Special Occasion Desserts Redux

Alexandria Defurio from Meringue by Linda Jackson & Jannifer Evans Gardner, reprinted permission by Gibbs Smith

Alexandria Defurio from Meringue by Linda Jackson & Jannifer Evans Gardner, reprinted permission by Gibbs Smith

I wrote about special occasion desserts for the Packet recently, but a good chunk of the article and one of the recipes got cut due to a lack of space (they are looong recipes!).  So, here’s the rest of the article, and if you do want The Pink Cake recipe mentioned in it (From Julie Richard’s “Vintage Cakes”) , that ran in the Packet on May 3, the recipe is here.

Knockout Desserts

Special occasions call for special desserts, be it a wedding shower, Mother’s Day brunch, graduation party, or just a nice dinner with good friends.

In my many years of dining out, few restaurant desserts stand out, but those that do are invariably made in-house. A kitchen that takes the trouble (and expense) of making their own deserts, much less to employ a pastry chef, is, to me, the mark of a committed restaurant.

The best dessert I ever had still resonates in my mind (and taste buds) years later: pistachio marjolaine at the Union Park dining room in the Hotel Macomber in Cape May. This was at the end of an already successful dinner, and yet my palate got excited all over again when I dug into this creation.

The rectangular marjolaine is a variation of the round dacquoise, which consists of nut-based meringue layered with buttercream. In this case, the components were switched up, the disc of meringue contained cocoa, and pistachio ice cream stood in for buttercream. A creamy milk chocolate sauce provided an additional chocolate component, one of those rare (to me) cases where milk chocolate was indeed a better choice than dark. I’ve always loved chocolate, meringue, and pistachio nuts, so this dish was a trifecta winner for me.

Another famous dessert involving meringue is the Australian Pavlova, named after the ethereal ballerina, a meringue base topped with whipped cream and fruit. I found variations on all of these in “Meringue,” one of my favorite new cookbooks from 2012. I had a hard time choosing which of their recipes to use, with the challenging marjolaine below eventually edging out the easier Lemon Mini-Pavlovas with Lemon Curd Whipped Cream and Blueberries. One could even put together a simple version of the Pavlovas with store-bought meringue shells and purchased lemon curd folded into whipped cream, and topping it with blueberries. But there’s no, er, fudging the marjolaine, and sometimes you just want to apply yourself to a knock-out dessert. Think of it as a craft project.

When choosing a special dessert for your party, consider the guests’ sophistication level; some people will like something more complicated, others something more straightforward. I usually tend toward the latter, but when it comes to meringue I’ll swing right over into the high-concept camp.

Almond Marjolaine with Praline Buttercream

Adapted from “Meringue,” Linda Jackson & Jennifer-Evans Gardner, Gibbs Smith (2012)

Serves 6

Note: Marjolaine can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Let stand at room temperate an hour or two before serving. Give a final dusting of powdered sugar just before serving.

Nut Meringue Layers:

Baker’s Joy or a nonstick flour-based cooking spray

1 cup blanched whole almonds

1/3 cup flour

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

6 large egg whites room temperature (save yolks for custard)

1 cup superfine sugar


1/2 cup sugar

2/3 cup blanched whole pecans

Custard Buttercream:

1/2 cup milk

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

6 large egg yolks

2 cups (4 sticks) unsalted butter, softened


1/2 cup pecans, toasted, cooled, chopped

Powdered sugar

Meringue: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 10 x 15-inch jelly roll pan with parchment paper, leaving the paper longer than the sides so you can lift the baked meringue out of the pan. Spray with baking spray.

In a food processor, pulse almonds until fine; then add flour and cocoa and pulse again until mixture is very fine.

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites until soft peaks form, and then slowly add sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, and beat on high until you have stiff peaks. Fold almond mixture into meringue, being careful not to deflate it. Pour mixture into jelly roll pan, evenly smoothing it across the pan. Bake in middle of oven for 30-35 minutes, or until firm to the touch.

Carefully lift edges of parchment to remove meringue from pan and place on wire rack to cool. Once it is cool, the gently peel off parchment.

Praline: Line a baking sheet with foil. In a dry heavy-bottom small saucepan, cook sugar over moderate heat, stirring with a fork, until melted. Cook, without stirring, swirling the pan, until it turns to a golden caramel. Remove from heat and stir in pecans. Immediately pour mixture onto baking sheet, tilting sheet to make a thin layer; cool completely.

Break praline into pieces and transfer to a sturdy Ziploc bag, flattening the bag to remove the air before sealing it. Crush praline into coarse pieces with a rolling pin. (Will keep 1 week at room temperature, stored airtight.)

Custard Buttercream: In a small saucepan, simmer milk, sugar, and vanilla; stir until sugar is dissolved.

In a medium bowl, whisk yolks and then slowly (so eggs don’t scramble) add warm milk in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Transfer to saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring, until a candy thermometer registers 170 degrees. Pour custard through a strainer into a bowl and cool completely.

In bowl of electric stand mixer, beat butter until light and fluffy then beat in custard, a little at a time, until smooth. Beat in 1/2 cup praline, reserving remaining praline for garnish.

To assemble marjolaine: Place meringue onto work surface and cut in half, then cut in half again so you have 4 rectangles. Spread buttercream, save some for sides, on top of each layer then stack them evenly on top of one another. Use an offset spatula to cover the sides with remaining buttercream.

Gently press topping pecans onto top and sides of marjolaine and dust with powdered sugar. Garnish with some of the leftover praline and serve.

8 thoughts on “Special Occasion Desserts Redux

  1. Did you make this? The buttercream calls for FOUR sticks of butter. With only 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup milk and 6 egg yolks for the custard. It tastes and looks like lightly custard sweetened butter. Its not WHITE like the picture. I mean why would it be? Its butter and yolks. Is this an error? Now granted I haven’t assembled it yet, but it sure tastes and looks wrong?!?

  2. BTW, I made this after years of longing for a dessert I ate as a child at the Del Mar Country Club. After much searching, I finally decided it must have been a chocolate hazelnut dacquoise. In my memory it was like a kitkat cake on steroids.

    I fear this recipe is going to disappoint! 😩

    • Thank you for your comments! I did not make this recipe, which is not uncommon (with recipe columnists), as long as the recipe is from a cookbook published by an established publishing house. It is typical for a lot of recipe testing to be done before a book goes to print, and this book seems to have very positive reviews on Amazon, at least. I did check my copy to be sure the 4 sticks of butter was correct, and it is, and I did not see any further information about it online, although I do see a lot of folks making chocolate hazelnut dacquoise. I know the photos can be, well, let’s say “optimistic” in cookbooks, however, so agree that one would not expect the buttercream to turn out so white in this case. I hope you weren’t too disappointed after all that work, although I would think it would at least taste good, even if not just what you expected.

      • The buttercream ruined it, which is sad because the meringue, the custard and the praline were all delicious. It calls for 4 sticks of butter for a cake that serves 4-6 people. Let’s say 4 people, a stick of butter per person??? Yuk! The worst part is that I doubled it to serve 8 people, so I wasted EIGHT sticks of butter. I threw the whole thing in the trash.

        On a happier note, if you do have a trusted source for chocolate hazelnut dacquoise, please send it my way. My daughter tried to make me one on mother’s day and it did not turn out for her. So perhaps third time will be a charm?

      • Aghh – SO sorry! I just emailed the pubisher’s PR dept (who sent me the photo), to see if they can contact the authors. Re the chocolate hazelnut dacquoise, it just seemed there were a lot of hits online when I was Googling the other recipe, so I don’t have a particular source. Stay tuned…

      • Here’s what the editor had to say after checking with author, they do stand by the measurements and procedure, so aren’t sure what happened (or exactly how your results were disappointing):

        “I heard back from the author. She doesn’t think there is a problem with the butter amount. I don’t think the butter is the problem. It takes a lot of butter to make Buttercream, there needs to be enough to place between four layers and spread on the top and sides of the cake, and other similar recipes use about the same amount of butter. Also, when the food stylist and cook made the recipe for the photo shoot, they didn’t report any problems.

        What I suspect might have happened is that the person trying the recipe didn’t let the custard completely cool before incorporating into the butter and some melting occurred, thus changing the consistency of the Buttercream. Or, maybe she used margarine instead of butter and it has a higher water content.”

        I’m sure you used butter, so maybe the temperature issue…or a hot kitchen?

      • Absurd. Custard was cool. Butter was used. I don’t mean to be grumpy, but that is ridiculous. You should respond by saying, “So each serving is intended to contain 3/4 stick of butter?”

        I’m not a novice. Meringue was perfect, praline was perfect, custard was delicious. And all in attendance were in agreement that the frosting tasted like lightly custard flavored butter. It was unpalatable. We threw it out.

        I really appreciate your trying though.

        Let me know if you ever make it yourself.


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