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 delicious treat I’ve had bookmarked for YEARS – and boy am I kicking myself for not trying it sooner! For no other reason that the mirror glaze. I mean, come on – just look at it! In fact, I can’t as the shine from it is so DAZZLING – let me go get my shades.
Today I had the pleasure of sharing a coffee and a chat with the delightful Brendan Lynch – a delicious treat in itself – and decided I would shamelessly recruit him as taste tester.
The Seven Veils of the title refers to the seven different layers of this cake. From the top they are:
- Chocolate mirror glaze
- Chocolate Bavarian Cream
- Chocolate Joconde Sponge
- Praline Bavarian Cream
- Chocolate Joconde Sponge
- Vanilla Bavarian Cream
- Chocolate Feuilletine crunch.
The cake layer is traditionally a Genoise, but I’ve chosen to switch it for a Joconde, as the ground almonds and teeny bit of butter make for a softer, more delicious texture to the sponge.
Feuilletine is flakes of wafer-thin biscuit that keeps its crunch when mixed with various patisserie items. It is available from online from Melbury and Appleton at a very reasonable £2.55 for 200g. Alternatively, I have found a recipe if you fancy trying to make it yourself (NB I haven’t tried the recipe). If you’re game, you can find it over at BraveTart here. The third alternative, which is what I did, is to crush up some Crepes Dentelles biscuits you have lying around – but then I happened to have grabbed some in France when we were on holiday in the summer. Still, those too are available at Melbury and Appleton for a slightly less reasonable £3.20 for 80g. If all else fails, crushed cornflakes make a great substitute for next to nothing.
Seven layers might sound daunting, but is really more an exercise in assembly than technical skill. The various components can be made over the course of several days and then brought together to assemble the day before the cake is required. In a cunning move worthy of a Professor of Cunning at Cunning University, the cake is assembled upside down and then frozen, to give a firm, smooth base for the glaze to dribble over. It can then just sit in the fridge until required. Actually, it is best served at room temperature, so take it out of the fridge about 2 hours before you intend to serve it.
I made this cake in a 20cm square, loose-bottomed tin, but you can make it in a circle, spring-form tin or even as a slab/tray-bake style. Having a tin does help to keep the edges of each layer neat and it also helps protect the cake whilst it’s in the freezer. Then again you can always trim the cake edges before pouring the glaze, if you prefer.
Seven Veils Cake
Chocolate crunch base
100g dark (70%) chocolate
50g feuilletine or crushed corn flakes
50g toasted, chopped hazelnuts
- Line the tin you’re going to use to build the cake with cling film.
- Blitz the hazelnuts in the food processor until they become a paste. (You’ll need more of this paste for the Praline Bavarian Cream, so maybe blitz all the hazelnuts together at once).
- Break the chocolate into pieces and melt.
- Stir in the hazelnut paste and the feuilletine.
- Press the mixture into the tin and smooth over. NB This layer should be no more than 5mm thick, otherwise it will be too chunky-monkey to cut easily.
- Fold over the clingfilm to cover.
- Put into the fridge to set
Chocolate Joconde sponge
I bake this in a single, half-sheet pan (30cm x 45cm) and the cut the sponge to size. You can use 2 or 3 round cake tins if you prefer, but make sure to bake for slightly less time.
90g egg whites, at room temperature
15g granulated sugar
112g ground almonds
112g icing sugar, sifted
3 large eggs
20g plain flour
20g cocoa powder
45g clarified butter, melted
- Preheat the oven to 220°C, 200°C Fan
- Line a 45cm x 30cm (half sheet) baking tray with baking parchment and brush with the melted butter.
- Make the Joconde sponge:
- Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks.
- Add the granulated sugar and continue whisking until stiff peaks are formed.
- Scrape the meringue mixture into a bowl and cover with cling film to prevent the meringue collapsing.
- Beat the almonds, icing sugar and eggs in the bowl for 5 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Turn the speed down to low and mix in the flour and cocoa powder.
- Gently fold in the meringue mixture using a large spatula.
- Put the melted butter in a small bowl and mix in a cupful of the sponge batter. Pour this back into the mixing bowl and gently fold into the rest of batter.
- Pour the batter into the prepared baking tin, spreading it smooth and into the corners ensuring it is level. An offset spatula is useful for this.
- Bake for 5-7 minutes, until the sponge is cooked and springy to the touch and has shrunk away from the edges of the pan.
- Turn out by covering the sponge with a sheet of parchment then flip the baking tray over onto the work surface. Peel off the parchment and lay it lightly on top of the sponge. Leave to cool.
Bavarian cream is basically a custard with added gelatine, with flavourings and cream folded through. If you want to break down the process because of lack of time, it can be made in two parts. The first part is the custard base, the second adding the flavourings and gelatine when ready to construct the cake. If you do this, then warm the custard slightly before trying to stir in the soaked gelatine.
2 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 leaves (8g) gelatine
650ml double cream
100g dark (70%) chocolate
100g toasted, chopped hazelnuts – blitzed to powder/paste
- Soak the gelatine in water to cover for 10 minutes.
- Heat the sugar and the milk until almost boiling.
- Whisk the cornflour, vanilla and egg yolks together, then gradually whisk in the sweetened milk.
- Return the mixture to the heat and continue heating and stirring until thickened.
- Remove custard from the heat.
- Drain the gelatine and stir into the warm custard until fully dissolved.
- Cover with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming.
Chocolate Bavarian Cream: To one third of the above custard, stir in 100g dark (70%) melted chocolate, then fold through 250ml whipped double cream.
Praline Bavarian Cream: To half of the remaining custard, stir in the hazelnut powder/paste and fold through 250ml whipped double cream.
Vanilla Bavarian Cream: Fold through 150ml whipped double cream.
Simple Syrup: Dissolve 75g of sugar in 150ml water.
To Assemble The Cake
- Remove the feuilletine base from the tin and set aside.
- Line the tin with cling film over the bottom and the sides.
- Pipe the chocolate Bavarian cream into the base of the cake and smooth over.
- Add a layer of Joconde sponge, cut to size.
- Soak the sponge with the simple syrup. This will ensure each mouthful is moist and tender.
- Pipe the Praline Bavarian Cream and smooth over.
- Add a layer of Joconde sponge, cut to size.
- Soak the sponge with the simple syrup.
- Pipe the Vanilla Bavarian Cream and smooth over.
- Unwrap the feuilletine layer and press it, upside-down, into the cream.
- Cover the cake with cling film and put into the freezer for a minimum of 8 hours.
- 12 hours before you wish to serve the cake, make and glaze it with the chocolate mirror glaze.
Chocolate Mirror Glaze
4 leaves (8g) gelatine
150ml double cream
225g granulated sugar
75g cocoa powder
- Cut the gelatine into small pieces and soak in water to cover.
- 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 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.
- 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. Now it is time to glaze the cake.
Glazing the Cake
- Remove the cake from the freezer and turn out.
- Cover the removable base of the tin (if you have one) with a double layer of foil and place it under the base of the frozen cake. This foil layer will be useful when you need to transfer your cake to your presentation plate.
- Put the cake onto a wire rack, and balance the rack on the rim of a large bowl. The bowl must be big enough to catch the excess glaze as it drips off the sides of the cake.
- Pour the glaze onto the middle of the cake. It will run easily over the frozen cream and start dripping off the sides.
- Move the pan around so that the sides are fully covered.
- There is more than enough glaze to cover the cake. The excess in the bowl underneath can be stored in the fridge for other uses.
- Once the glaze has stopped dripping, move the cake to the refrigerator and leave overnight.
- Remove the cake 2 hours before required to allow it to come to room temperature and the creams to soften.