Saturday, July 16, 2011

Chocolate Phantasmagoria

Wow, it has been a crazy week! Sorry for the gap between posts, but I needed a little down time - I have been making some fun things, though, so have some good recipes lined up. The first: Chocolate Phantasmagoria!

Need I say more? Really, the name of the recipe was pretty much the whole reason I wanted to make this cake (containing plenty of chocolate certainly didn't turn me against it, though!). A month or two back a colleague was recommending a cookbook to me - Death by Chocolate was its name, and it sounded like my kind of book. I jumped onto Amazon to check it out and realised it looked very familiar - I had spent many evening hours poring over it as a teenager desperate for dessert.

Generally back then the deal was if I wanted dessert I had to make it myself (actually, that hasn't really changed!). I wasn't a very adventurous cook so my family ate a lot of chocolate self-saucing pudding, the occasional crumble, and, if I was particularly committed to the cause and the lemon tree was feeling generous, lemon meringue pie. Just because I mostly stuck to classics didn't mean I didn't drool over the fancy stuff, though - I definitely spent a fair bit of time leafing through the pages of Death by Chocolate, looking in wonderment at the multi-page, multi-component recipes and imagining that no sane person would attempt such folly (but wishing I could eat the cake all the same).

Fast forward a number of years and I appear to have become the sort of person who makes these cakes - and without a better reason than being reminded of the book's existence and wanting to know if I can conquer the chocoholic delights within now I have a bit of experience under my belt.

We were in Christchurch a couple of weeks ago so I borrowed the book from Mum's collection and whisked it back to Wellington with me, to once again pore over its pages. The decision making process was a challenging one - the white and dark chocolate pistachio cake looks pretty appealing, and "Chocolate Demise" has a certain morbid allure - but the hazelnut butter filling in the Chocolate Phantasmagoria roped me in.

I am really impressed by the book, and if you want to thrill others with your chocolate creations I'd definitely recommend it. I found the indented text mildly annoying but that's a pretty minor irritation considering the number of useful tips. Techniques which are used in multiple recipes, like roasting hazelnuts, are covered in more detail at the back, and though I've toasted hazelnuts many times I learnt a new trick - putting a damp teatowel and a tray over the hot hazelnuts right after they come out of the oven and leaving them for a few minutes makes the skins come off much more easily. Useful to know!

The hazelnut butter is just the hazelnuts and a little butter - what could go wrong with that? You do need a food processor to make the hazelnut butter, but that's about as complex as the equipment requirements get. And like homemade peanut butter (or, my latest favourite, homemade almond butter with a little melted chocolate added, as recommended by Anita (thanks Anita!), which is like a very upmarket version of Nutella) it's also great on toast.

The cake itself is reasonably straightforward, and didn't take long to put together. I made a conversion error when choosing my cake tin and used one that was a little too large, which was fine, but it did make the cake thinner than I'd have liked.

It's quite a dense cake - very decadent - this is definitely a special occasion cake (is there such a thing as everyday cake?).

The method for ganache was also fantastic - again, great book! Unusually (from recipes I've used) the ganache had a little butter and sugar in it, but it wasn't at all too sweet - I used 72% dark chocolate (DGF Royal, which I get from Moore Wilson in 2kg boxes, but Lindt 70% or Whittakers Dark Ghana would be perfect too) so it was an intense, dark flavour.

The recipe called for the cream to be heated with the butter and sugar, and then poured over the chocolate, left for five minutes, and then stirred. The recipe is so precise as to suggest the type of bowl (stainless steel) and I followed it to the letter, with stunning results - it took very little stirring to turn the yellowed cream into a silky chocolate mass. Ganache can become aerated (i.e. bumpy and bubbly) if stirred too much so this is a great way to avoid that.

To assemble the cake is cut into layers, then each layer is spread with ganache and then hazelnut butter (with some chilling in between). Note that my cake is thinner than the recipe suggests, which a) made cutting the layers fiddlier; and b) made the layers of ganache and hazelnut butter thinner than they should have been too.

Getting a nice, smooth, crumb-free icing finish is one of those things which does take some practice, but there are also some tricks. Having a good thick icing is one; this ganache was perfect. Another is dumping all the icing on top at the beginning and working it out from the centre with a spatula - fiddling around the edges tends to lift crumbs off the cake and mix them into the icing, whereas pressing down and out from the centre keeps them under the icing.

When you get to the edges allow the icing to cave over the sides, and only spread it around the edges once you've pushed enough over the edge, if that makes sense. And having some chopped or flaked nuts on hand to press around the edges can hide flaws as well as glam it up a bit.

I went for a candied tamarillo decoration, though - and though my tamarillo slices were a bit on the chewy side for sitting atop a cake a little less cooking would have kept them softer and more befitting consumption by dessert fork.

As it turns out, the outside of the cake doesn't need to look impressive if you're serving it in slices - check out the lovely layers! And flavour-wise it seemed to hit the spot - truffley, nutty from the hazelnuts, dense, dark and decadent. I was skeptical that this cake would serve 12 but actually (and I wouldn't say this lightly, I do like my dessert!) you could probably stretch it to 14 if required. 

So what do you reckon? Does it look like it lives up to the name? Are you into multi-component desserts or do you prefer to keep it simple?

Chocolate Phantasmagoria (from Death by Chocolate, by Marcel Desaulniers)
Hazelnut Butter
450g hazelnuts
56g unsalted butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 170 degrees C.

Place hazelnuts on a tray and toast for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and cover with a damp cotton teatowel and another tray. After five minutes, take some of the nuts in a clean teatowel and rub vigorously to remove the skins. Repeat until all skin has been removed. Finely chop the nuts in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Add the butter and process until combined. Set aside.

Chocolate Cake
56g unsweetened chocolate, in small pieces
56g unsalted butter, softened
1 cup (142g) plus 1 teaspoon cake flour
1/4 cup (28g) unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 4 tablespoons (285g) tightly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
113ml water, boiling
170ml sour cream

Raise the oven temperature to 180 degrees C.

Heat 3cm of water in the bottom half of a double boiler over medium heat. Place the unsweetened chocolate in the top half of the double boiler. Tightly cover the top with gladwrap, heat for 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir until smooth.

Coat a 22cm cake tin with 1 teaspoon butter. Flour the pan with 1 teaspoon flour, shaking out the excess.

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt onto greaseproof paper.

Combine the brown sugar and butter and beat at low speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat on high for 1-1/2 minutes. Scrape again. Add 1 egg and beat on high for 15 seconds, scrape again. Add the remaining egg, beat on high for 15 seconds.

Scrape one more time. Beat on high for 2 minutes. Add the melted chocolate and the vanilla and beat on low for 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl one more time.

With the mixer on low, add a third of the sifted flour and half the sour cream and mix for another 30 seconds before removing the bowl from the mixer. Add another third of the flour and the remaining sour cream and mix for another 30 seconds. Add the remaining flour and the boiling water and beat again for 30 seconds. Finish mixing with a rubber spatula.

Spread cake batter evenly in the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool cake in the pan for 15 minutes at room temperature. Turn out onto a cooling rack and keep at room temperature until needed.

Chocolate Ganache
414ml cream
2 tablespoons caster sugar
40g butter
400g semisweet chocolate, in small pieces

Heat the cream, sugar and butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring the mixture just to a boil. Place the semisweet chocolate in a stainless steel bowl and pour the cream over the chocolate. Allow to stand for 5 minutes then stir until smooth. Keep at room temperature until ready to use.

To assemble:
Slice cake horizontally into 3 equal layers. Place a dab of ganache in the center of a cake circle. Place the top layer of the cake, cut side down, onto the circle, gently pressing down on the cake so that the ganache will hold it in place.

Place the center layer of the cake on a separate cake circle (or plate). Also place the bottom layer of the cake, cut side down on a third cake circle (or plate). Evenly spread 3/4 cup of the ganache over the top and center layers of the cake. Refrigerate these layers for 20 minutes.

Remove the 2 layers form the refrigerator and divide and spread the hazelnut butter over the ganache on both cake layers, spreading evenly to the edges. Refrigerate for 20 minutes. slide the ganached center layer onto the ganached top layer.

Slide the bottom layer onto ganached center layer. Pour the remaining ganache over the cake, spreading with a spatula to create an even coating of ganache on both the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate the cake for at least 2 hours before cutting and serving.

Cut the cake with a large knife, heating the blade of the knife under hot running water before making each slice. Allow the slices to come to room temperature for 30 to 40 minutes before serving.


  1. the precise measurements are making me laugh - 414 mL cream? 56 g butter? i guess it's not a problem if you've got / use scales but i prefer to not use them. for a recipe as amazing-looking as this though, maybe i would. your cake looks gorgeous and i love the candied tamarillos- nice to have some colour against all the chocolate.

  2. OMG I remember that boook! In fact I used to have it but in those days the preciseness of it meant that I never used it. I also used to drool and pour over the pages or delicious looking desserts. Now I may have to buy it again....besides it's free postage from at the moment... Megan

  3. I was also amused by 56g of butter. I guess you've been converting from pounds / ounces? I don't supposed it matters if it's 55 or 60.

  4. Oh my gosh, phantasmagoria indeed. This looks completely, completely gorgeous. I hardly ever make things like this but I love doing it - it's good to get stuck into a big cake project occasionally! That said I am not a big fan of hazelnuts - I bet walnuts would be a delicious replacement.

    I had to laugh when you apologised for not updating recently - I'm so envious of your ability to post so often as it is :)

  5. If you are looking for insanely amazing rich desserts- is amazing!!!

  6. Oh wow Rosa - this cake looks amazing. I always look at photos of yummy cakes, bookmark them for later and never actually make any. I'm too chicken to do so...cake with ganache or any type of icing frightens me! I want to sooo badly but alas, can't bear failure and disappointment. Drooling over photos like yours will have to suffice, for now. :)

  7. Georgi, it's because it's converted from imperial measurements. I'm sure it doesn't matter exactly but for a recipe like this I would recommend using scales, as the ingredients are reasonably pricey so it would be a shame for anything to go wrong!

    Megan, hehe, it is a good book! Funny how things can change over time. ;-)

    Sylvia, you're right - I'm sure small variances don't matter.

    Laura, walnuts would be great. Or (glory!) almonds.

    Morgan, thanks! Always looking for new recipes.

    Shirleen, give it a go! Even the mistakes taste good. ;-) But actually, I think you'd be surprised how easy most of this stuff is - and tasty at the end of the process!

    Makeitgiveit, oh, it was! ;-)

  8. Very special cake! Would be so impressive for a dinner party dessert. Loving the addition of the tamarillos

  9. Lovely looking cake. I use digital scales and often convert recipes, so the measurements didn't strike me as odd. I'm a multi-component girl, I love the fiddly bits and the different stages, and find it soothing and relaxing to put all the different bits together, very different from my day job. (I most recently made s'mores cupcakes, cinnamony wholemeal cupcakes, chocolate ganache, piped with marshmallow on top).

  10. What a name! sounds scary but looks delicious. Good tip about the hazelnuts - I use a dry teatowel but a damp one makes sense. Did you make the cake for an occasion or just for fun? I would only attempt a project like this if the occasion warranted it!

  11. Timeforalittlesomething, it'd be great at a dinner party - a little creme anglais on the side and everyone would be swooning!

    Annemarie, the smores cupcakes sound delicious. It's very satisfying to bring lots of components together, I think. :-)

    Libby, I made it just for fun - crazy I know! Well, and as a sort of unwind-from-work therapy. I guess I'm not very normal. ;-)


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