Chocolate layer-mousse cake with Cognac and bittersweet chocolate curls

Chocolate layer-mousse cake with Cognac and bittersweet chocolate curls
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

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 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  2. 1 cup Dutch process cocoa – sifted
  3. 2 teaspoons baking powder
  4. 2 pinches sea salt
  5. 8 extra large eggs – at room temperature
  6. 1 1/2 cups organic sugar
  7. 4 tablespoons unsalted butter – melted and slightly cooled
  8. 1 cup strong coffee – cooled to room temperature
  9. 1/3 cup Cognac
  10. 2 – 9″ non-stick round cake pans – lightly buttered and floured

For the milk chocolate mousse

  1. 9 oz (255 g) milk chocolate – coarsely chopped
  2. 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  3. 1 tablespoon chocolate liqueur
  4. 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the white chocolate frosting

  1. 12 oz (340 g) white chocolate – coarsely chopped
  2. 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  1. 2 oz (55 g) bittersweet chocolate, as garnish

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F (190ºC).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Dark chocolate

Viviane’s tip
  1. 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!

Chocolate layer-mousse cake with Cognac and bittersweet chocolate curls

dessert, layer cake, chocolate

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  • Reply rosie December 17, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    many thanks. i will have to try it when storage is not an issue.

  • Reply rosie December 17, 2013 at 5:46 am

    hi, this cake looks so delicious. how long does it keep? will it be ok to make it two or three days in advance? any chance that it freezes?
    (I am pretty sure that the chocolate cake itself would freeze, is that so? But I am wondering if the finished cake will freeze)
    do you think the cake would hold up in transportation for a few hours unrefrigerated?
    thanks for any help you can provide with logistics

    • Reply Viviane December 17, 2013 at 8:51 am

      Hi Rosie, I would not recommend freezing this cake once it’s assembled. You could make the two chocolate cake themselves ahead of time and freeze them for sure. Once assembled you can refrigerate the cake for up to 1 day (2 days is a stretch). And I think you will be fine to transport the cake for a few hours unrefrigerated, especially at this time of the year, when the weather is colder. But only garnish the cake with the chocolate shavings when you’re ready to serve. It’ll look much better and also hide any small imperfections. Have fun making your cake… and happy holidays!

  • Reply Denise February 17, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Truly beautiful! I will save this for my next fancy dinner party but I wish I could try a bite now 🙂

  • Reply Sandra February 12, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    I am looking forward to making this.

    • Reply Viviane February 12, 2013 at 6:12 pm

      Have a great time making it… AND eating it Sandra!

  • Reply Donna Ford December 22, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    Wow, this cake is beautiful Viviane! I’d love to make it for everyone. Thank you!

  • Reply briarrose December 27, 2010 at 2:34 pm

    Beautiful and delicious. I think you achieved your goal of the showstopper…no question. 😉

  • Reply Kate @ December 26, 2010 at 10:21 am

    Oh this is nothing short of amazing! Can I have a piece? 🙂 Lucky family and friends!

  • Reply Vicki @ Wilde in the Kitchen December 25, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    Your cake looks fantastic! Thanks for trying again and again until you got this!

  • Reply veggietestkitchen December 24, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    oh my, this cake looks Amazing. you are truly dedicated to test your recipe in advance. i’m a lazy cook. i usually wait until the last minute. i like to call that ‘inspiration’ haha.

    Happy holidays!

  • Reply Liz December 24, 2010 at 12:07 pm

    Dazzling is right!!! What a beautiful Christmas creation!

  • Reply El December 23, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    This is beyond beautiful. What time can I come over?

  • Reply tokyoterrace January 7, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    Oh my goodness…beautiful! I am such a sucker for chocolate cake and this looks like it would do me in for sure!

  • Reply Desiree December 30, 2009 at 6:46 pm

    That cake looks so good! I can only imagine how moist and chocolaty it is! Will give it a try. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Dina December 7, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    beautiful cake!

  • Reply Joy Zhang December 7, 2009 at 9:48 pm

    Please excuse the barbaric tone for the following comment: I want to bury my face in this cake!!! GOSH layers of chocolate and mousse WITH COGNAC? You’re killin me here…Viviane you’ve outdone yourself again!!

    • Reply Viviane Bauquet Farre December 8, 2009 at 1:16 pm

      Joy! You cannot imagine how hard I laughed when I read your comment (“LOL” just doesn’t cut it!)… Thank you for your wonderful comments – you are truly awesome…

  • Reply tastyeatsathome December 7, 2009 at 10:04 am

    This is absolutely beautiful. And with cognac? I’m so there!

  • Reply Marillyn @ just-making-noise December 5, 2009 at 9:03 pm

    Gorgeous! You have a wonderful, classic style with your food and photos. I bet the cake didn’t last long :o)

  • Reply lisaiscooking December 5, 2009 at 9:31 am

    The frosted cake is beautiful, and the layers look delicious! I’m currently trying to decided on a Christmas dessert too. I have several possible cakes in mind and want to make them all!

  • Reply Divina December 5, 2009 at 7:47 am

    They’re just gorgeous. I have a soft spot for anything chocolates. I’m sure I’m not alone. Your food really has excellent style and good taste.

  • Reply Laura Davis December 4, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Yum, thanks for sharing!

  • Reply Zoë Francois December 4, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    Lovely and crave provoking!

  • Reply cakebrain December 4, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    This cake looks gorgeous! I’ll have to try making it for the holidays!

  • Reply Sarah M. December 4, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    What a stunning cake! I am not a baker so appreciate those who can (even if it takes a few tries :-))

  • Reply Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite December 4, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    This is just beautiful! Will you send a slice my way please!?

  • Reply Jessie December 4, 2009 at 2:27 pm

    I am in loveee this cake looks so scrumptious!

  • Reply wasabi prime December 4, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    oh my… this dessert makes me weak in the knees! So beautiful and rich!!!

  • Reply Drick December 4, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    really really great – you must be proud … sounds and looks so impressive and I would just love a tiny slice, okay, a big ‘ol slice…

  • Reply The Chocolate Priestess December 4, 2009 at 1:06 pm

    That looks great and I think your directions were very well laid out. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  • Reply Donna Ford December 4, 2009 at 1:04 pm

    You can be proud of this one, it’s a beautiful cake and I’d love to taste it!

  • Reply Cheah December 4, 2009 at 11:57 am

    Wow, what an awesome cake and you have put so much effort into it. Congrats!

  • Reply Vegetable Matter December 4, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Perfectly even layers — not easy to do. Your cake is lovely.

  • Reply Debi(Table Talk) December 3, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    The coffee and cognac won me over with this cake—pure indulgence!

  • Reply jay December 2, 2009 at 2:22 am

    I’m definitely not a huge sweets person, but this looks absolutely delicious! I like the thought of using mousse instead of frosting as well. Yum!

  • Reply Dana Treat November 30, 2009 at 6:22 pm

    Such a beautiful cake and a beautiful job! Layer cakes are so challenging for me so I really appreciate a wonderfully made one!

  • Reply lindaraxa November 30, 2009 at 10:41 am

    This sounds divine…love this kind of cake for Christmas, although, like you, I am intimidated by layer cakes. Maybe this is the year I make one for Xmas Eve!

  • Reply zurin November 28, 2009 at 11:07 pm

    That looks fabulous. What a good job you did. And I like that the mousse contains no eggs!tq for sharing your great effort and results.:))

  • Reply Xiaolu November 28, 2009 at 11:17 am

    Your perseverance is inspiring. This looks simply lovely and perfect to top off a festive meal. Happy holidays!

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