Saturday, March 03, 2007

Death By Chocolate

the preface by John Ballinger

Brad Parker was sitting in his bookshop in Williamsburg, Virginia, examining a copy of the 1511 edition of Vitruvius that someone had offered to sell him, when he glanced up to see Antoine Rustermann standing in the doorway of Parker's rare books.

"Come quickly," he said to Bra and then ran across the small brick patio that separated the bookshop from Rustermann's restaurant. Brad had never seen Antoine so upset and quickly followed.

Brad found Antoine in the restaurant's garden room, next to a table where the eminent rare-book dealer, Antonio Raimo, sat slumped forward, his head on the table, the victim of an apparent heart attack.

Brad rushed over and felt in vain for a pulse. "Did the waiter present Mr. Raimo with the bill?" Brad asked.

"No, we were just having dessert," Jennifer Raimo, Tony's wife, answered.

"Death By Chocolate," said Antoine in a dazed monotone. It was the first time Brad noticed how suspiciously thin and fit Antoine was for a world-class chef.

"That was what Tony ordered," Jennifer explained. "He's not much around the kitchen, and he tried in vain for the last two months to make the dessert from a recipe in the Death By Chocolate cookbook. Seeing a slice of it perfectly prepared was apparently too much for his system."

"We'll have to rule out poison," Brad said, wrestling the fork from Raimo's clenched fist. "I'd better have a taste."

"I'll help," Jennifer replied.

Charles Cadbury, the homicide detective, came five minutes later.

"What happened here?" he asked.

"Death By Chocolate," Antoine replied.

But, by then, the evidence had disappeared.

Don't let this recipe overwhelm you. Like a great many of the finest desserts, think of this as a series of separate, discrete tasks which can be spread out to avoid overload. Day 1: Prepare the chocolate brownie, and keep refrigerated until the cake assembly. Day 2: Bake the cocoa meringue, and store in a dry place at room temperature. Prepare the Mocha Rum Sauce, refrigerate until 2 hours before service, then bring to room temperature. Day 3: Prepare the chocolate mousse (which must be refrigerated a minimum of 2 hours before assembling the cake), mocha mousse, and ganache, then assemble the cake and graciously accept your accolades. For this serving I combined days one and two, but for our purposes here I will approach the recipe on a day by day basis. I am saving the bad news for the very last.

Day One: Chocolate Brownie Ingredients

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken small
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken small
3 eggs
1 cup baker's sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup sour cream

Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt onto a piece of waxed paper and set aside.

Melt the chocolates and butter by placing them in the microwave (use a bowl that won't blow shit up) on high for 30 seconds, then stir, and use intervals of 10 seconds until smooth and glossy.

Place the eggs, sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the balloon whip. Mix on high until slightly thickened (about 90 seconds). Add the melted chocolate and mix on medium for another 30 seconds. Add the sifted ingredients and mix on low for 10 seconds, increase to medium speed and mix for 10 seconds, add the sour cream and mix on medium until fully blended. (about 20 more seconds)

Turn the batter out into a buttered and floured 9-by-1 1/2" cake pan and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. (this particular brownie recipe is so loaded with chocolate and fudgy decadence that you'll never pass the clean toothpick test just know that 30 minutes will do the trick) Cool on a rack in the pan for 5 minutes, turn out onto a cake circle. After about 30 minutes it should be cool enough to slice horizontally. Wrap each brownie round closely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the morning of the assembly. First thing on the morning of the third day, take the brownie rounds out of the frige and allow them to come to room temperature.

(if you bake this in an 8" square pan it makes the best brownies in the world. the moist texture makes them perfect for shipping to friends but i prefer to bake them at home and use them as lures for company)

See? Day 1 wasn't all that tough now was it?

Day Two: Cocoa Meringue & Mocha Rum Sauce

Cocoa Meringue Ingredients

4 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1 & 1/4 cups baker's sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, sifted
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Preheat over to 225°. Using a 9" cake round as a guide, trace a circle on a sheet of parchment paper cut to fit a baking sheet. Place this with the pencil marks down on the baking sheet.

Put the 4 egg whites, the cream of tartar, and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the balloon whip. Beat on high until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1 cup of the sugar while continuing to whip on high. Keep mixing until stiff peaks form (shouldn't take more than two minutes). Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to fold in and thoroughly combine the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of sifted cocoa, and the cornstarch. Fill an untipped pastry bag with the meringue and pipe a 3/4" wide spiral towards the outside of the circle.

Bake at 225° for 15 minutes. Lower the temperature to 200° for 2 hours and 45 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack and allow to cool for a full hour before handling. When thoroughly cooled cover loosely with plastic wrap and store at room temperature somewhere safe (beware having your meringue dented by passing fingers i usually avoid the whole temptation thing by putting it up high in the pantry).

Mocha Rum Sauce

6 ounces unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups baker's sugar
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
8 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, sifted
3 tablespoons Havana Club® rum (sue me, the commies make the best hootch, but you can substitute Meyer's or Mount Gay if you don't know a smuggler)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 teaspoons instant coffee
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Heat the butter in a heavy 2 1/2 quart saucepan over medium heat. When melted, add the sugar, heavy cream, sifted cocoa, 2 tablespoons of the rum, and salt. Stir with a whisk to combine all smoothly. Bring this to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and allow to simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes, stirring occaisionally. Remove from the heat and whisk in the instant coffee, vanilla extract, and the remaining tablespoon of rum, and stir until smooth. Put this in a tightly closed container and refrigerate until the next day, allow to come to room temperature before you assemble the cake.

Day two wasn't all that tough either was it?

Day Three: Chocolate Mousse, Mocha Mousse, Chocolate Ganache and ultimate assembly

Hint Don't forget to take the brownie rounds, and the Mocha Rum Sauce out of the refrigerator now. You want them both at room temperature when you assemble this beauty.

Chocolate Mousse Ingredients

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate broken small
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 egg whites
2 tablespoons baker's sugar

Use the microwave technique to melt the chocolate until smooth and glossy.

Put the heavy cream in the well-chilled bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the well-chilled balloon whip (putting them in the freezer for half an hour does the job nicely) and beat on high about a minute until soft peaks form.

Whisk the egg whites in a large stainless steel bowl until soft peaks form. Add the 2 tablespoons of sugar and continue to whisk until stiff. Add about a quarter of the whipped cream to the chocolate and whisk quickly to thoroughly incorporate. Fold this into the egg whites. Then fold the remaining whipped cream gently into that. Cover closely with plastic wrap (Press'n'Seal® simply rocks for this) and refrigerate until cake assembly. *note* at least two hours, three is better, four is perfect.

Mocha Mousse Ingredients

14 ounces bittersweet chocolate busted up
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate busted up
1/2 cup water
4 tablespoons instant coffee
2 tablespoons sifted cocoa
5 egg whites
2 tablespoons baker's sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream

Time to break out the double boiler now, heat about 1 1/2" water over medium high heat in the bottom and put the chocolates, the water, the instant coffee and cocoa in the top half. Cover tightly and let heat for 6 to 7 minutes, uncover and stir until smooth.

Put the egg whites in the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the balloon whip. Whip on high until soft peaks form, then, while still mixing, gradually add the two tablespoons of baker's sugar. Continue on high until stiff peaks form.

Whip the cream by hand in a chilled bowl until stiff. Fold about a quarter of the egg whites into the melted chocolate mix, then fold into the whipped cream. Now fold the remaining egg whites in gently until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

Chocolate Ganache Ingredients

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
22 ounces bittersweet chocolate broken small

Heat the cream and the butter over a medium high flame in a saucepan until it is right at the edge of a boil. Pour it over the chocolate pieces in a large stainless steel mixing bowl, allow it to stand untouched for 5 minutes, stir until smooth, cover closely with plastic wrap (ganache skin is yeuchey) and set aside.

Now, the only part remaining is to combine these six separate items (three of which are out of the park home runs all by themselves) into a final home game of the season, bottom of the ninth, two out, bases loaded, down by three, full count home run that gets you into the hall of fame on the first ballot.

Take your trusty 9 inch springform pan and put it on a baking sheet. Set the top half of the brownie rounds inside the pan, top side up. Ladle 1 1/2 cups of the ganache into the pan over the brownie. Using a very sharp serrated knife (being carefull because this is brittle) trim the cocoa meringe so that it will fit tightly into the pan. Place the meringue, top side up, inside the pan on top of the ganache, pressing gently to eliminate air pockets.

Spoon the mocha mousse on top of the cocoa meringue, spreading evenly. Place the remaining brownie round, bottom side up, on top of the mocha mousse. Put this whole assembly into the freezer for 30 minutes.

Remove the cake assembly from the freezer and use a cake spatula to go around the edges of the pan to release the cake from the springform. Pour the remaining ganache over the cake and use the cake spatula to spread the ganache evenly over the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate this for 15 minutes to set the ganache firmly.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip with the chocolate mousse. Pipe a circle of stars along the outside edge of the top of the cake. Continue piping circles of stars in concentric circles until the entire cake is covered. Refrigerate this for at least 4 hours.

To serve, use a very sharp serrated slicing knife that has been heated in boiling water and wiped dry to slice into 8 servings. Repeat the heating and wiping with each cut you make. Flood the bottom of a 10" diameter plate with 3 to 4 tablespoons of the mocha rum sauce then put the slice of cake at the center of the plate.

As you enter the room look at the anticipation on the faces of your guests. See their eyes begin to shine and widen. Audible gasps are common. Exclamations of "Oh my!" "Holy Shit!" "Look at that!" will be said. Acknowledge them politly as you serve. Then sit, take up your fork, and pause. . .ever so slightly. Look at them as they try to restrain themselves and maintain a semblance of decorum. Then tear into this. Every bite is exquisite. The interplay of the strong and subtle flavors, the contrast of the textures is a sublime espression of the chef's art. Don't expect any more compliments for a while (although I figure moans of pleasure and guilt are the best and most eloquent compliments).

And to close with the bad news. Each slice of this cake contains 1,354 calories. You're due at the gym lardass.



Blogger litbrit said...

Dear God in heaven, 1,354 calories? How many times would one need to have Sex on the Beach to burn off Death By Chocolate? (I'm terrible at math.)

Bravo, by the way. And wow.

8:16 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

it depends on how athletic you are, stamina all of that. although i imagine one could achieve a head start on the calorie burning by eating this while having sex. i must say that sex on the beach has never been a big thrill for me. the sand tends to be a wee bit abrasive. sex in the green room, or other backstage places is pretty damned cool though. my current favorite remains on top of the mink blanket over my very own bed with a fire merrily crackling away.

if i could arrange for someone to join me more often it would be bloody perfect.

10:48 PM  
Blogger litbrit said...

Hee hee!

Fire yes, mink no (ovo-lacto-no-fur vegetarian).

Leather, definitely. In the form of pretty shoes, of course.

And chocolate before, during, or after.

What did your lucky guests do to work off those staggering calories?

(And in Florida "on the beach" really only means "with a water view", or at least it does according to most realtors.)

11:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1,354 calories???

Mon Dieu!!!!

- oddjob

4:24 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

the luxurious feel of the mink against bare skin would be enough to make you want to kill the vicious little weasels yourself.

that's the count marcel gave the dish. 1354. brutal.

the real bitch of it though is that this cake delivers the goods. it's worth the price you'll surely pay.

i was thinking that it might be a bit overdone, it's not overdone at all. i was thinking it might be overly complex and it isn't in the slightest. it's worth all the work it takes. worth every little bit.

5:31 PM  
Blogger Rez Dog said...

Ch1ocolate AND 1300 calories! If you were to show up at an Appalachian Trail road crossing with this item, you'd become a trail legend for sure.

7:33 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

on our elk trip into the white mountains this fall there was a moment at night. we had just finished a meal of thinly sliced kidneys toasted over the flames, were really settling in to a great cup of camp coffee when i went to the panniers of the pack saddle and dug out a box of eight truffles.

exhultant gobbling immediately commenced.

getting calories out on the trail and into the boonies can be a real trick. for a hiking trip (since this cake probably would not survive a wilderness trip well) i would enthusiastically recommend the Trader Joe's Pound Plus® 70% cocoa mass bars. very high quality belgian chocolate at an excellent value consumed to value spent ratio.

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Darryl Pearce said...

Hmm, finally something to overcome the reputation of that pecan cake recipe (only a three-day job).


* That pecan cake was in a Bon Appetite magazine from 1988? Great cake--prep dirties every bowl in the kitchen.

11:22 AM  
Blogger John said...

Those recipes sound downright murderous!

1:43 PM  
Blogger BadTux said...

No. No no no no no. NOOOOOO!!!!

May the Great Penguin flog you with limp herring! Don't you know that some of us suffer from an addiction to chocolate?

Must... go.... fix... chocolate...


-- Badtux the Soon to be More-waddling Penguin

4:50 PM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

chocolate is beyond mere food. it is actually psychoactive. it has active alkaloids they haven't even figured out yet. they do know that it triggers endorphins and dopamine production.

it's incredible stuff. and mastering the tricks and voodoo required to work with it really puts you into the stratosphere of pastry chefs. over and over i hear of incredible chefs that shy away from dealing with the chocolate. even though i own a tempering machine i experiemented with the hand tempering methods so that i could learn the way that it feels at the different stages of the process.

i kid myself to say that the work involved burns the calories that i consume.

5:51 PM  
Blogger Alex said...

Damn dude, what an awesome dessert! I don't generally go for things that are this fussy, but for the right occasion, I would make an exception. I'd have to make sure that there were 8 people to eat it, though. More than one serving a week would have my doctor scolding me. In fact, he'd scold me for even eating one serving. Killjoy.

Just for fun, try this variation: Extermination by Chocolate.

5:30 AM  
Blogger Pogo said...

Marcel is God. And even those recipes that aren't his, but were inspired by him, are part of the manna.

I've heard a lot of Taj Mahal stuff, and love every note, but I don't think I've heard the Taj record you referred to - I'll have to go dig it up.

I'm not much of a finger picker, which his probably why I like the 12 bar blues- same with the intro to dust in the wind - they force me to do things I don't normally do, and give me ideas for my incessant(my wife would call it infernal) noodling. She keeps asking me if I'm ever going to learn a song.

11:24 AM  
Blogger The Minstrel Boy said...

one of the first things taj commented on as they were doing the final mixes on that album in l.a. was that when he would start something like "catfish blues" the west african players instantly knew the structure. taj came from that experience believing that the blues is an african phrase structure. i tend to agree with it. and it makes the same ethnological sense that binds country music with the folks songs of the irish countryside and the scottish highlands. on both sides of the pond, barbara allen sound pretty much the same and tells pretty much the same story. there are numerous examples of it. listen to the clancys playing "long black veil" and then put on the johnny cash. same message, same story, same song.

to say that this same process would not happen with africans in bondage defies all logic.

finger picking is something that you can force your hands to do. it also is a lot less work. start with the very basics, like "house of the rising sun" and fight through it until your hands learn the patterns. your head can know and understand every concept perfectly but your hands are what need to do the learning. i drive people nuts sometimes because i will be sitting at a basketball game or in a meetings and my right hand will be doing fingering patterns on my knee. i saw earl scruggs do that once during an entire interview. i knew instantly what was going on. he was sitting there talking with somebody but still practicing.

3:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be surprised to learn cajun music also has ties to French folk music (in addition to its celtic roots).

- oddjob

11:12 PM  
Blogger JackGoff said...

God, I'm getting fatter just reading the recipe.

5:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Definitely!! You have no idea how cool I think it would be to rock out on stage, belting out amazing tunes. Of course, I’d be stick skinny and probably dress like Joan Jett. I’d want to kick-ass but have a soft side too. Insulated cooler bag

10:23 AM  

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