that way and is easier to handle.
I placed one layer on the 4X8 cardboard and then cover with 1/2 the filling. I made sure the filling went all the way out to the edges so that, when sliced, each piece would have an identical look and the finishing ganache covering would be even. Then the middle layer went on, followed by the other 1/2 of the filling and then topped by the third layer.
By this time, the 1/4 cup of dark chocolate ganache had setup a bit too much (it was solid). So I gave it a quick nuke (20 seconds) and it returned to a spreadable consistency. This bit of ganache is used to make a crumb coat on the layered cake in preparation for covering completely in ganache. Once the crumb coat was complete I turned to the ganache which seemed a bit clumpy when I checked it. So this went on top of a pot of simmering water to warm it a bit. It was about 94 degrees when I felt it was ready for pouring.
To be ready for the final decoration step, I melted 2 ounces of white chocolate (I just used Candy Melts since it’s such a small quantity) in the microwave and then added 2 tablespoons of oil (so it doesn’t harden too quickly). Now for the ganache pour!
The setup for pouring ganache is also easy. I just set out a (non-stick) pan, place a rack over it and then set the cake (on it’s little cardboard) onto the rack. First I pour the ganache around the edges of the top making sure the sides get a good coating. Then I pour along the top and use an offset spatula to smooth and allow the ganache to run over the sides. The smell is heaven!
Once the cake is complete covered you have to work pretty quickly. I had prepared a small parchment paper cone and loaded the white chocolate/oil mix into it. I quickly cut a very small hole in the tip and made three parallel lines down the top of the cake. Then, using a toothpick, I made figure eights through the lines to create the swirls. Simple!
The cake was served to our friends that evening and pronounced delectable. But wait! There was more chocolate to come. My husband likes to take treats to work for his colleagues. This week there was a request for brownies (with nuts) and fudge (without nuts). The brownies were made first and came together easily and deliciously. The fudge. Oy. The fudge. That turned into the most horrible, inedible mess I have ever created. Who knew that fudge was that hard to make!? Of course, forgetting a key ingredient (like milk) in the recipe certainly didn’t help. Nor did letting it get too hot. Again, who knew the when you let chocolate/sugar syrup heat up too much it turns into rock hard candy that you can only get out of the pot with a chisel?!! And then you have the privilege of throwing away a pound of very expensive chocolate along with everything else.
Undefeated I’m going to pick up a digital candy thermometer today and the fudge and I will be going at it again. We’ll see who survives.