Monday, December 12, 2011

Chocolate Meringue Cake with Almond Praline and Citrus Marmalade for #Baketogether

Chocolate Meringue Cake with Almond Praline and Citrus Marmalade

It’s true that you can take a sheet cake or a Bundt just about anywhere, but we all need a couple fancy cakes in our repertoire, if for no other reason than to feel good about the accomplishment. This Chocolate Meringue Cake is a good one to make. Pretty and indeed impressive looking, it also rewards in flavor, texture and relative ease of preparation.

Created by Abby Dodge, the cake graced the cover of Bon Appetit’s December 2009 issue. I remember wanting to make the cake at that time, but got caught up with moving and just forgot.  Abby then selected it for the November-December #baketogether group she runs on Twitter. It’s just so cool that not only do I finally get to make this gorgeous dessert but I’ve also “met’ its creator thanks to Twitter.

And let me tell you, this cake does not disappoint. It features three layers of vanilla meringue and two layers of chocolate cake. Oh, and four generous slathers of butter-rich bittersweet chocolate ganache. To finish, the cake is frosted with more ganache on its top and sides.

It is a very French style creation and all those layers of cake, ganache and meringue remind me of exquisite little pastries I’ve seen and tasted and read about. In fact, Abby’s creation is rather like an enlarged and reconstructed take on those very things.

I wanted to make this cake as closely as possible to Abby’s original in order to see how the basic version turns out. I didn’t make a lot of changes or additions, but there are a few:

• Instead of a simple sugar syrup, I used melted marmalade. Earlier in the week, I made a small batch of marmalade using navel orange, satsuma and tangerine. (I love citrus season.) I used lots of rind which I picked out to use as a garnish. A toothpick is handy for placing little jibbles of candied orange peel exactly where you want them.

• For a very French twist, I added powdered toasted almond praline to some of the chocolate ganache layers. I’d been leisurely flipping through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. II, and happened upon the recipe. You see powdered praline used frequently with ganache in French pastries — hazelnut is a particularly popular choice, but almond, too.

• I wanted to make an unleavened version of the cake, so I omitted the baking powder. To ensure rising in the cake, I beat the egg yolks and egg whites separately, and folded in the whites just before baking (as in a traditional sponge cake method). I don’t think this extra work was necessary, so the next time I will just beat the whole eggs and sugar until they form a ribbon, then add dry ingredients (like a génoise).
Almond praline with its spun sugar thread, waiting to be ground into powder.

I made this cake over three days, but it could be done in one day. Baking meringue and cake layers on day one, making ganache on day two. I assembled it on day three because I wanted plenty of time to work on the exterior appearance and I wanted to be sure I had enough daylight for photography. If you’re not worried about photography and if you’re more adept at exterior work, you can do this in shorter time. The greatest temptation for me was having 40-some ounces of ganache (yes, that’s about 1 1/2 quarts) sitting out at room temperature. Just being honest. Maybe that’s not a temptation for you. How sad.

About this silky filling: Do you call it a ganache or a buttercream? Abby calls it both. There are only about a zillion versions of buttercream and this fits somewhere in the continuum. Ganache in its most elemental form is chocolate and heavy cream. (That’s why I think no one ever need purchase canned chocolate frosting at the supermarket — not when such a superior product can be made so quickly.) To her ganache recipe, Abby adds an entire cup of butter. This results in a silkier mouth feel, a rich butter flavor, and a structure that is easy to work with — pliable at first, then firm when you need it to stay that way. Unlike most buttercreams which are easily mussed at the slightest touch, this is fairly smudge resistant.

My finished cake made the rounds of family and friends. My husband and I had some, then I took the cake to a small gathering. The rest was wrapped carefully and stored in checked luggage for a visit with my sister in Louisiana.

Chocolate Meringue Cake with Chocolate Ganache,
Toasted Almond Praline and Citrus Marmalade
adapted from

Makes 12 to 14 servings.
For the meringue layers:
1 cup (4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup superfine sugar (or regular sugar whirled in a small food processor for about 15 seconds)
Pinch table salt
3 whites from large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the chocolate cake:
1/2 cup (2 1/4 ounces) all purpose flour
1/4 cup (3/4 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder
Pinch table salt
2 large eggs, separated
Yolks from 2 large eggs (these can be saved from the meringue whites)
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the chocolate buttercream:
24 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 3/4 cups heavy cream
16 tablespoons (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
3 tablespoons light corn syrup (I used agave)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch table salt
For the syrup:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup citrus marmalade (I used a homemade marmalade with navel orange, satsuma and tangerine)
1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the toasted almond praline:
1 cup (about 4 ounces) almonds
1/2 cup (about 3 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons water
For the garnish:
2 tablespoons almond pralin powder
About 1/3 cup candied orange peel or the strained peel from a homemade marmalade.

To make the meringue layers:
Position oven rack in the middle of the oven. Heat the oven to 175°F. The meringue will bake for a long time at a low temperature. This will ensure the layers are white and not browned in any way. Draw three 12 x 4 inch rectangles on a parchment sheet leaving about 1 inch between. Lay the parchment on a baking sheet.

Sift together the confectioners’ sugar, superfine sugar, and salt. In a stand mixer fitted with wire whip, mix on medium low until frothy and well blended. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until the whites form soft peaks, about 2 minutes. Continue beating while gradually adding the sifted sugars. When all the sugar is added, increase speed to high and whip until firm, glossy peaks form, about 3 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides and add the vanilla extract. Beat until blended, about 10 seconds.

Divide the meringue evenly between the rectangles (about 1 cup each). Using a small offset spatula, spread the meringue in a even layer within the lines (about 1/2 inch thick). Don’t worry if the edges aren’t perfect – they will be trimmed after baking. (Try to get the tops as smooth and flat as you can. Mine turned out a bit fluffier than I wanted so I will be more careful next time.)

Bake the meringues until dried and crisp but not browned, about 3 hours. Turn off the oven and let the meringues cool completely.

Carefully lift the meringues off the parchment. Using a small, sharp knife and a sawing motion, carefully trim each rectangle to measure 12 x4 inches. Assemble the cake or store the meringue layers in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.

To make the chocolate cake:
Position oven rack in the middle of the oven. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease the bottom and sides of an 8 1/2 x 12 inch jelly roll pan with 1-inch sides and line the bottom with parchment. Lightly dust the sides with flour, tapping out any excess.

Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa and salt. In a medium bowl, beat the yolks until pale and foamy, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue beating until thick enough to form a ribbon, about 3 minutes. Sift the flour mixture over the egg mixture and using a rubber spatula, gently fold until just blended. Then fold in the egg whites. It will feel a little bit gummy at first, but keep working gently until the whites are incorporated. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and, using an offset spatula, spread evenly.

Bake until the top springs back when gently touched, about 15 minutes or fewer. Let cool on rack about 15 to 20 minutes. Run a small knife around the pan to loosen the cake. Invert onto a wire rack and carefully peel off the paper. Let the cake cool completely.

Using a serrated knife, cut the cake into two 12 x4 inch rectangles. (the layers can be used immediately or wrapped in plastic and kept at room temperature for up to 2 days before assembling.)

To make the toasted almond praline: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place almonds on a baking sheet and toast in the oven at until almonds turn a “walnut brown,” according to Julia Child in Mastering the Art, Volume II. Remove from the oven and let cool. Put sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Swirl the pan gently, do not stir with a spoon. Once it reaches a boil, place a lid over the pan and let cook for a few minutes, swirling every now and then. Remove the lid and continue to watch the liquid. When it turns a caramel color, stir in the almonds. Pour out onto a buttered baking sheet. Allow to cool completely. Grind the mixture in a food processor until it is a fine powder. Place in a glass jar and cover.

To make the chocolate ganache: Melt the chocolate, cream, butter and syrup in a large bowl. (I use the microwave but an improvised double boiler works fine too.) Add the vanilla and salt and whisk until well blended and smooth. Set aside, stirring occasionally, until thick enough to spread. If your kitchen is on the cool site, it will chill down fairly quickly. For faster cooling, set the bowl over a larger bowl filled with ice, stirring and scraping the sides frequently until room temperature (it will be thick enough to spread).

(Ganache can be made up to 1 day ahead and stowed at room temperature — slightly dangerous for chocoholics, just so you know — or up to 4 days ahead and stowed in the refrigerator. Bring back to room temperature before assembling cake.)

To make the syrup:
In a small saucepan, combine the water and marmalade. If the marmalade contains large pieces of fruit, strain and chop into small pieces, then return to the saucepan. Stir well and heat until warm. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Set aside to cool completely. (Can be made and refrigerated up to 2 days before assembling the cake.)

To assemble the cake:
Remove 1 1/2 cups of the chocolate buttercream to a small bowl. Stir in 3/4 up almond praline powder.

Gently brush away any excess crumbs from the trimmed meringue and cake layers. Dab some  ganache down the center of a rectangular, flat serving plate or board and carefully arrange one meringue layer, top side up, on the plate. To protect the plate from frosting smears, slip small strips of foil or parchment paper between the bottom layer and the plate.

Using a small, offset metal spatula, spread about 3/4 cup of ganache evenly over the layer. Place a cake layer, top side down, on the ganache. Be sure the sides are aligned and then gently press down on the top layer. Brush generously with the marmalade syrup. (Don’t be shy about the syrup. You want the cake to soak up the syrup to remain moist. The cake will not disintegrate from the syrup.) Spread with 3/4 cup of the almond praline ganache and top with a meringue layer, top side up. Spread with another 3/4 cup of plain ganache. Place the final cake layer, top side down and press down gently. Again, brush generously with the syrup. Spread with the remaining almond praline ganache and top with a meringue layer, top side down (for a nice flat finish).

Scoop out and reserve about 3/4 cup of the remaining plain ganache and set aside. Spread a thin layer of the remaining frosting over the entire cake to seal in any crumbs and fill in any gaps between layers with frosting. Wait about 5 minutes, or chill, if possible. (If this is December and you live in Iowa, step outside for a jiffy and the chocolate will firm up rather quickly.) Then coat the top and sides evenly with the remaining frosting leaving a smooth finish. If your kitchen is on the chilly side, the frosting might become a little too stiff. If this happens, give the frosting a 8-second burst in the microwave. I had to do this a couple times.

To garnish:  Garnish the top with a sprinkled coating of powdered almond praline. Then pipe a frame of buttercream  along the cake’s corners (Stars, shells, rosettes, whatever you like). Carefully drop little pieces of citrus peel along the top and around the edges of the plate — make it look like confetti. Use a toothpick to arrange the confetti so it looks random instead of contrived.

Refrigerate the cake at least 6 hours or up to 2 days. The cake is best when served slightly chilled but not cold.


  1. I'm beyond impressed...not only great flavor choices but your end result looks beautiful. And now I am feeling the pressure to get mine done since I admittedly lobbied Abby hard to do this!

    I'm actually making mine for dessert for Christmas Day...I best get started huh?

    Again...just beautiful!

  2. This looks absolutely amazing! Any chance you could whip this up for my Christmas eve dessert ;)

  3. Barbara, thank you so much! And thank you for lobbying Abby to select this dessert. I can't wait to see your special twist.

    I hope you have time to enjoy making this.

  4. Abby, thank YOU. I really enjoyed making this. The cake offers endless opportunities for variation AND it calls for simple ingredients most of us always have around the kitchen. Bravo on a great recipe!

  5. This cake is outstanding and thanks for sharing! I’ve been inspired to feature this post in today's Friday Food Fetish roundup. If you have any objections, please let me know. Have a wonderful holiday and keep amazing food coming!

  6. JavelinWarrior:
    Thank you for stopping by, and also for including me in your Friday post.

  7. Beautiful presentation. I love your choice of flavors. The citrus pieces are just a lovely accent to this gorgeous cake.

  8. Thank you, Karen! The orangette confetti was fun to make.


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