The recipe I have for you this week is more a set of guidelines that can be adapted to whatever takes your fancy or whatever you have to hand in the cupboards.
These individual cakes were inspired by a picture I saw of a Swiss cake, the Zuger Kirchetorte, which looked delightfully neat and elegant, as one might expect of the Swiss. I tried several recipes, but became increasingly frustrated by my own ham-fistedness in reproducing the elegance: the sponge was too thick, or the meringue too thin, or too soft or too fragile. In addition, it had a LOT of alcohol in it, which is nice for a special occasion but a bit much during daylight hours.
So I abandoned that idea for something smaller, which owes its composition to the Zuger Kirchetorte, but is also much more adaptable: you can dress it up or down, depending on whatever is to hand, even improvise with ready-made components if time or patience is short.
Essentially, these individually-sized cakes are sandwiches, with a dacquoise (hazelnut meringue) as the ‘bread’ and sponge cake as the ‘filling’, all stuck together and decorated with the sandwich ‘glue’ of your choice. The look substantial, but are very light to eat.
The possibilities for variation are endless:
- Meringue: I’ve used a hazelnut dacquoise but you could swap those out for pistachios, almonds, walnuts, cashews, macadamia nuts. You could even use plain meringue, or meringue shells from the supermarket. Alongside this, you can choose to flavour the meringues by adding in freeze-dried fruit powder to complement your other ingredients.
- Sponge: literally any sponge will do, plain vanilla, rich madeira, moist almond, fatless, genoise, joconde, flavoured however you like.
- Syrup: to make your sponge luscious and tender, you can soak it in a syrup of some kind. If you don’t want to have too many flavours, then a simple sugar syrup of half sugar, half water is fine. Or you can add flavouring to the syrup such as coffee, tea infusions, fruit juices, spirits such as Kirch, Maraschino, Disaronno, mead, madeira, rum, brandy, etc.
- Filling: I’ve used a dark chocolate ganache, to be honest, because I had some in the fridge left over from something else, but milk, white and caramelised are all good choices too, as are all flavours of buttercream. For simplicity, you can also use chocolate hazelnut spread, peanut butter (smooth or crunchy), spekuloos spread, even thick, smooth jams or fruit spreads.
- Garnish: for the outsides of the cake, something that will stick on easily and match your other flavour choices. I chose nibbed and toasted hazelnuts, because I used them in the dacquoise, but you could use flaked or slivered nuts, feuilletine, crumbled biscuits, freeze-dried fruit, chocolate sprinkles, meringue crumbs, chocolate shards.
I used baking rings made from small tinned food tins (5cm diameter tins from mushy peas, in case you’re wondering) opened at both ends, but these quantities will also make one large, 24cm cake if you prefer.
Dacquoise Sandwich Cakes
Makes 8 individual sandwiches or 1 large 24cm cake.
For the Sponge
You can choose your own favourite sponge recipe if preferred. This fatless sponge recipe also happens to be gluten-free.
2 large eggs
60 g of caster sugar
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp hot water
50 g Green & Black’s cocoa
30 g of cornflour
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Grease and line your tin(s) with baking parchment. Butter the parchment.
- Sift the cocoa and cornflour together.
- Whisk the eggs, sugar, water and salt together over a saucepan of hot water for 3-4 minutes, until light and frothy.
- Remove from the heat and whisk until billowy and increased in volume (about 5 minutes).
- Gradually fold in half the cocoa and cornflour, then add the remainder and fold in.
- Transfer to your tin(s), filling each about half-way.
- Bake for 10-15 minutes (20-25 minutes for a large cake) until firm and springy and slightly shrunk from the sides.
- Cool on a wire rack.
For the Dacquoise
You can grind the hazelnuts finer, but I like the texture the slightly larger pieces give.
2 large eggwhites (80ml)
2 tbsp caster sugar
2 tbsp icing sugar
1 tbs cornflour
60 g chopped, toasted hazelnuts
- Turn the oven to 120°C, 100°C Fan.
- Draw 16 circles using your baking rings as a guide onto a sheet of parchment, 2 for each sandwich.
- Turn the paper over and lay onto a baking sheet.
- Whisk the egg-whites to soft peaks, then sprinkle in the caster sugar and whisk until the meringue is firm and glossy.
- Sift the icing sugar and cornflour together and fold into the meringue.
- Sprinkle in the nuts and briefly mix.
- Spoon the dacquoise onto the prepared baking parchment and spread into the marked circles. Make sure it at least reaches the edges of the circles. It doesn’t have to be too accurate, as they can be trimmed after baking. Smooth over.
- Bake for 1 hour.
- Switch off the oven and allow the meringues to cool in the oven for 15 minutes, then prop the oven door open and allow to cool completely.
- When cold, remove from the parchment and store in a ziplock bag until required.
For the Ganache
300g plain dark chocolate
150ml double cream
- Chop the chocolate into small pieces.
- Pour the cream into a small pan and bring to a boil.
- Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and set aside for 5 minutes.
- Stir gently with a whisk until the chocolate is fully melted and the ganache smooth and glossy.
For the syrup
50g caster sugar
flavouring to suit
- Put the sugar and water into a small pan and stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved.
- Add any flavouring to taste.
- Select the eight meringues with the smoothest bases and set aside. These will be used for the top of the sandwiches, for a neat finish.
- Put the remaining meringues on a tray and spoon over a layer of ganache.
- Trim the cakes level and set onto the ganache.
- Soak with the sugar syrup. It’s almost impossible to use too little. You can see from the photograph the syrup I used only soaked a little way into the sponge, so more is better.
- Add a second layer of ganache.
- Add the remaining meringues, turning them upside down, so that the smooth bases are uppermost.
- Sprinkle your decor into a tray.
- Spread the remaining ganache in a smooth layer around the sides of the sandwiches then roll in your chosen decoration. Set aside. If you’ve made one large cake, then hold your cake on one hand and lift up handfuls of your decoration and press into the sides.
- When all the sandwiches are coated, transfer to a dish and cover with clingfilm. This will keep the meringues from absorbing too much moisture.
- Chill in the fridge for at least 3 hours to firm up.
- When ready to serve, dust the tops liberally with icing sugar and use a hot skewer to caramelise the sugar in an abstract design.
Week 5 of Festive Food and it’s a full-on chocolate fiesta, because what is Christmas without some chocolate? A dang-poor Christmas, that’s what it is!
For years, I have resisted making Brownies, because the last time I’d tasted them, they didn’t strike me as anything special. Of course, this was 1987 and I seem to recall that vegetable oil featured rather heavily, so all in all, no wonder.
So I decided to turn my rehabilitation eye on the humble brownie and force it to raise its game by using top quality ingredients and adding a bit of elegance to its appearance.
What I’ve got for you here is the culinary opposite of those shabby specimens of almost 3 decades ago: it is a multi-layered extravaganza of dark 70% chocolate, real cocoa, fresh butter, rich praline, and creamy milk chocolate. Like Cinderella, humble beginnings have been primped and tweaked and slathered in more bells and whistles than a whole troupe of Morris Men (wack-fol-a-diddle-di-do-sing-too-rah-li-ay!).
I’ve made many versions over the past few weeks, but like some glorious cocoa-based Pokemon, THIS is it’s final form.
FIVE layers – yes, FIVE! Go on, count them! – of indulgence, the textures getting lighter and more luscious as they get higher and higher: from crisp chocolate crunch shortbread, though rich brownie, creamy praline ganache, ethereally light milk-chocolate Chantilly cream and finally, to be topped with shower of real chocolate sprinkles! If you wanted to go all-out, I guess you COULD add a dusting of pure cocoa powder, but that seems a little over-the-top if you arsks me….
If you’re starting to panic about how complicated this all is, stop. It’s not. Yes, there are five layers, but you don’t HAVE to make all of them. The brownie by itself is pretty amazing. Add one or two of the other layers, and it’s a real winner. Pick and choose what you want to make – your kitchen, your rules.
This is a 2-day recipe, so don’t think everything has to be done in one go. The bottom two layers are baked in the same tin, one on top of the other, and the ganache is then poured on top – the first three layers all neatly contained in a single tin – no mess, no fuss. The only other thing to do on the first day is to melt some chocolate in cream. So you end up with just 2 items in the fridge. Simples!
It’s a what-I-call Lego™ recipe, with bits taken from here and there and stuck together to make something new. Bonus: each layer is delicious just on its own:
- Chocolate crunch base – makes fabulously crisp biscuits.
- Brownie – bakes in 15 minutes for a speedy dessert – serve with cream!
- Praline Ganache – once cooled, can be rolled into decadent truffles and tossed in cocoa.
- Milk chocolate chantilly – with just 2 ingredients and a little planning ahead, the easiest dessert of all.
- Real chocolate sprinkles – delicious on bread and butter for breakfast.
You need to start it the day before it is required, because the ganache and the Chantilly must chill overnight in the fridge. Apart from that, it’s very straightforward.
WARNING: This makes a SLAB of brownie, and due to its richness, serves up to 20. If you’re not wanting such a huge quantity, even though it will last for several days over the festive season, consider scaling the recipe down. Also, if you’re thinking this could be regarded as a serving for 1 (which, technically, I suppose it could be), for the sake of your arteries, consider scaling the recipe down!
I make this a pan of dimensions 24cm x 32cm x 4cm. If you haven’t got a tin exactly the same, then just go with what you have – smaller and deeper – or even two small tins – is better, to keep the ganache from overflowing.
Chocolate Biscuit Base
This is a crumbly, buttery shortbread, but with added feuilletine and ground almonds for two different yet complimentary crunch textures. If you don’t have any feuilletine, use a few crushed crepes dentelles or cornflakes.
135g butter – softened
45g icing sugar
25g ground almonds
25g feuilletine 
- Line your tin with baking parchment. Leave the edges quite long, so that they stick up well above the sides of the tin.
- Mix the softened butter, sugar, salt, flour, cocoa and ground almonds in a bowl until well combined.
- Lightly stir in the feuilletine. Try to keep the pieces a reasonable size, so that they can still be discerned in the cooked biscuit.
- Turn out the mixture onto parchment and lay some clingfilm over the top.
- Roll the mixture out to fit your tin. The overall thickness should be between 5-8mm thick. You might find it easier to roll this out onto the baking parchment from the tin, then you’ll know exactly where to trim/patch.
- Prick all over with a fork (to keep it from blistering) and place in the freezer to harden for between 15 and 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C, 160°C Fan.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes and then set aside to cool. The biscuit will be mostly cooked, and will finish off as the brownie mixture bakes.
Rich Chocolate Brownie
100 g egg yolks (5 large)
125 g caster sugar (to mix with the yolks)
120 g of egg white (3 large)
120 g caster sugar (to mix with the white)
15 g of cocoa powder
60g chopped walnuts (or pecans).
220 g of dark chocolate (I used 70% )
120 g unsalted butter
- Increase the oven heat to 200°C, 180°C Fan.
- Mix the egg yolks and sugar until very light and fluffy (10 mins-ish).
- Meanwhile melt butter and chocolate. Set aside to cool a little.
- Beat the egg whites until frothy, then gradually whisk in the sugar and beat until stiff peaks.
- Gently fold in the whipped egg whites with the whisked yolks. NB Use a balloon whisk for this – it’s more effective and doesn’t knock out as much air as a spoon or spatula.
- Fold in the butter/chocolate mixture.
- Fold in the walnuts.
- Fold in the flour and cocoa powder.
- When thoroughly combined, pour onto the biscuit base in the baking tin.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes (depending on how baked you like your brownie to be – I went for 20 minutes, because I like a cakey cake rather than a gooey cake).
- Set aside to cool in the tin.
100g unblanched almonds )
100g caster sugar ) for the praline paste.
You CAN buy praline paste ready made, but it’s generally made with hazelnuts and is therefore not as delicate a flavour as a purely almond praline paste.
115g praline paste
345ml double cream
285g dark 60-70% chocolate
2tsp vanilla extract (optional).
- Make the praline paste, or see footnote  below:
- Put the almonds on a baking sheet and put in the oven.
- Turn the heat to 160°C, 140°C Fan and let the nuts toast for 15-20 minutes.
- Put the sugar into a pan over medium heat. Allow the sugar to melt and become golden brown. NB Do not stir, as this will cause the sugar to crystallise. Swirl the sugar around the pan.
- Put the toasted nuts onto some baking parchment or a silicone mat, and pour the caramel over them.
- Leave to cool.
- Cut the praline into pieces and blitz it in a food processor to ‘breadcrumbs’.
- Keep the machine running and eventually (5 minutes or so) it will turn into a paste, as the oil in the nuts is released.
- Weigh out the quantity you need. Any remainder will keep very well in a sealed box.
- Chop the chocolate and add to the praline paste in a bowl.
- Heat the cream to just below boiling point and pour onto the chocolate.
- Leave for 5 minutes. This waiting time allows the heat of the cream to act on the chocolate and allows it to melt gradually. Vigorous stirring immediately after adding the cream will just create and trap air bubbles and spoil the finish of the ganache.
- Slowly stir in one direction only to ensure fully melted and combined.
- Stir in the vanilla, if using.
- Pour onto the cooled brownie in the tin. It will have sunk a little in the middle as it cooled, but I like also to press the edges down a little, so that the ganache sets as an even layer across the whole brownie. Just press the raised edges gently with the flat of your hand until the surface seems level., then pour over the liquid ganache.
- If you’re having the ganache as the final topping – and it does set to a beautifully glossy finish, you’ll want to try and get rid of as many of the air bubbles as possible, so that the surface is smooth and shiny. To do this, lift the tin about 10cm off the kitchen counter and drop it onto the worktop. Repeat 3 or 4 times. You will see the bubbles rise and burst through the ganache. This dropping will also help level out the ganache. You can also jiggle the tin from side to side to ensure the ganache has got into all the nooks and crannies.
- Allow to cool on the side, before covering lightly with foil and putting it in the fridge to set. If it’s still warm when you cover it, you run the risk of droplets of condensation falling onto the ganache. Clingfilm is an acceptable alternative to foil, if you can ensure it doesn’t touch the ganache, as this would spoil the mirror finish.
Milk Chocolate Chantilly
This is a fabulous concoction to have up your sleeve. Once prepared, it has the texture of mousse, but without the fuss of either gelatine or whipped (raw) egg-whites. Great for vegetarians!
400ml whipping cream
200g Milka milk chocolate
- Chop the chocolate into small pieces and put into a bowl.
- Heat the cream until just below boiling point and pour onto the chocolate.
- Leave for 5 minutes.
- Slowly stir in one direction only to ensure fully melted and combined.
- To ensure that the cream and chocolate are fully combined, you can, while the mixture is still hot, BRIEFLY whisk it with an immersion blender – no more than 4 or 5 quick pulses.
- Allow to cool.
- Cover the bowl with cling film and chill in the fridge overnight.
You can, of course, serve this as a traybake, with or without the chantilly cream, but it is so rich, and looks so pretty when you can see all the layers, I really recommend portioning it out neatly in either squares or fingers.
- Remove the tin of brownie from the fridge. The Ganache will have set to a lovely smooth and shiny finish.
- Take hold of the parchment and lift the whole thing out of the tin and set it on the work surface.
- Slowly peel the parchment away from the sides.
- Cut up the brownie. This might seem a little over the top, to have a section devoted to cutting up a tray bake, but having gone to so much effort, a little care to ensure beautifully smooth slices like the one in the picture is time well spent.
- Have a large, sharp, smooth knife to hand. A serrated knife won’t give you the sleek, smooth edge required.
- Also have a jug of very hot water and a clean tea towel.
- Have a board/serving dish for the slices of brownie, and a side plate for the offcuts and trimmings.
- Hold the blade of the knife in the hot water for a few seconds, to heat up. This will allow it to cut through the ganache cleanly.
- Dry the blade thoroughly with the tea towel.
- In one smooth movement, trim one of the short sides of the slab, to reveal the layers.
- Put the trimmings on the side plate.
- Wash the knife blade clean. This removes all crumbs and traces of ganache, which would spoil the clean cut surface the next time you made a cut.
- Repeat – heating/drying/cutting/washing the blade clean – until all four sides have been trimmed.
- Divide the trimmed brownie slab into fingers. My suggestion is for fingers no larger than 10cm x 3cm.
- Carefully place each cut slice onto the board/serving dish.
- Remember to clean your blade after each cut, and every serving will be perfect.
- Prepare the milk chocolate Chantilly cream by whipping it with either a stand mixer fitted with a balloon whisk, or a hand mixer. The setting power of the milk chocolate means that the cream will hold its shape like whipped double cream, but be altogether lighter. NB Be careful not to over-whip the cream – it will take only 1-2 minutes of whisking to thicken up.
- Pipe the cream onto your brownie slices. For the pattern in the picture, I used a piping bag fitted with a 1.5cm plain nozzle to form ‘kisses’ in rows. Feel free to choose both a different piping tip and pattern.
- Sprinkle real chocolate sprinkles over the top to finish.
 http://www.souschef.co.uk is a great online resource for praline paste, feuilletine etc.
Here’s a very indulgent treat, just in time for Mothers Day.
I’m really rather pleased with the star of the recipe, the banana ganache. Looking at other online recipes, people SAY it’s banana ganache, but when you click on it, you find they’ve mixed it with chocolate or fruit or caramel or rum. Not that any of those aren’t delicious combinations, but I wanted something that captured the pure flavour of fresh banana, and here it is. Of course, as can be seen from the picture, I then proceeded to pour it ONTO chocolate and then slather it IN chocolate, but the ganache itself is wonderfully unadulterated and fresh-tasting.
This is one of my, what I like to call, Lego™ recipes. I take a brick from this recipe, and a brick from that recipe and click them together with some new bits and bobs to make a new recipe. In this case I’ve taken the mirror glaze recipe from the Sicilian Seven Veils Cake, and the chocolate pastry from the Midnight Meringue to make this very rich and delicious dessert. If you have some Crepes Dentelles biscuits, you could make the base out of the Feuilletine recipe (also from the Sicilian Seven Veils Cake) for a quick, no-bake recipe, or go cheap and cheerful with either cornflakes or rice crispies mixed with melted chocolate.
I’ve used a nifty trick to make individual servings by making a thin tray-bake and then using a flower-shaped pastry/biscuit cutter to cut out the un-glazed-but-set ganache. The mirror glaze is then poured over the top and makes for a seamless and wonderfully glossy finish.
I’m hoping some of you might try this for Mothers Day, but you can just as easily keep everything simple as a tray-bake. Another alternative is to use just the ganache either dipped in tempered chocolate or rolled in either cocoa or dessicated coconut to make bite-sized truffles. You could also use the ganache in/on a cake, but plan ahead, because it does need several hours in the fridge to firm up before it is spreadable.
Banana Ganache Tart
100g plain flour
15g cocoa powder
60g caster sugar
60g unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 tbsp milk
- Preheat the oven to 200°C 180°C Fan.
- Grease and line with parchment a rectangular baking tin. You want something quite large, so the pastry and ganache layers will be thin. I used a roasting tin of dimensions 20cm x 30cm. If you’re not going to cut individual portions, a 24cm loose-bottom, spring-form cake tin is another option.
- In a food processor, mix flour, cocoa and sugar.
- Add butter, cut in small cubes. Blitz.
- Add the tablespoon of milk and blend again until mixture resembles coarse, damp sand.
- Press the mixture into the base of your tin. Keep the layer thin – no more than 5mm before baking – otherwise it becomes to clunky for a delicate dessert.
- Prick the pastry thoroughly with a fork and bake for 10 minutes.
- Check pastry for done-ness (always a little tricky with chocolate pastry, but it will be firm to the touch and have shrunk from the sides a little when filly baked). Return to the oven until fully baked if necessary.
- Allow the pastry to cool in the tin on a wire rack.
275g banana – about 3 ripe bananas
25ml syrup 
140ml double cream
400g white chocolate
45g unsalted butter
- Mash the bananas to a smooth puree. I’ve found the best way is to break them into pieces and then use an immersion/stick blender to get rid of all lumps. Alternatively, mash them by hand then pass through a sieve.
- Put the banana puree, syrup and cream into a small pan.
- Break the chocolate into pieces and put into a bowl.
- Bring the puree mixture to a boil, stirring continuously, then pour over the chocolate.
- Leave for 5 minutes to melt.
- Stir gently until thoroughly combined. Set aside to cool
- When the banana mixture has cooled to 35°C add the cubed butter and use the immersion/stick blender again to whisk it in. The combination of the butter and the vigorous whisking will help to emulsify and thicken the ganache.
- If making the tarts/tray-bake, pour the ganache over the chocolate base and set aside to cool. Cover lightly with a flat sheet of parchment only – using plastic film at this point will trap condensation which will then drip onto your ganache – ew.
- When completely cold, cover with film and chill in the fridge.
Chocolate Mirror Glaze
4 leaves (8g) gelatine
150ml double cream
225g granulated sugar
75g cocoa powder
NB If you’re making the tray-bake, halve these quantities. If glazing individual tartlet portions, you’ll need the full quantity.
- Soak the gelatine in plenty of cold water. I leave the sheets whole, as it is easier both to fish them out of the water and to shake off the excess water from them once hydrated.
- Put the rest of the ingredients into a saucepan and heat gently, stirring, to dissolve the sugar.
- Continue stirring and, once the sugar is dissolved, bring to the boil.
- Simmer for 3-4 minutes, until the mixture reaches a temperature of about 104°C.
- Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool for 5 minutes. Keep stirring as the base of the pan will still be very hot and might burn the mixture. If you’re glazing individual tartlets, pour the mixture into a jug and prepare your tartlets (see below).
- Leave to cool until the mixture reaches 50°C, then drain the gelatine and stir into the mixture until it is fully dissolved.
- Let the mixture cool further until just 35°C and is beginning to thicken and set.
- If you’re making the tray bake, pour the glaze over the cooled and chilled ganache and leave to set. Chill in the fridge. Otherwise, see below:
- Glazing individual tarts
- Select an appropriately-sized cutter. I used a flower-shaped cutter of diameter 8cm. Other shapes might include hearts or stars. This might sound small, but as already stated, the ganache is very rich, and anything larger is going to push the portion size toward sickly.
- Grease the cutter, inside and out, with a non-flavoured oil. Almond oil is very mild, personally I used grape-seed oil. The ganache is very sticky and the oil will help the cutter pass easily through and, more importantly, help it pass easily out again. NB: Be sure to clean and re-oil the cutter after each use.
- Use the cutter to cut out shapes and move them to a wire rack. Make sure they are evenly spaced out on the rack as this is where they will be glazed. If the cut tartlets are reluctant to come out of the cutter, run the point of a sharp knife around the edge of the cutter from the underside.
- If the glaze is still too warm, put the rack into the freezer to firm up the tartlets.
- When the glaze has cooled enough to pour, put the wire rack with the tartlets over a bowl wide enough to catch all the drips.
- Slowly pour the glaze over the tarts one at a time. Pour onto the centre of the tart and the glaze will spread smoothly across the surface and down the sides. Don’t rush this. If you have to go back and ‘patch’, then the glaze will not be smooth. It is better to glaze 3 or 4 tarts perfectly first time, than glaze them all in one go but have to go back and patch up the missed bits.
- The glaze that drips through the rack into the bowl can be re-used, provided it is done at once, before it has cooled too much. Set the rack aside and scrape the glaze back into the jug. Replace the rack over the bowl and continue glazing.
- Allow the glaze to cool, and chill thoroughly in the fridge until required.
 I used maple syrup because I had some, but any liquid sugar will do – honey, golden syrup, agave, etc.