I must confess that, along with Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner is my favorite meal to plan, cook and serve! Why? Because there are very few occasions during the year when I can take time off to cook such a feast for family and friends. I relish every moment of it.
And every year my challenge is to come up with a dessert that is nothing short of stunning! This year I set my sights on creating a chocolate layer cake. A courageous act for sure, since layer cakes and icings are not only totally foreign to me, but very intimidating to boot.
So I decided to start testing recipes early on in the fall. My first attempt was so disastrous that I put the monstrosity I’d created in my spare refrigerator and forgot about it for 5 days… My second attempt was definitely an improvement, but the white-chocolate icing was way too sweet for my taste and the cake itself a bit too heavy… still.
I wasn’t about to give up, though. I wanted not just any chocolate layer cake. I wanted to make the lightest, moistest, most intensely-chocolaty-cake-ever… I wanted a showstopper!
Two more attempts finally delivered the cake I had envisioned. I turned to my French background yet again. A dark chocolate génoise (sponge cake) brushed with a little coffee and Cognac makes the four layers. A milk chocolate mousse hugs the layers together and a white-chocolate mousse gently envelops the whole cake. A last tease: bittersweet chocolate curls dot the cake and add yet another layer of chocolaty flavor.
A holiday feast demands a dazzling dessert – one that tastes as delicious as it looks.
Note: I chose Callebaut chocolates for this cake. They are outstanding baking chocolates with smooth texture and beautiful flavors. Callebaut chocolates are available in bulk at Whole Foods and gourmet food stores. I also recommend Scharffen Berger and Valrhona chocolates. Using a good quality chocolate for this cake is essential.
Chocolate layer-mousse cake with Cognac and bittersweet chocolate curls
makes 1 large cake or serves 12
active time: 2 hours
For the cakes
- 1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup Dutch process cocoa – sifted
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 pinches sea salt
- 8 extra large eggs – at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups organic sugar
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter – melted and slightly cooled
- 1 cup strong coffee – cooled to room temperature
- 1/3 cup Cognac
- 2 – 9″ non-stick round cake pans – lightly buttered and floured
For the milk chocolate mousse
- 9 oz (255 g) milk chocolate – coarsely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon chocolate liqueur
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the white chocolate frosting
- 12 oz (340 g) white chocolate – coarsely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 2 oz (55 g) bittersweet chocolate, as garnish
- Preheat oven to 375°F (190ºC).
- Step 1: Place the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk until well blended. Set aside. Place the eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk at high speed until very pale, thick and ribbony (about 2 minutes). Slowly add the sugar and continue whisking at high speed until soft peaks form, another minute. Add half the flour/cocoa mixture to the whipped eggs. Fold in carefully. Add the melted butter and fold in carefully. Fold in the remaining flour/cocoa mixture, taking care not to overmix. Divide the batter equally into the prepared molds. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until the cakes have risen and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool to room temperature before un-molding.
- Cook’s note: The cakes can be prepared up to 24 hours ahead. Cool to room temperature, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before assembling the cake.
- Step 2: To make the milk chocolate mousse – Place the chocolate pieces in a double boiler. Melt the chocolate over simmering water, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool until just warm to the touch. Place the heavy cream, chocolate liqueur and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer. Whip at medium speed until thick, taking care not to overbeat or it will turn to butter. Pour the melted milk chocolate into the whipped cream and fold until well blended. Transfer to a container, cover and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours.
- Step 3: To make the white chocolate frosting – Place the white chocolate pieces in a double boiler. Melt the chocolate over simmering water, stirring constantly until smooth. Remove from heat and let cool until just warm to the touch. Place the heavy cream in the bowl of an electric mixer. Whip at medium speed until thick, taking care not to overbeat or it will turn to butter. Pour the melted white chocolate into the whipped cream and fold until well blended. Transfer to a container, cover and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours.
- Step 4: To assemble the cake – Un-mold the chocolate cakes and cut in 4 even layers, about 1″ thick (I use a cake leveler, it makes the job infinitely easier!). Place one layer of cake in the center of a serving platter. Line the rim of the platter with plastic wrap (this will keep the rim clean as you apply the frosting). Using a pastry brush, soak the cake with one quarter of the coffee and Cognac. Top with a third of the milk chocolate mousse and spread it evenly over the whole surface of the cake. Top with another layer of the chocolate cake. Repeat soaking with the coffee and Cognac, and spreading the milk chocolate mousse 2 more times until you have 3 layers. Top with the last layer of chocolate cake and soak with the remaining coffee and Cognac. Finish by applying the white chocolate frosting, first on the top, then on the sides. Save a little frosting for piping if desired: pipe a rim around the top edge. Remove the plastic wrap lining the platter and pipe the remaining frosting around the base of the cake. Loosely cover the cake with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours. Remove from refrigerator 30 minutes before serving. When ready to serve, shave the bittersweet chocolate using a vegetable hand peeler over the cake and around the rim of the platter.
- Like all good things, this cake will take some time to bake and assemble. Fortunately, the chocolate génoise can be made one day ahead and the cake assembled 4 to 6 hours before serving. A little bit of planning will be necessary, but it’s well worth the effort… and if I can make this cake, then I would say anybody can, too!