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.
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)
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
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
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.