Layers of crispy chewy almond meringue, a generous swath of lightened pastry cream spiked with espresso, and a swipe of bittersweet chocolate ganache to balance it all. It’s a dacquoise or a marjolaine or simply a spectacular cake. Once assembled, the cake improves as the layers get softer and chewier and more delicious. It can be made over two or three days and takes about 30 minutes to assemble. I created this cake based on recipes from Mary Berry, Abby Dodge, and Julia Child. If you like a baking project, this is so so worth it. It causes people to make the most wonderful, happy noises.
The beauty? It’s made for Passover. Yes, I know, Seder was last weekend, but those desserts won’t last all week. This cake can be your midweek Passover treat to get through chol hamoed, the days in between.
For the meringue layers
2 cups (200 g) almond meal or ground blanched almonds
1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon (28 g) cornstarch
3 large egg whites (you’ll need the 3 yolks for the pastry cream)
Pinch of kosher salt
For the chocolate ganache
1 cup (150 g) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (125 ml) heavy cream
For the lightened pastry cream
2 cups (500 ml) whole milk
3 large egg yolks
1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
1 tablespoon espresso powder
1 tablespoon (28 g) cornstarch
1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
Decorations (sprinkles, chocolate covered espresso beans, toasted sliced almonds, whatever you like)
Make the cake: Heat the oven 300°F. If you cannot fit 2 baking sheets side by side on one rack, arrange the racks in the upper and lower third of the oven. With a 9 by 4 inch pan (like a loaf pan) as a guide, use a Sharpie to draw 3 rectangles on 2 pieces of parchment paper and, flipping the paper over so the ink side is down, line two baking sheets.
In a medium bowl, whisk the almond meal, 1/4 cup (50 g) sugar, and cornstarch to remove any lumps. Place the egg whites in the bowl of the stand mixer, add a pinch of salt, and set the mixer on high. When foamy, by tablespoon, and with the mixer running on high, slowly add the remaining 3/4 cup (150g) sugar until the meringue is shiny, stiff, makes sharp peaks, and is not dry. Fold the almond meal mixture through the meringue. Spoon the batter into a large pastry bag (or a ziptop bag with the corner cut off). Pipe the meringue in thick lines following the rectangular shapes on the parchment. Bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and open the oven door for another 30 minutes as it cools. Remove the baking sheets to racks to cool completely. Carefully peel the meringue layers from the paper. For a very professional look, gently use a serrated knife to give the layers sharp, square edges. At this point, the layers can be wrapped in plastic wrap and stored on the kitchen counter for 3 days.
Make the ganache: Chop the chocolate and place in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream until small bubbles appear at the edges (I heat it in the microwave for a minute or so, until visibly steaming.) Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let it sit for 5 minutes. Use a whisk to beat the mixture until very smooth. Continue to whisk as the chocolate cools. Set aside to cool completely. (Pro tip: Don’t leave the whisk in the mixture.) At this point, the ganache can be stored for up to a week. Bring to room temperature before cake assembly.
Make the pastry cream: In a 3 quart saucepan, heat the milk until just boiling. Remove from the heat. In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks, sugar, espresso powder, and cornstarch until smooth. Pour in some of the hot milk and whisk hard until the mixture is smooth and loose. Scrape it back into the saucepan with the hot milk and return the pan to the heat. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly. When the surface of the custard is all bubbling, start a timer and cook at a boil for precisely one minute and then remove from the heat. Continue to whisk as it cools to keep the mixture smooth. Set aside to cool completely. At this point, the pastry cream can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Store with plastic wrap touching the surface to avoid a skin forming.
Assemble the cake: Find a serving platter first (another pro tip!!) Whip the heavy cream until very stiff either by hand using a whisk or with a hand held or stand mixer. Use a whisk to loosen the pastry cream and then, with a stiff spatula, fold the whipped cream into the pastry cream. Spoon the lightened cream into a large pastry bag or a ziptop bag with the corner cut off. Position each meringue layer so the smooth bottom is revealed. Whisk the ganache to smooth. It must be at room temperature to do this successfully. Use an offset spatula to spread a layer of chocolate on the smooth side of the meringue layers.
Place one meringue layer, chocolate side up, on the serving platter. (I place a dot of pastry cream on the underside of the layer, to “glue” it to the serving platter.) Pipe a generous layer of lightened pastry cream over the chocolate. Top with another meringue layer, chocolate side up, and repeat with the lightened pastry cream. Top with the final meringue layer. Decorate the top with whatever you wish. (If you want to frost the sides and/or the top with the espresso cream, double the recipe.)
Chill the cake for at least 2 hours and preferably longer. I liked it after 8 hours! Use a serrated knife to carefully, slowly slice it. Expect it to slip and slide a little.