Last year our two new wonderful grandchildren were born. It was exciting for us and for our sons and their families, but as a part-time granny-nanny, it meant cutting down on some of our activities. I asked Papa to take us off line, but he felt I would come back to the blog. “Never, it’s too much,” I replied thinking of the two infants. Last month the sweet little baby girls celebrated their first birthdays, and here I am blogging again, with apologies for leaving you so long with no explanation.
Jakey’s CakeIn July, my nephew and his son Jakey, 14, visited from California. After a joyful reunion, we had a talk about food and “the best chocolate cake in the world.” I’d read about this cake in several magazines – meringue, ganache, mousse – all things I love. During a recent trip to New York with dear friends, after a great lunch in the city we tracked down the supposed “best chocolate cake in the world” and bought two slices. After dinner, each couple shared a piece. “This tastes commercial,” I heard from our friend before I could taste it. Then I knew after my first bite that the cake was misnamed: the ganache was not so good, probably because of the lesser quality of the chocolate; the mousse and meringue were also disappointing and not worth discussing. After we returned home, and my great nephew Jakey mentioned that we didn’t get to celebrate his birthday with him in April, our ten-year-old granddaughter who’s Jakey’s friend said, “Grandma, you wanted to make a better ‘best cake in the world’ – let’s make one for Jakey’s ‘birthday.” So we did. Alexis played Happy Birthday on the piano and Jakey blew out the 14 candles, which were then relit and blown out again by our smiling five-year-old grandson, who felt left out, though his birthday was seven months away. The Best Chocolate Cake in the World? Let’s not get hyperbolic about this, but Jakey’s Cake was really good!
Here’s the recipe for Jakey’s Cake: You can make the meringues a day ahead. The mousse and ganache a couple of hours before serving. It goes together quickly, and then chill for a couple of hours before eating.
Meringues: 4 egg whites (room temperature), 1 cup sugar, a pinch of salt, ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar.
Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Line cookie sheets (regular, not insulated ones) with parchment and trace three eight-inch circles on the parchment. Beat egg whites using a wire-whip attachment if you have one (must have no trace of yolk) with a pinch of salt and the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Beating at high speed, add one tablespoon of the sugar at a time and beat until stiff and glossy peaks form. Spread meringue with a spatula evenly over the three circles. Bake two hours; then turn off oven and let cool in oven if not using immediately (if meringue seems too soft, cook longer, checking every 15 minutes). Since the meringue layers are fragile, cut the excess paper from around each one, and you can store them still attached to the paper circles, to protect them. Use a slender metal spatula under each layer to remove them from the parchment circles, and make sure the meringues are at room temperature before using.
Mousse: [This can be made up to four hours before serving.] 8 ounces semi- or bittersweet chocolate in small pieces (good chocolate makes a difference here and in the ganache – I use Callebaut bittersweet that I need to cut up into little half-inch pieces, but any good 60 to 85 percent chocolate works well – I don’t recommend chocolate chips); 8 tablespoons coffee (I use dark roast – decaf is fine); 2 cups whipping cream; ½ cup sugar.
Put chocolate pieces and coffee in double boiler (suspended above and not in the hot water), and melt stirring the mixture until it is smooth, or put in microwave in a glass bowl and mix after 20 second intervals until smooth. Set this aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat cream with electric mixer. When cream begins to thicken, add sugar one tablespoon at a time, and beat until stiff peaks have formed. Pour the melted chocolate mixture (which will be warm) into the whipped cream, and blend thoroughly but gently. When the meringues are cool, place one meringue on bottom of serving platter, add one half of the mousse; place the second meringue over it, and top it with the remaining mousse. Then place the third meringue on top of it.
Ganache: ½ cup whipping cream, ½ cup good quality semi- or bittersweet chocolate cut into small pieces.
Bring cream to boil, and immediately pour over chocolate in a glass bowl – stir until the chocolate melts. Let cool a few minutes, and then frost the top meringue with the ganache, using a spatula. Cover cake and chill until serving time. Use a good serrated knife to cut the cake into pieces.
Quickie Dessert: In a big hurry for dessert? The Mousse from the chocolate cake is easy and quick (though it does take an hour’s chilling time). Follow the mousse recipe as written, and after blending the cream and chocolate together as described above, spoon the mousse into 6 to 8 ramekins and chill. I have some pretty ice cream bowls with stems that are perfect. The mousse is also delicious served with rum whipped cream on top (but ask before you top it, or pass it around, for some people don’t like rum).
Rum whipped cream: (It always helps to freeze a metal bowl and beaters for five minutes when whipping cream.) 1 cup cold whipping cream, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 tablespoon rum (instead of rum, of course, a tablespoon of another liquor could be used).
Beat cream at high or medium high speed until cream begins to thicken, then add sugar a tablespoon at a time, and add rum until it is the texture you desire.
Other possibilities: I had a chocolate cake in the freezer from the week before, so with a round cookie cutter, I cut circles of cake which I placed on the bottom of my ramekins and then covered them with mousse.
Tasting Party: I love tasting parties – nothing formal. With our busy lives, our tasting circle has narrowed to family and our condo buddies. To each I presented a second version of Jakey’s Cake along with the original; this second version substituted a thin layer of chocolate cake for the bottom circle of meringue. At the Condo tasting after a fine dinner, the meringue version was the overwhelming favorite. The family results were mixed. Me? I’m still testing for a more perfect chocolate bottom – perhaps something like a thin brownie, or a chocolate meringue. Any ideas?
Thank you Internet: I was in the middle of cooking garbanzos, chorizo, and spinach – a recipe I had clipped from the New York Times “Minimalist” column by Mark Bittman, when the recipe disappeared somewhere in my kitchen. After fifteen minutes of fruitless searching, Papa looked on-line, and in a minute there it was. Magic! In addition to his 'minimalist' columns, Mark Bittman also regularly contributes a fine food article in the Sunday Times Magazine and also excellent op-ed articles about the health and environmental aspects of food. His How to Cook Everything cookbooks are a must for every home cook – excellent, healthy, and straightforward recipes.