Friday, 28 November 2014

Chocolate Concorde Cake

People always seem to go weak at the knees for meringues… and who can blame them? Meringues and pavlovas are a beautifully light but sweet way to finish a meal and provided you follow a few basic rules they are incredibly easy to make. At their very simplest meringue is made using beaten egg whites and sugar, but once you understand how they are made you can add other flavours and ingredients to create the most fabulous confections. I have been making pavlovas to the same basic recipe for many years and it never fails to surprise me how much people seem to like them because, as I have said, they are so simple to make!
 
Macarons – those brightly coloured little bite-sized delights which look so frivolous and inviting are also essentially meringues (with added ground almonds or other nuts) and although a little tricky to make are absolutely delicious to eat! Once you have mastered them, you will be churning them out by the dozen at a fraction of the price you pay for them in bakeries and up-market delicatessens!
 
The golden rule when making meringue is to ensure that you use scrupulously clean utensils and that you don’t allow anything contaminate the egg white until you have whisked them until they stand in peaks. Any lingering grease, fat or moisture will hinder their ability to whisk up to the required volume or texture; you also have to be very careful that no egg yolk creeps into the egg whites when you are separating the eggs. If you follow this rule, success is more-or-less guaranteed!

Anyway, it is very easy to get stuck into a cooking or baking rut, and whilst this is understandable because it makes sense to revisit recipes that have worked and taste good, sometimes it is nice to extend your culinary horizons. In many ways, I forced myself to do this by entering this year’s MasterChef Ireland, where I was constantly challenged and put under extreme pressure to try out new ingredients, flavour combinations and techniques that, as an amateur, I wouldn’t necessarily have tried out! The following recipe is an example of one that before, I would have thought too complicated or fussy to make but it is actually very simple and has an intense chocolate flavour that will satisfy the cravings of any chocoholics out there.
 
Chocolate Concorde Cake is made up of chocolate flavoured meringue filled with a light, but rich chocolate mousse. I think it’s amazing! There are conflicting opinions on where the cake got its name; some people believe it was created to celebrate to supersonic passenger jet plane Concorde, but others including Pierre Hermé the renowned French pâtissier claim that it is, in fact, named after the Place de la Concorde in Paris. Either way, this is a stunning-looking and heavenly-tasting cake, which looks far more complicated than it actually is to make. Dusted with icing sugar, this meringue cake has a very festive feel to it and in my opinion would make a stunning Christmas dessert.
 

Ingredients:

Meringue:
5 large egg whites
125g caster sugar
150g icing sugar
40g cocoa powder
Chocolate mousse:
150g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids)
150g butter (preferably unsalted)
3 large egg whites
75g caster sugar
 

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 90C/Fan Oven 70C. Draw three 15cm circles onto three sheets of non-stick baking parchment and use to line three large baking trays. Set aside.
2. Place the egg whites in a large mixing bowl and using a hand-held electric mixer, whisk together until they have almost reached the stiff peak stage. Gradually add the caster sugar, mixing well after each addition.
3. Sift the icing sugar and cocoa powder together and fold into the meringue mixture with a large metal spoon, making sure that no pockets of the dry ingredients remain.
4. Spoon the meringue into a large disposable piping bag fitted with a 1cm plain nozzle. Using the circled you previously drew on the baking paper, pipe out three 15cm spirals of the meringue mixture, starting at the centre of the circle and working your way out.
5. Separately, using the remaining meringue mixture, pipe out 8- 10 x 15cms long thin strips of meringue. You should be able to fit 3 or 4 of these strips beside each spiral on each respective paper lined baking tray.
6. Place in the oven and bake for 60 minutes. Turn off the oven but leave the meringue for a further 30 minutes after which time you can remove from the oven and allow to cool completely.
Mousse:
7. Place the butter and sugar in a heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Allow to melt, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool slightly.
8. Whisk the egg whites to the stiff peak stage and add the caster sugar, whisking until it is completely incorporated. Fold 2 tablespoons of the meringue into the melted chocolate and butter to ‘loosen’ it little and then fold in the remaining meringue. Make sure everything is well, but gently mixed together.
To finish:
9. Place one of the meringue spirals on your serving plate and spread with a thin layer (about 2cms thick) of the chocolate mousse. Place another meringue spiral carefully on top and also spread this with a layer of the mousse. Place the final meringue spiral on top.
10. Cover the sides and top of the assembled cake with the remaining mousse and refrigerate for 30 minutes to allow the mousse to set.
11. Remove the cake from the fridge and using a sharp knife, cut the meringue strips into 3-4cm pieces and embed them in the mousse in a random fashion, all around the tops and sides of the cake. Serve.
 
Serves 8-10.