Sunday, February 3, 2008

Love and Death by Chocolate

Love and death: a weighty theme for this little food blog of mine, isn’t it? Don’t worry, I promise it will lead to a recipe.
Love and death are a popular and enduring pair: amongst their many appearances are their unbilled star turn in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, in Sara Teasdale’s poetry of the early 1900’s, and in indie rock from the early 2000’s (in particular, on the debut album of one of my favorite bands, The Stills). It’s fairly easy to see how these two are linked; some people will do anything for love (just look at what Juliet did).

So what do love and death have to do with food?

Let me digress first by pointing out that Valentine’s Day is coming up soon. Every year at this time, we are, without fail, assaulted by a barrage of all things pink, red, heart-shaped, and chocolate; combinations thereof range from the drugstore variety to the haute, because apparently any combination of pink+hearts+chocolate = love. I tend to hate Valentine’s Day because of its artificialness, its ostracization of single people, and its ability to create such pressure on planning a spectacular evening and buying a grandiose gift. But I’ll save that rant for another day.

When I was a little girl, I was none too fond of the color pink. My mom bought little pink dresses for me and I had some pink jackets, but when I had the option of choosing my clothes and dressing myself, I made a beeline for purple (some things never change).

Greater than my dislike of the color pink was my hatred of chocolate. I spent many a birthday eating only the vanilla layer of my Carvel ice cream cake, I never got to eat dessert at my friends’ birthday parties because they served only chocolate ice cream and supermarket chocolate cake, and I always threw out the mini Hershey’s bars and Kisses in my Halloween pumpkin basket (but I did eat the Reese’s peanut butter cups if my brother didn’t manage to steal them first). In retrospect, I’m not all that surprised that I hated chocolate – were I offered the dreamy confections of Payard or Vosges when I was 5, I may have fallen in love with chocolate (probably not), but I was given the gross milky Hershey’s stuff and the chalky supermarket cakes, and I wanted nothing to do with them.

Over the years, however, I have come to terms with my childhood foes. I have become girly and have learned to love the color pink (but only if it’s a deep shade of it, such as, oh, raspberry). Chocolate is no longer my sworn enemy. Through the works of Jacques Torres and the folks over at El Rey, amongst others, I have come to enjoy a few bites of a 70% chocolate and the smooth ganache of a fruit or spice-flavored truffle. But some things don’t change – I still hate chocolate cake and ice cream, and a full box of truffles left in my apartment will take a very long time to disappear.

After watching many episodes of Chocolate with Jacques Torres, I became fascinated with the many things that I could do with chocolate. All of Jacques’ creations were challenging, which is what drew me to them – I’m always up for a good challenge. And so a little less than a year after I got my KitchenAid mixer (which was, incidentally, bright pink), I made my first foray into chocolate desserts.

My plans for Valentine’s Day in 2003 involved going to dinner with my best friend (at the time) and then going out for drinks afterwards – not unlike what we did many other nights. She absolutely loved chocolate, so I decided that my Valentine’s Day present to her would be an insanely chocolatey cake that went by the name of Death By Chocolate; it was comprised of two layers of fudgy chocolate cake, chocolate mousse, mocha mousse, cocoa meringue, and chocolate ganache. At the time, I was, at best, an advanced beginner baker, and between my inexperience, my tiny countertop convection oven that resembled an oversized toasted over, and my feelings towards chocolate, it took me probably twelve hours to make it. But the end result was worth it; my friend thrilled at it, and she loved it even more because she saw that I had put in so much effort to make something I would never eat just for her: it was truly a labor of love.

I made the Death By Chocolate the following year for my coworkers, and while it took me less time to make it this second time around, it was not really worth it – I realized that an undertaking of such epic chocolatiness could only be taken on for the right recipients, for whom 10 hours and pounds of chocolate – not quite death, but an arduous task, indeed – would be worth it. And so I put the cake on hiatus until further notice. In fact, I have rarely made anything chocolatey between now and then because it really takes a lot for me to make something that I really don’t like.

But this year marks the return of Death By Chocolate, albeit a made-over version. It retains many of its original features, but it is now smaller and it contains the sweet spice of pink peppercorns and the tartness of fresh raspberries. And most importantly, it has a new name: Love and Death by Chocolate. This dessert is indeed a labor of love, it has lots of pink things in it (remember, pink+chocolate = love), and there are some chocolate lovers in my midst who will gratefully devour it. So while it may be an arduous task (not quite death, but just play along with me here for the sake of the metaphor), there is definitely a lot for me to love about making it, and I hope that this year’s recipients will love eating it, too.

Love and Death by Chocolate
(makes 8 two-inch cakes)

8 fudgy brownie rounds
Pink peppercorn ganache
2 pints fresh raspberries
8 cocoa meringue discs
Chocolate mousse
Dark chocolate glaze
¾ cup raspberry coulis
1 tablespoon pink peppercorns, lightly crushed


Bake the brownie layer. While the brownies cool, make the chocolate meringue discs.

20 minutes before the meringues are ready to be removed from the oven, make the pink peppercorn ganache. When the meringues are cooled, start to assemble the cakes. Put a round of parchment paper in the bottom of each of 8 muffin tins. Slice the brownie rounds in half horizontally. Put the bottom piece of each brownie into the lined tins, cut side down. Arrange 6-7 raspberries, pointy side down, on top of the brownie round. Pour ¼ cup of ganache over the raspberries so that they are just covered. Put a meringue round, bottom side facing up, on top of the ganache. Refrigerate the pans until the ganache is set, about a half hour.

While the cakes are chilling, make the chocolate mousse. Before, removing the pans from the fridge, fill a large pan (13”x9”) with warm water. Dip the muffin pans into the water for 5 seconds to soften the ganache. Run a thin sharp knife around the edges of the cakes, then invert the pans onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Flip the cakes over so that the meringue disc is on top (the cakes will be upside down again).

Using a pastry bag fitted with a large round tip, pipe a spiral of the chocolate mousse onto the meringue disc. Place the remaining half of the brownie round onto the mousse so that the cut side is touching the mousse. Refrigerate the cakes until the mousse is firm, about a half hour.

Remove the cakes from the fridge and make the dark chocolate ganache. Turn the cakes upside down (the chocolate mousse should be near the bottom) and place them onto a wire rack set over a baking sheet, and pour the ganache over the cakes. Let the ganache set for 15 minutes, then transfer the rack to the fridge to set the ganache for at least another 15 minutes. Once the ganache has hardened, you can either let the cakes come to room temperature and serve, or store them in an airtight container in the fridge and let them come to room temperature before serving.

To serve, arrange a few tablespoons of the raspberry coulis and a few raspberries on each serving plate. Place the cakes on the plates and top each with some of the crushed pink peppercorns.


Sujith said...

Great recipe and photos. I enjoyed reading it. I have tried much of baking and pastry but sure learning a lot.

Tempered Woman said...

How on earth could I NOT vote for this! This is one insane dessert~ just incredible. I can't believe it now but I was also NOT a chocolate fan as a child. I'd turn down chocolate and hold out for vanilla and caramel. Now I can't imagine my life without dark chocolate...well...and red wine~ another grown-up acquired taste ;-)

Anonymous said...

Your prose is just as lovely as your dessert.

Laurie said... last comment on this dessert...I promise! I think because I'm not an intuitive pastry chef, when something is a little off, it throws me into a tizzy of checking, double-checking, and making myself crazy checking whether I followed directions correctly. So I'm only pointing this out for all the people like me who are probably diagnosible.....take a look at the part where you invert the muffin pans onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. You then say to pipe the chocolate mousse onto the meringue disc. Well, the way it's been built, once you invert the pan, the meringue disc will be on the bottom. So after inversion, you'll need to flip them over in order to put the mousse on the disc. Sigh.....if I've misread or misunderstood, let me know. I also think I'd make a smidge more mousse next time....not too much more, but a little. Anyway, it is all done, it looks beautiful, and I'll be able to just plate it on V-Day with the coulis and the raspberries and peppercorns. I know it will taste as good as it looks!

roopa said...

Laurie - Yes, you were right in following your instinct to flip them back over. The recipe is fixed now to indicate that. I need to hire myself a proofreader!

And please send me photos of your final product - I'd love to see how yours turned out!

Laurie said...

Okee's all in our tummys now! It was delicious as expected - I won't need chocolate for another year now. Check out the photos at Thanks for a fun recipe!

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