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Twelve Layer Mocha Cake

To my tastes, no better cake or combination of flavors is possible. You’ve got coffee and chocolate — but not overwhelmingly so, plus the crunch of hazelnut meringue and the silken texture of the butter-creams. Cake perfection!

For some reason this year’s new dessert offerings left me a little disappointed. Nevertheless, when I first laid eyes on the twelve-layer mocha cake from Gourmet, I knew I had found a winner. All those layers, all those different flavors, all those different textures. It sounded right up my alley.
I’ve made this four times and while it is time consuming, it isn’t difficult. Yes, make the cakes a day in advance if you can. Be prepared for collapsing after baking and skinny cake layers. In my experience the souffle layer takes less time than the recipe says — closer to 18 minutes. The meringue layer takes longer to crisp up — after cutting the cake and returning it to the oven for an hour, I turned off the oven and left it in for another hour. And don’t forget to let the finished cake come to room temp before enjoying. Next time I’m going to try trimming the cake layers before putting the cake together — the souffle and hazelnut layers have thicker edges that are what make the cake require trimming — but i’m thinking if you even them out before hand you would end up trimming less off the finished cake. For my husband’s birthday yesterday, I topped it with chocolate curls and fresh raspberries. You may think the cake doesn’t need another thing, but the tangy raspberries provide a nice counterbalance to the richness of the cake. The only problem with this cake is that it is so rich you can only eat a tiny piece at a time.

Twelve-Layer Mocha Cake

Twelve-Layer Mocha Cake
( Gourmet December 2008 )

For cake layers

  • 4 large egg yolks at room temperature 30 minutes
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup sugar, divided
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large egg whites at room temperature 30 minutes

For soufflé layers

  • 6 oz fine-quality 60%-cacao bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 5 large eggs, separated, at room temperature 30 minutes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

For meringue layers

  • 2/3 cup hazelnuts (3 1/2 oz)
  • 3 large egg whites at room temperature 30 minutes
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup sugar

For syrup

  • 1/3 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon instant-espresso powder

For filling

Coffee and mocha butter-creams (recipe follows)
Equipment: 3 (15-by 10-inch) 4-sided sheet pans (1/2 inch deep)
Preparation:

Make cake layers: Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter 1 sheet pan and line bottom with parchment paper, then butter parchment. Dust with flour, knocking out excess.
Whisk together yolks, milk, vanilla, and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl until combined well, then whisk in flour and salt until smooth. (Batter will be thick.)
Beat whites with an electric mixer until they just hold soft peaks. Beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and beat until whites just hold stiff peaks.
Fold one third of whites into batter to lighten, then fold in remainder gently but thoroughly.
Spread batter evenly in pan and rap against counter to release any air bubbles. Bake until cake is dry to the touch and pale golden, 10 to 11 minutes. (Leave oven on.) Cool completely in pan on a rack.
Halve cake crosswise, cutting through parchment, to form 2 (10-by 7 1/2-inch) layers.

Prepare soufflé layers while cake bakes: Line second sheet pan with parchment paper.
Melt chocolate with water [i.e. double boiler], then cool to lukewarm.
Beat yolks, salt, and 1/4 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until thick and pale, about 5 minutes with a stand mixer or 8 minutes with a handheld. Fold in melted chocolate.
Beat whites with cleaned beaters until they hold soft peaks. Beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and beat until whites just hold stiff peaks, about 5 minutes.
Fold one third of whites into chocolate mixture to lighten, then fold in remainder gently but thoroughly. Spread batter evenly in lined sheet pan.

Bake soufflé layers: Bake until puffed and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out with a few crumbs adhering, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer pan to a rack, then cover top of soufflé with 2 layers of damp paper towels. Let stand 5 minutes. Remove towels and cool soufflé completely in pan (soufflé will deflate as it cools). Sift cocoa over soufflé, then loosen edges with a sharp knife.
Halve soufflé crosswise, cutting through parchment, to form 2 (10-by 7 1/2-inch) layers.
Make meringue layers: Toast hazelnuts, then cool, wrapped in a kitchen towel, and rub off any loose skins.
Reduce oven to 250°F.
Finely chop nuts.
Beat whites with salt and cream of tartar using electric mixer until they just hold soft peaks. Beat in sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and beat until meringue is stiff but still glossy.
Line bottom of third sheet pan with parchment. Put small dabs of meringue under corners of parchment to secure to baking sheets.
Fold nuts into meringue and spread evenly in pan. Bake until set and pale golden, 25 to 30 minutes.
Halve meringue crosswise, cutting through parchment, to form 2 (10-by 7 1/2-inch) layers. Return to oven and bake until crisp, 45 minutes to 1 hour more. Cool in pan, then peel off parchment.

Make syrup and assemble cake:

Bring water, sugar, and espresso powder to a boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Cool.
Loosen edges of 1 cake layer with a knife and invert onto a flat platter. Carefully peel parchment from cake and brush with some of syrup. Spread with 1 1/4 cups mocha buttercream.
Top with 1 meringue layer and spread with 1 1/4 cups coffee buttercream.
Carefully invert 1 soufflé layer onto buttercream and peel off parchment, then gently spread with 1 1/4 cups coffee buttercream.
Repeat layering, ending with coffee buttercream (there will be some left over). Chill at least 1 hour (after that, wrap in plastic wrap). Trim all around cake with a long sharp knife to neaten edges. [Note: I didn’t do this last step.] Bring to room temperature (about 1 hour) before serving.
Coffee and Mocha Butter-creams
: (Gourmet December 2008)
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups sugar, divided
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 6 large egg whites at room temperature 30 minutes
  • 2 tablespoons plus
  • 1 teaspoon instant-espresso powder
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 6 sticks (1 1/2 pounds) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon pieces and softened
  • 6 ounces fine-quality 60%-cacao bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled to lukewarm

Equipment: a candy thermometer; a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment
Preparation:
Bring 1 3/4 cups sugar and water to a boil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals from side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil, without stirring, until it registers 220 to 225°F, 15 to 20 minutes.
At this point, while continuing to boil syrup, beat whites with espresso powder, vanilla, cream of tartar, and salt in mixer at medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Add remaining 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating, and beat until whites just hold stiff peaks.
When syrup reaches soft-ball stage (238 to 242°F), immediately pour syrup in a slow stream down side of bowl into whites (avoid beaters) while beating at high speed. Beat until completely cool, 25 to 30 minutes. With mixer at medium speed, add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, beating well after each addition (see cooks’ note, below) and until buttercream is smooth. (Mixture may look curdled before all butter is added but will come together at end.)
Transfer 2 cups buttercream to a small bowl and stir in chocolate. If butter-creams are too soft to spread, chill, stirring occasionally.
Cooks’ notes:
If buttercream looks soupy after some butter is added, meringue is too warm: Chill bottom of bowl in an ice bath for a few seconds before continuing to beat in remaining butter.
Butter-creams can be made 1 week ahead and chilled or 1 month ahead and frozen. Bring to room temperature (do not use a microwave), about 2 hours, and beat with an electric mixer until spreadable.
The egg whites in this recipe are not fully cooked.

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