It was the morning of New Year's Eve 2010. My mother and sisters and I were trying to plan our dinner menu for the evening. We settled on a meal with some of our most favorite things: pan seared wild salmon atop De Puy lentils braised in red wine, caramelized brussels sprouts with pancetta, and homemade sourdough baguettes. Coming to a consensus on dessert, however, was another matter.
We thumbed through archived issues of Fine Cooking and Martha Stewart Living from our mother's vast shelves for inspiration. We wanted to try something different- something that we had always wanted to try but had never gotten around to making. It couldn't just be any dessert, but one that would be a spectacular flourish to a year of amazing eating.
I came across a recipe that I remembered tearing out of an old Gourmet. It was a cocoa meringue cake by Francois Payard. Payard baked chocolate meringue into disks and small sticks, then layered the disks with chocolate mousse and aligned the meringue sticks around the cake. The finished cake resembled a Charlotte- elegant and decadent. This was it.
We got to work, and, ever tempted to be spontaneous with recipes, added some of our own touches. We piped the meringue into four smaller disks, and ended up with an abundance of meringue sticks (snack time!). After we made the chocolate mousse, my eye caught the tin of English toffee perched on the countertop at the same time as my mother's did. We both grinned, and a minute later, we were stacking the meringue disks with the mousse and thin layers of whipped cream (for pretty stripes in the slices), sprinkling crushed, buttery toffee bits in between. After we finished placing the sticks around the cake, we all thought it looked beautiful- perhaps a bit too brown though. Something was missing.
That something was a foaming sea of the leftover whipped cream, with waves of white chocolate curls.
For the final adornment, we dripped caramelized sugar into abstract, elegant swoops, which we pieced together into the shape of a swan.
This has become one our favorite additions in our family repertoire. Flour-less and fabulous, it is would be a spectacular birthday cake for those who cannot consume gluten products, as well as a show-stopping Passover dessert. Oscar worthy indeed. . .