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Nov 01, 2014
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SERVING SAINT LOUIS SINCE 1999
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Magnificent Marjolaine: Luscious layers of chocolate, cake and cream
By Ligaya Figueras • Photo by Ashley Gieseking
Posted On: 04/07/2009   


If you’re in the mood for an extra-special dessert, marjolaine is nothing less than magnifique. This multilayered nut meringue was created by Ferdinand Point, considered to be the father of modern French cuisine, and the cake was made famous at his renowned restaurant, La Pyramide, in Vienne. Calling marjolaine a cake, however, does it a bit of a disservice, considering the complex assembly required for this pastry.

“The classic marjolaine is a rectangular-shaped, seven-layer cake made from four layers of a meringue-and-nut-based ‘cake’ that is layered between different fillings, the three filling layers being praline buttercream, vanilla or vanilla-rum buttercream, and chocolate buttercream,” said Scott Fausz, pastry chef and instructor at L’École Culinaire in Ladue. The entire creation is then frosted in chocolate buttercream.

In pastry parlance, the meringue-nut mixture is called a dacquoise. Essentially, finely ground nuts and sugar are mixed together, then folded into egg whites and beaten until stiff. The chocolate filling, or ganache, is a mixture of equal parts chocolate and hot cream that is stirred until smooth and left to cool. Fausz explained that pastry chefs use ganache as a filling and also as a glaze or frosting, as in the case of a marjolaine.

“Not many restaurants outside of France do it,” said Michael Roberts, chef and co-owner of Atlas Restaurant in the Central West End. Lucky for St. Louis, Roberts is undaunted by the multistep operation of marjolaine-making. Atlas’ version is a hazelnut-almond meringue layered with crème blanc and ganache. It starts with a layer of dacquoise, followed by a layer of ganache, a layer of sponge cake, crème blanc – a stabilized whipped cream – and ends with a second dacquoise layer. All five layers are soaked with rum syrup and the entire cake is the frosted with the bittersweet Callebaut chocolate ganache. How sweet it is!

“Really, ours is not that sweet,” Roberts said. “There’s no butter in it except for in the crème blanc.” Roberts’ interpretation is also unusual because one of his layers is sponge cake. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” Roberts got his recipe from a chef he worked with at Le Piano Zinc in France.

One reason why a marjolaine makes for a memorable dessert is because the presentation is simply unparalleled. Slices of the pavé-style (meaning “brick” in French) cake are plated flat so that each layer is visible – a tantalizing, complex composition of textures – smooth and silky, airy yet nut-studded – and colorful strata of beige, gold and dark brown.

“There are a lot of different components that you have to make in advance,” said Fausz, who considers his buttercream the most difficult element in the assembly. “We make an Italian meringue buttercream that calls for whipping egg whites with hot sugar syrup. The syrup is cooked to 240 degrees and poured in, and whipped until cooled to body temperature before the butter is added, so there are a few temperature-sensitive steps.”

Roberts doesn’t mind the laborious prep needed to create his restaurant’s signature dessert. “It shows a certain skill set,” he said. And for a kitchen as busy as Atlas’, the marjolaine is great because it plates up quickly – just grab a slice of cake from the refrigerator, pour a cool pool of crème anglaise on the side, top with a few seasonal berries and jazz it up with a sprig of fresh mint. Done. “And it’s tasty,” Roberts added.

Marjolaine
Atlas Restaurant's Michael Roberts

INGREDIENTS

For the rum syrup:
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup dark rum

• Simmer the sugar with the water until dissolved. Allow to cool.
• Add the dark rum, stir and set aside.

For the sponge cake:
8 eggs, separated into yolks and whites
• 1½ cups sugar, divided
• 2 cups all-purpose flour (250 g.)

• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
• Butter a 17½-by-12½-inch half-sheet pan and line it with parchment. Butter the parchment, dust it with flour and tap out the excess.
• Using an electric mixer with the whip attachment, whip together the egg yolks and 1 cup of sugar until the mixture is light in color and it ribbons when the whip attachment is lifted. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
• Use a clean mixer bowl with the whip attachment to whip the egg whites and the remaining ½ cup of sugar until the mixture forms peaks.
• Use a rubber spatula to fold the egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture. Sift the flour over the combined yolk and white mixture.
• Fold the flour in and spread in the prepared pan. Bake for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

For the dacquoise:
2 cups slivered almonds, toasted
2 cups toasted hazelnuts, skins removed
2 1/8 cups sugar, divided
2 cups egg whites

• Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
• Butter a 17½-by-12½-inch half-sheet pan and line it with parchment. Butter the parchment, dust it with sugar and tap out the excess.
• In a food processor, chop the nuts with 1½ cups of sugar till the nuts are tiny pieces but not a paste.
• Using an electric mixer with the whip attachment, whip together the egg whites with the remaining sugar until it forms firm peaks. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
• Use a rubber spatula to fold in the nut mixture.
• Spread the mixture, or dacquoise, into the prepared pan.
• Bake until fairly dry and pulled away from sides.

Note about the cakes:
Once the sponge cake and dacquoise are cooled, cut a piece of the sponge cake the long length of the pan by 4½-inch wide (17½ by 4½ inches). Cut 2 of the same size pieces of the dacquoise. Stack the cakes to check for uniform length and width. Trim if needed. Poke the cakes with an ice pick so they'll be able to absorb the syrup.

For the ganache:
2½ cups cream
500 g. dark chocolate, chopped

• Heat the cream to a boil and turn off the heat.
• Add the chopped dark chocolate and let stand about 20 minutes to melt the chocolate.
• Transfer the mixture to a warm bowl and whisk until smooth. Set in a cool area.

For the crème blanc:
4 oz. butter
1 cup cream
½ cup sugar
1½ tsp. vanilla

• Melt the butter then allow to cool.
• Whip the cream, sugar and vanilla. When the cream is almost completely whipped, pour in the melted butter and finish whipping.

PREPARATION

To assemble the marjolaine:
• On a tray without high sides, place a layer of dacquoise and soak with some of the rum syrup.
• Use a metal spatula to spread an even layer of ganache on top.
• When the ganache is firm, add the layer of sponge cake, soak with some of the syrup and top with the crème blanc.
• Add the remaining layer of dacquoise and soak with the remaining syrup. Cover the top and sides evenly with ganache and allow to cool.

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