Magnificent Marjolaine: Luscious layers of chocolate, cake and cream

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.