Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
Chocolate Delice and Brownie Baked Alaskas
There's no escaping it. At one time or another, unexpected company knocks at the door.
I love entertaining, but being caught without enough food to cook a meal is awful, but, for me, not having a dessert to serve guests can be embarrassing and stressful. So from experience, I take time to make a few desserts ahead for any impromptu visits.
My favorites? Chocolate Delice and Individual Brownie Baked Alaskas. Both desserts are natural choices for busy people who want to entertain. The nutty meringue disks named "dacquoise" for the Chocolate Delice and the brownies for the Individual Baked Alaskas can be baked ahead. Then the desserts are assembled, and stored in the freezer for as long as 2 weeks before serving.
Now, if unexpected guests arrive, you're prepared. With advance planning, there's no need to panic. What do you make if the company stays longer than two days? A reservation!
Chocolate Delice Dacquoise
1/3 cup unblanched almonds
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2/3 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup (5 large) egg whites, room temperature
4 ounces semisweet chocolate
1/3 cup heavy cream
Filling and Frosting:
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups sliced almonds, toasted
Dacquoise: Position one rack in lower third of oven and second rack in upper third; preheat oven to 225 degrees. Fit a large pastry bag with a 1/2-inch open decorating tip; line one large and one small baking sheet with parchment paper and, draw three 8-inch circles, using a saucepan lid or cake pan as a guide. Using a nut grinder or rotary-type grater, grind the nuts until they have the consistency of cornmeal; you need 2/3 cup ground. Combine with the 1/4 cup sugar in a small bowl and set aside.
Pour the egg whites into the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer. Attach the bowl to the mixer and with the whisk attachment, whip the whites on low speed for 30 to 45 seconds, or until small bubbles appear and the surface is frothy. Increase the speed to medium; then pour in the 2 tablespoons sugar in a steady stream. Continue whipping until soft, white peaks form, about 45 seconds. Maintaining medium speed, gradually add the 2/3 cup sugar in a steady stream. Continue whipping until a small amount rubbed between your thumb and forefinger feels smooth, not granular, about 2 minutes.
Detach the whisk and bowl and tap the whisk against the side of the bowl with enough force to free excess. Sprinkle the almond-sugar mixture over the meringue and fold the two together with a rubber spatula.
Without delay, scoop all the mixture into the pastry bag fitted with the decorating tip. Beginning in the center of a marked circle, pipe meringue in a continuous, widening spiral until the outer edge reaches the pencil line. Lift the tip slightly to cut off the flow of meringue when you have completed piping. Repeat on the other circles.
Pipe a couple of disks about 1 1/2 inches in diameter with an extra dacquoise mixture in the pastry bag on each baking sheet. These are samples to test if larger disks are dried and ready to be removed from the oven.
Drying the dacquoise: Place in the preheated oven and bake for 65 to 75 minutes, or until dry but not colored. Test for doneness by examining the sample. If it releases easily and, after cooling for 5 to 10 minutes, snaps in half and is uniformly crisp, the other disks are done. This additional time in the oven will not harm the dacquoise. Please note that while the disks are warm, they will not always be crisp when removed from the oven. If they have baked the proper time, they will become crisp after cooling.
Cooling and storing the dacquoise: If the sample indicates the meringue is sufficiently dried, remove it from the oven. Lift the disks with the parchment paper and transfer to a large rack to cool completely. When they are cool, slip a spatula under each disk to release it. If you want to store the disks for some time before using, merely cut around the parchment paper with kitchen scissors and place them in airtight metal containers. This gives more support to the disks and keeps them from breaking. Store at room temperature for no more than 1 week.
When ready to assemble the dessert, place finely chopped chocolate into a 1-quart mixing bowl. Heat the 1/3 cup heavy cream in a 1-quart saucepan just to boiling. Pour the cream over the chocolate and stir with a whisk until the mixture is glossy and smooth. Set aside to cool.
Whip the 1 1/2 cups heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla in a 3-quart bowl or the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer until soft peaks form and the beaters make tracks in the bowl that stay in place but do not move to close. Store the whipped cream in the refrigerator until the ganache is cooler and has a spreading consistency.
Using the 8-inch cardboard round as a guide, trim any uneven edges from one of the dacquoise disks with a small paring knife. Rest the knife against the cardboard as you cut. For the second disk, use a 7-inch saucepan lid as a guide to reduce its 8-inch diameter. (This reduction is merely for the sake of drama; it creates a natural curve which, when frosted with whipped cream, will form a dome shape.) Now check to make sure each disk is level; trim with the knife if necessary. Place the 8-inch dacquoise disk on the cardboard round.
Decorating: Spread the surface of both dacquoise disks with ganache, using a rubber spatula. Remove the whipped cream from the refrigerator; since it has been in the refrigerator for a while, whisk it briefly to unify the whipped mass again. Spread the larger disk with some of the cream, about 3/4 cup. Place the 7-inch dacquoise layer on top, pressing gently to level it.
Place the dessert on a turntable (or lazy susan), if you wish. Spread the remaining cream over the top and sides with a flexible metal icing spatula. To finish the dome shape, rotate the turntable with one hand, while moving the spatula from the bottom of the dessert upward along its contour to the center top. Continue this procedure, forming the dome.
Place the sliced almonds on a baking sheet. Hold the cake in one hand directly over the pan filled with almonds. Tilt the cake slightly, and with the other hand, gently press the nuts into the cream. Rotate the dessert until it is almost covered. Sprinkle the top to cover it completely. Press lightly with the clean blade of a metal icing spatula to ensure that the nuts adhere neatly.
Place on a baking sheet in the freezer for an hour to firm the cream. Then, to ensure the dessert is protected in the freezer, place it with its cardboard round in the top of a metal container. Now invert the bottom of the metal container and place it over the dessert. (To avoid disaster and to remind yourself of this different type of storage, mark "Top" on the inverted tin's bottom.)
Serving the dessert: Remove from the freezer to the refrigerator up to 2 hours before serving.
Individual Brownie Baked Alaskas
2/3 cup unsifted all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, chopped
3 pints vanilla ice cream
1 1/2 cups (11 to 12) large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Adjust rack in the lower third of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with aluminum foil. Sift flour with baking powder and salt. Melt the butter with the chocolate over low heat, then stir in the sugars. Pour into a large bowl; cool 5 minutes. Stir in eggs and vanilla, then the flour mixture and nuts. Spread evenly in pan; bake 23 minutes only. Cool on rack, then inver and carefully remove the foil.
Cut brownie into 2-inch squares and set them on a baking sheet that will fit in the freezer. Place a scoop of ice cream on top of each brownie, then place them on their baking sheet in the freezer.
Meringue: Using an electric mixer, preferably with a whisk attachment, whip egg whites until frothy. Add cream of tartar and whip on medium speed until soft peaks form. Continue whipping and gradually add the 1 teaspoon of the granulated sugar until whites have thickened and form soft droopy white peaks. Gradually whip in the remaining sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time until stiff, shiny, not dry peaks form. Add the vanilla and lemon zest in the final moments of whipping.
With a small icing spatula, frost with enough meringue to cover each frozen ice cream topped brownie completely, sealing bottom completely. Return them to the freezer until serving time.
At serving time, adjust rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees at least 20 minutes. Sprinkle each dessert with powdered sugar, then place the baking sheet in the oven just until the meringue is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Transfer each Brownie Baked Alaska to a dessert plate using a wide metal spatula (like the one you use to flip pancakes).
Flo Braker has been teaching baking techniques and her sweet miniatures across the country for twenty years and is the author of several cookbooks.