7 August 2016

Petit Antoine

The season for family birthdays is beginning, and since I'm still feeling inspired by the Bakeoff: Creme de la Creme, I decided to try my hand at one of the many miniature layered cakes that were made. Searching for the recipe, I was a bit sad that I couldn't find the ones used in the competition online. The explanation is that there is a book with every recipe out. Needless to say, it's on my Christmas list.

But I did find a recipe for this very pretty looking pastry. It's in French, so I ran it through Google translate, which was great fun and I heartily recommend it for a really good laugh. But by flicking between the translation and the original version, I worked out what should be done. There are a lot of parts to prepare, but several of them can be done well in advance. In particular the ganache needs to rest for 24 h at least, so some planning is called for.

Hazelnut Praline

200 g caster sugar
2 tbsp water
200 g blanched whole hazelnuts

  1. Place a sheet of baking paper (not wax) on a heat-proof surface.
  2. Starting with the hazelnut praline, place the sugar in a thick-bottomed saucepan with the water, stir through to mix only. Shake the saucepan once the sugar starts bubbling.
  3. When the sugar starts getting colour, add the hazelnuts and stir through to get them coated. You will need to be quick, so the hazelnuts don't burn.
  4. As soon as the hazelnuts start getting colour, pour them onto the baking paper and spread to help cool down quicker.
  5. Once cooled down, place in a blender and whizz until it's turned into powder.
  6. Transfer immediately to an airtight container. It makes more than is required for the pastry.
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Milk Chocolate Ganache

90 g milk chocolate
250 g double cream

  1. Chop the milk chocolate finely and place in a heat-proof bowl
  2. Scald the double cream under constant stirring to prevent it from burning. Once it starts bubbling, pour over the chocolate and stir through to get fully mixed.
  3. Cover with cling film and allow to cool down to room temperature, then chill in the fridge for 24 h.

Hazelnut Dacquoise
100 g whole blanched hazelnuts
100 g icing sugar
125 g egg whites (about 3 whites from large eggs)
30 g caster sugar
50 g chopped blanched hazelnuts

  1. At this point, you need to decide what shape the cake should have. The original recipe suggests a rectangular form of 20 x 30 cm and the amounts are adjusted for this. I didn't have this, so decided to use my 8 small (7cm) food rings and my 2 large ones (15 cm) instead. I prepared two sheets with baking paper and drew circles of the rings on the underside, spaced about 2 cm apart.
  2. Place the whole hazelnuts in a food processor together with a couple of table spoons of the icing sugar and grind as finely as possilble.
  3. Sift the hazelnut flour, returning any remaining pieces to the food processor, adding some more icing sugar and blending again. If there's any icing sugar left, sift it into the mixture and set aside.
  4. Place the whites in a clean glass or metal bowl and whisk until stiff peaks, then add the caster sugar in three parts, so the meringue goes glossy.
  5. Carefully fold in the ground hazelnut mixture, followed by the chopped blanched hazelnuts.
  6. Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C and prepare a piping bag with a wide round nozzle, transfer the meringue mixture into it and quickly pipe circles onto the prepared baking sheets.
  7. Bake each sheet for 20 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before prising off the baking paper. If you're preparing these in advance, place all in an airtight container as soon as possible, so they don't start picking up moisture from the air. The dacquoise will be a bit sticky, so cut up the baking paper and use as spacer between each circle, to prevent them from sticking together.
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Chocolate custard

100 g milk chocolate
100 g dark chocolate
275 g whipping cream
60 g egg yolks (about 4 yolks from large eggs)
30 g caster sugar

  1. Chop finely both types of chocolate and place in a heat-proof bowl.
  2. Place the whipping cream in a large saucepan and scald.
  3. While the cream is heating up, whip the yolks and sugar in another heat-proof bowl, until they are pale yellow and fluffy.
  4. As soon as the cream bubbles, pour over the chopped chocolates and stir through to melt them and incorporate into the custard.
  5. Cover the surface with cling film and leave to cool down to room temperature, then refrigerate until required.

Crunchy praline base

120 g dark chocolate at 62% cocoa solids
180 g hazelnut praline
85 g cornflakes

  1. Finely chop the chocolate and carefully melt it in the microwave, a few seconds at a time and stir through between each wizz.
  2. Mix in the praline, followed by the cornflakes.
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Put everything together

  1. Spread the crunchy praline base mixture at the bottom of your chosen shapes and press down firmly. You should have about 0.5 - 0.8 cm thickness.
  2. Brush a thin layer of chocolate custard over the base.
  3. Trim the dacquoise to suitable size and gently press it down on top.
  4. Distribute the rest of the chocolate custard over each piece, it should be about 1 cm thick.
  5. Cover the pastries with cling film and freeze for 2 - 3 h at least.
  6. When ready to serve, remove the pastries from their shapes and place on plates.
  7. Put the chocolate ganache in a piping bag with a star nozzle and pipe some swirls on each pastry.

Well, gorblimey, so much effort for something not that successful, even if it was fairly tasty. I can only conclude that the amounts given have been badly scaled down from a more industrial level. There must have been typos for sure, in particular for the crunchy praline base, because there is no way I would have managed to get anything near a mixture that would stick together if I'd followed the given amounts. Besides, as it was the last thing I prepared, I was low on chocolate, so didn't have a choice in reducing the amounts of the other ingredients.

The custard was far from enough for the number of dacquoise rounds and I ended up with the two larger pastries uncovered. I also ended up freezing the whole pastries overnight, which I'm not sure was the idea originally, but I wouldn't have had time to put the pastries together on the day. The custard didn't set as I'd expected it either, so just as well and because there was so much sugar everywhere, nothing really froze very solid. The coldness took the edge off the sweetness too. Hopefully the recipes in the book are better than this one. The only thing I liked was the fact that this recipe stated the percentage of cocoa mass in the chocolates. I've read that professional recipes do that, as it can make quite a difference, but I'd never encountered this before.

The individual elements are interesting though - starting with the praline - I've had this on ice cream and cakes in patisseries and always wondered how they get the hazelnuts to taste like that. Now I know - they're coated in caramel. So a good thing to have for sprinkling on all sorts of desserts.

Next the milk chocolate ganache - I didn't expect it would work with these proportions and I think chilling for 24 h helped make it stiff enough to pipe. It was a good contrast colour-wise to the dark chocolate custard. But it's key that this is done with chocolate milk, dark chocolate won't work in the same way. I really should do a bit more experimentation with ganache and write up an entry about it, one for the types of chocolate I can get hold of in my local supermarket.

The custard I didn't like at all, I think the one I made the other week, was miles ahead, I shouldn't even make this comparison.

The dacquoise was really tasty and would have been fine on its own, as small soft/chewy cakes, dipped in dark chocolate possibly, so also a keeper. Would possibly also work as a cake base, as long as it's not built too high up and using light fillings inside.

The crunchy base is something I'll leave for now, I really don't know what it was supposed to be like. Admittedly the original recipe called for something called "Feuilletine", which appears to be caramel flavoured thin brittle flakes of some sort. Not something I'd come across, but a quick search on the internet seemed to indicate that cornflakes would be a reasonable swap.

Now the two large rounds without chocolate custard are residing in the freezer, waiting to be eaten...

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