This is the first item I attempt from Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Desserts book. Getting a copy of this book was in itself as challenge. As the book has been out of print for a while. Finally, I got a used copy of Amazon, and thankfully the book was in good condition.
This is a multi-component cake, and it took me a few days to finish it, as I was making one component at a time, and finally assembling it.
Makes 1 7.5-inch by 3.5-inch cake
For the cocoa cake
20 grams cocoa powder
18 grams cake flour
1 3/4 tablespoons potato starch
38 grams unsalted butter
4.5 large egg yolks, at room temperature
75 grams sugar
2.5 large egg whites, at room temperature
For soaking syrup
25 grams sugar
5 grams salted butter
50 grams warm water
85 grams moist, plump dried apricots
125 grams water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
92 grams bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
60 grams milk chocolate, finely chopped
70 grams sugar
10 grams salted butter
138 grams heavy cream
167 grans unsalted butter, at room temperature
1) For cocoa cake, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 180C. Butter the loaf pan and line with parchment paper.
2) Sift together the cocoa powder, cake flour and potato starch and keep close at hand. Melt the butter and set it aside to cool until it is barely warm to the touch.
3) Working in a mixer fitter with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks and 37 grams of the sugar on medium-high speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the mixture is thick and pale, about 5 minutes. Then scrape the thickened egg yolks into a large bowl and wash and dry your mixer bowl: wash and dry the whisk attachment.
4) Fit the mixer with the clean, dry bowl and whisk and whip the egg whites at medium speed until they form soft peaks. Gradually add the remaining sugar and beat until the peaks are firm and shiny.
5) Working with a large spatula and a light hand, fold the sifted dry ingredients and one-quarter of the beaten whites into the yolk mixture. Stir a few tablespoons of this mixture into the cooled melted butter, stirring to incorporate the butter as much as possible, then add the butter and the remaining whites to the yolks. Working quickly and gently, fold everything together.
6) Pour the batter into the prepared pan – it should come three-quarters of the way up the sides – then slide the pan into the oven. Bake the loaf for 25 to 30 minutes. Test doneness by inserting a slender knife into the centre of the cake and ensure it comes out clean.
7) To cool the loaf, allow it to rest for 3 minutes in the pan, then gently unmold onto cooling rack, delicately lift off the parchment paper, and turn the cake right side up to cool to room temperature.
8) For soaking syrup, put the sugar in a medium saucepan and place the pan over medium heat. As soon as the sugar starts to melt, stir it with a wooden spoon. Keep beating and shirring the sugar until it turns a rich brown colour.
9) Standing away from the pan, drop the butter into the pan, then, as it melts, stir it into the caramelised sugar.
10) Stand back again and add the water. When the mixture comes to the boil, pull the pan from the heat.
11) Allow the syrup to cool to room temperature. (The syrup can be made up to 3 days ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator.)
12) For the apricots, put the apricots and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to its lowest setting and simmer for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the apricots and let cool.
13) When they are cool, cut the apricots into small dice. Toss the apricots with the lemon juice and black pepper and set them aside until needed. (The apricots can be prepared a day ahead and kept at room temperature in a covered container.)
14) For ganache, mix the bittersweet and milk chocolate together in a large heatproof bowl and set aside.
15) Set a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan over medium-high heat and sprinkle about one-third of the sugar over the bottom of the pan. As soon as the sugar starts to melt and colour, store it with a wooden spoon until it melts and caramelises. Sprinkle over half of the remaining sugar and, as soon as it starts to melt, stir it into the caramelised sugar in the pan. Repeat with the last of the sugar and cook until the sugar is a deep brown colour. Stand away from the pan and, still stirring, add the salted butter and then, when the butter is incorporated, the cream. Don’t worry if the caramel seizes and clumps – stirring and beating will even it out. Bring the cream to the boil, then remove the pan from the heat.
16) Pour half of the hot caramel over the chopped chocolate and, using a rubber spatula, stir gently, starting in the centre of the bowl and working your way out in concentric circles. When the chocolate is smooth, ad the remaining caramel, stirring in the same manner. Set the ganache aside to cool for about 10 minutes, or until it feels only slightly warm to the touch.
17) While the ganache is cooling, beat the unsalted butter, using either the paddle attachment of a mixer or a spatula: You want to soften the butter until it is the consistency of mayonnaise, but you do not want to beat air into it. With this in mind, if you are working in a mixer, don’t beat on high speed: or, if you are beating it by hand, don’t use a whisk.
18) Working with a rubber spatula or a whisk, gently store (don’t beat) the butter into the ganache. (The ganache can be used now, or you can store it in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, making sure to cover it tightly after it has cooled. When you are ready for it, allow it to come to room temperature, then stir gently to smooth it.)
19) To work with the ganache, it must be the consistency of a very creamy frosting and must have enough body to mound – you’re going to spread a thick layer of it between each of the cakes’ layers. To get it to set to this consistency, you can either place the bowl of ganache in a larger bowl half-filled with ice cubes and water or refrigerate it, checking on it at 5-minute intervals. In either case, it is important to store the ganache frequently (but gently), so that it doesn’t become too firm around the edges.
20) To assemble, working with a long thin serrated knife, even the tops of the cake by slicing off any portions that have domed. Then slice each cake horizontally into 3 even layers. Place the bottom layer of the cake on a cardboard cake round and keep the remaining layers close at hand.
21) Using a pastry brush, dab the bottom layer with enough of the caramel syrup to moisten it thoroughly and give it a caramel boost. Switch to a metal spatula – you can find an offset spatula easiest to work with – and spread a layer of ganache over the moistened layer. Aim for a layer of ganache that is scant ½ inch thick, and work to get the layer as even as possible. There’s always a tendency to have less ganache at the corners than in the centre – try to avoid this. Dot the top of the ganache with half the apricots and very gently press the apricots into the ganache. Don’t worry if some of the ganache oozes out over the sides of the cake – just spread it over the sides and carry on. Set the next layer into place on the cake, and moisten it with syrup. Smooth the layer with another layer of ganache and dot with the remaining apricots. Moisten the top layer of cake and settle them in place. Take a look at the cake now, while the ganache is still soft, and, if they are leaning to one side or the other, use your spatula to gently right them. Spread a very thin layer of ganache over the sides and tops of the cakes – you’ll put more on later – and transfer the cakes to the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes. Keep the ganache at room temperature while the cakes are chilling.
22) Remove the cake from the refrigerator and, again using a metal spatula, cover the cake evenly with the remaining ganache. It is nice to get the tops as smooth as possible, but you don’t have to fuss too much with the sides.
23) If the ganache is not too soft, you can serve the cake now, or you can keep them refrigerated for up to 12 hours. (If the cakes have been refrigerated for several hours, allow them to stand at room temperature for an hour before serving – if the cake is too cold, the extraordinary texture of the ganache is diminished.) Just before serving, top the cake with a reserved whole apricot.
In the book, Pierre recommend to dust the cake with cocoa powder before serving, but somehow I prefer the chocolate mirror glaze for a more refined look.
I have to say, the flavour of the cake is exquisite, and while I was a little worried that the cake layers might be a tad dry, the generous caramel syrup ensured that it wasn’t. This is definitely a good recipe for a cake with complex flavour. I particularly liked the caramelised ganache, which is quite different from the standard chocolate ganache. While there are many components, most of them are quite simple to make on its own and can be made ahead of time.