Persistence and Dacquoise Torte

by Bonnie Sparrman

In the kitchen, persistence and patience are as indispensable to the cook as a good sharp knife. However, I humbly admit this is something I’ve been slow to discover, and even slower to live out.

As a girl, I was easily discouraged when a baking project flopped. A dish that didn’t meet expectations, (mine or my family’s), caused me to immediately pitch the recipe and cling to the failure. In fact, to this day, my culinary mistakes remain deeply etched in my brain. During high school I served a Key lime pie with a burnt crust, and blueberry muffins that looked beautiful but tasted like soap. (Hint: don’t confuse baking soda for baking powder.) As a young mother, I prepared a Virginia ham for company that was so salty it was barely edible. These culinary blunders never ceased to put me in a ridiculous funk.

Fast forward several decades to this past summer, when our son’s lovely fiancée gave me a splendid opportunity to persist. Olivia and our son Björn were to be married in September, and it was my pleasure to bake their wedding cake. They had fallen in love with each other and with the luscious dacquoise torte while studying in Cambridge, Massachusetts. They discovered this multilayered combination of hazelnut-almond meringue, chocolate ganache, and mocha buttercream at the bakery, Flour, which thrilled me to no end since I had admired and even met the chef/owner, Joanne Chang. Hands down, this was Olivia’s top choice for their wedding cake.

photo of a dacquise cake

Mind you, I do not blame sweet Olivia for her excellent taste in torte. And I take complete responsibility for setting the precedent of making desserts for family events, and their wedding was no exception. I just didn’t anticipate the complexity of dacquoise!

The goal was to have one dozen tortes in the freezer two weeks before the big day, shiny with buttercream and ready to receive a smooth coat of chocolate ganache 24 hours before the event. After studying Chef Chang’s recipe and rounding up the ingredients and tools, I started in. My first attempt went pretty well, but the next several bumped along with issues of inconsistent meringue. Too dark, too sloppy, and once too flat. If it weren’t for my promise to our future daughter-in-law, I would have fallen to my old habit of chucking the recipe. Finally, after many attempts and lots of note-writing, tweaking, tasting, and feeding the squirrels, the cake that was at first a mind-eating conundrum, became pleasantly doable; even easy. As it turns out, my cake fiascos were part of the process.

We all blunder…in the kitchen and in life. What I’m learning is that mistakes can be stepping stones toward good: they keep us humble while they guide us to a better way. In cooking, they teach us about ingredients or help us learn a new technique. We also discover new aspects of ourselves; what frustrates us and what pushes us to keep striving.

In life our errored ways also teach us that we are dependent upon a source of goodness and grace far beyond ourselves. For me, as a Christian, that inexplicable goodness is Jesus! Because of his love and forgiveness I need not be weighed down indefinitely because I sin. As believers we are given second, third, fourth, and hundredth chances to start over; to love more generously, to treat others more graciously, to forgive more freely.

To see Björn and Olivia enjoy slices of dacquoise torte on their wedding day filled my heart with joy. It worked! The layers of crispy meringue nestled between rich ganache and silky buttercream created the wonderful mouth feel and flavor we were after. This cake that challenged me for several months will always remind me to not give in or give up. It also nudges me to know that Jesus doesn’t give up on me just because I continue to need bunches of do-overs.

Hazelnut/almond dacquoise

(Simple directions for this dacquoise torte: this recipe is written to remove the guess-work for you. Just keep in mind that all of our ovens are slightly different.)

SERVES 10-12

Heat oven to 215 degrees. Place oven rack at second to top level.

Using a Sharpie, draw three 10x3 inch rectangles crosswise on baking parchment that fits a 12x16 inch baking sheet. Flip parchment over and butter inside the rectangles.

Grind 70 grams raw hazelnuts in food processor.

Add to 80 grams almond flour, (or finely ground almonds) in mixing bowl.

Add 150 grams confectioners’ sugar and 1/8 tsp. kosher salt.

Whisk together and set aside.

Measure 60 grams, (5T.) granulated sugar and set aside.

Place 6 egg whites in bowl of stand mixer.

Beat on medium speed until you see the lines of the whip leaving a trail. Test for soft peak stage, when whites will peak and droop.

Add sugar to the whites in three increments, running mixer on medium speed, 30 seconds apart. After the last addition, beat on high for 15 seconds. Remove bowl from mixer.

Sprinkle nut-sugar mixture over meringue. Quickly and gently fold nuts into meringue, turning bowl ¼ turn between folds. Scrape sides every so often. The mixture will be slightly soupy.

Fill piping bag fitted with ½ inch round tip. Pipe meringue inside rectangles on buttered parchment. Smooth tops.

Bake on second-to-top oven rack for 1½ hours. Turn oven off and let the dacquoise coast for 4 hours, or longer if convenient. The meringues should be lightly brown and crisp. Allow to cool completely before removing from parchment. When cool, wrap in plastic.

Mocha buttercream for dacquoise torte

7 T. sugar, (87 gm)

7 T. water

5 egg yolks

3 sticks unsalted butter, 12 oz. or 339 grams, room temperature on a cool day, cut into T. sized pieces

3 T. cocoa

1/8 tsp. salt

1 packet Starbucks Via coffee powder

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 T. Kahlua, optional

Bring sugar and water to a full rolling boil in a sauce pan. Swirl pan but do not stir. Meanwhile, beat egg yolks in stand mixer with whip, until they are light. Stop mixer and quickly add boiling sugar syrup. Immediately resume beating on high, and wrap bowl with a soft ice pack or ice cubes in a plastic bag.

When egg and sugar mixture is room temperature, begin adding butter one knob at a time while beating on high. If the mixture becomes too soupy, scrape the bowl and chill it in the fridge. Resume beating and adding butter. When the buttercream is light and fluffy add remaining ingredients. Beat and scrape bowl.

Chocolate ganache

Makes about 4 cups ganache (enough to fill and glaze a 10-inch dacquoise)

16 ounces (454 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate pieces, or bar chocolate cut into small pieces

2 cups (480 grams) heavy cream

Place chocolate in a medium bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it is scalded. (When small bubbles form on the sides of the pan, but cream is not boiling.) Pour the cream over the chocolate and let it sit for about 30 seconds. Slowly whisk the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. Or make the ganache up to a week in advance and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Allow ganache to return to room temperature one day before assembling the dacquoise.

Dacquoise torte assembly

Unwrap meringue pieces. Trim edges so they are even. Place one layer of meringue on a piece of cardboard cut slightly smaller than the meringue.

Spread with a half-inch layer of chocolate ganache. Place middle layer of meringue layer over ganache and cover with a half-inch of buttercream. Set top meringue in place upside-down to create a smooth surface of the cake. Cover entire torte with remaining butter cream. Refrigerate torte. When cool it may be wrapped in plastic and frozen for up to two weeks, or it may be covered with ganache for serving right away.

Up to one day before serving, spread torte with a smooth layer of ganache. If ganache is too firm, gently warm it by placing bowl over a pan of hot water and stirring. Be very careful to not let any water or steam contact the chocolate.

Place sliced toasted almonds on sides of torte and two rows of whole hazelnuts on the top. To serve, slice torte with a serrated knife.

For him, hope and gratitude were enduring words; hope in healing and restoration, hope in a better tomorrow, hope that everything would work out OK, and gratitude that God was merciful and ever present.