This is my go-to Christmas party dessert: a luscious, boozy dark chocolate confection with a nutty, golden base that never fails to please. It is a little involved, but everything but the decoration can be done days ahead of time, and the results are well worth it. Dacquoise, a nut-stabilized meringue, is a useful tool to add to your cake making repertoire – it makes beautiful, tasty, and very stable thin layers to give structure to all sorts of tortes. Though I've called here for whiskey, use whatever booze you choose – brandy, scotch, bourbon, rum, or omit the booze entirely and use a little good vanilla instead. The filling is adapted from Nigella Lawson's Meringue Truffle Cake, a recipe which appears in her book Feast. The dacquoise formula is from On Baking: a Textbook of Baking and Pastry Fundamentals by Sarah Labensky et al.
Make the dacquoise base:
Preheat your oven to 350° F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper. Off center on each piece of parchment, trace a circle using the removable floor of your spring-form pan as a guide. Turn over the parchment, so as not to end up with marks on your finished dacquoise – the parchment will be translucent enough to see the circle.
Stir together 5½ oz sugar, cake flour and almond flour in a small bowl. Set aside.
Whip the liquid egg whites on medium speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until foamy (this can be done by hand with a balloon whisk if you are patient and need a workout). Add the remaining 4 oz of sugar to the bowl, and whip until the egg whites hold a firm peak. Gently fold in first the whiskey, then the flour mixture with a rubber spatula, doing your best not to deflate the foam you just built (especially if you did it by hand – why waste that much effort and arm pain?).
Transfer the mixture into your pastry bag, fitted with a medium tip. If you don't have a pastry bag, here's a link to nifty Instructable I found on how to improvise a sturdy one, or just use a gallon zipper bag with a tiny corner cut off*. Starting in the center of each of your traced circles, pipe the mixture in a spiral pattern toward the edge so as to make a solid disc (no gaps) about ¼" thick. This is easier than it sounds, I promise.
When you've piped your rounds, use the remaining mixture to pipe little dacquoise cookies, about the size of a quarter, onto the rest of the parchment, leaving at least ½" space between. These will be delicious and also useful later.
Put both sheets in the oven for about 30 minutes until done – they'll be light golden brown and crisp on the outside with a springy, yielding interior. If the cookies are cooking faster than the rounds, they can be peeled up and set aside to cool while the rounds finish.
Slide the parchment paper with the rounds and any cookies onto a wire rack to cool.
The dacquoise can be made up to a couple of days ahead of time – transfer to an airtight container once cool if you plan on holding it, being careful not to break your rounds.
When you are ready to make the filling, line the bottom of your spring-form pan with more parchment, and lightly oil the inside of the ring with the hazelnut or almond oil. Using a sharp knife or clean razor blade, trim the dacquoise rounds to just within the boundaries of the traced circle (they will have spread slightly in baking). Choose the nicer of the two circles – the one you managed not to break while you were trimming it – and transfer it to the lined spring-form pan bottom. Close the hinge of the pan gently around the base; you should now have a tight fit between the dacquoise and the ring.
Reserve the remaining dacquoise scraps for decoration.
Make the filling:
Mix the chocolate, whiskey and corn syrup in a bowl and nestle it over a pan of barely simmering water without touching the water's surface. When it's all melted, remove the bowl from the saucepan and let it cool for about 5 minutes.
Whisk the cream until slightly thickened - it should be slightly aerated and have the consistency of thick pouring custard, no thicker. Pour into the chocolate mixture and gently mix until well combined.
Pour the truffle mixture onto the dacquoise in the prepared spring-form pan. Tap gently on the counter-top to even out. Stretch a piece of plastic wrap over the top of the pan and chill at least overnight, and for up to two days.
Decorate the cake:
Remove the cake from the refrigerator while you prepare the decorations – it will unmold better if it's not ice-cold.
Take your less-perfect dacquoise circle and cut out a 3"X5" rectangular section, then slice that into some batons about 3 inches long – 5 or 6 nice ones will be plenty. Pick out your ten or twelve best cookies and cut them in half. Transfer the scraps, along with any cookies you feel like you can part with** into a gallon zip bag and brutalize them with a rolling pin until you've got a mass of irregular crumbs.
At this point, you can push the crumbs through a colander or large sieve in order to get more uniform crumbs, or just decide that you've given enough of your life to this cake already and skip that step
Release the hinge of your spring-form pan and carefully lift away the ring. Dust the top of the cake with cocoa powder. Transfer the cake, still on the pan bottom, to a turntable or inverted flat-bottomed bowl set atop a large sheet of parchment or cookie sheet. Grab a handful of dacquoise crumbs and gently press it to the sides of the cake, turning the cake as you go to coat it all the way around. The crumbs will stick easily to the gooey truffle filling. Your cookie sheet or parchment will catch the crumbs that fall away, which you can scoop up and re-use as you go.
Arrange your half-cookies as shown around the top of the cake, pressing them gently into the filling to stand them angled and on edge. Pile the cut dacquoise batons in the center of the cake artistically.
Slide the decorated cake off it's parchment and and onto your serving platter. Cut wedges with a knife dipped in warm water – each wedge should get a cookie. Serve. Allow yourself a small, quiet smile and bask in the adulation of your guests.
*please note – this will not work well at all, but it will at least serve to inspire you to buy a pastry bag and some tips for next time, and that's worth something, right?
**maybe they got a little too brown, huh? Maybe they're not very round, maybe they crumbled when you tried to cut them in half... they deserve what's coming to them.
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