Friday, September 21, 2007

Walnut Dacquoise

I baked dacquoise cakes a few times before, and had results ranging from mysteriously vanishing meringue layers to rather hard ones. Luckily, I made some memorably delicious dacquoise, too. It is one of those things that I am not yet confident about making, and this incorporates a healthy dose of suspense to my kitchen activities that involve dacquoise. Come to think of it, I never have a dull moment when I work with egg whites!

I chanced on this recipe in William and Sonoma's Desserts book, and decided to make it because I had the exact number of required egg whites leftover from another project, and some buttercream in the freezer. Although the ingredients were conveniently at hand, the recipe seemed like it could be improved. In fact, I was already editing it as I read it. I would love to add a sponge layer and somehow incorporate chocolate; but in the end, I followed the original recipe.

We tasted the cake the next day. The walnut meringue layers and coffee buttercream went well together, but the layers were still quite hard. It took several more hours for them to mellow down to a smoother slicing consistency. Based on my past experience, whipped cream fillings release water as they stand and thus do not work well with meringue layers which have an affinity for all kinds of moisture. Given the time, they may simply evaporate with this choice of filling. Buttercream fillings, on the other hand, do not really soften meringue layers. It seems to me that ganache is a really good choice of filling, as it lends just the right amount of moisture to meringue, softening it slightly, while preserving most of the sought-after crunchy consistency. Of course, the quantity of sugar used in the meringue is also a determining factor for crunchiness; more sugar creates a harder meringue.

My observations are based on only a few experiments. I am very curious to know more about this, so please leave a comment and share your experiences, too.

  • 2/3 c lightly toasted walnuts
  • 1/2 c lightly toasted walnuts plus 12 walnut halves for decoration
  • 3/4 c sugar
  • 1 tbs cornstarch
  • 3 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 c Buttercream flavored with 2 tsp of instant expresso powder
Preheat oven to 250F. Trace 3 8" circles on parchment paper and turn the sheets over to 2 baking sheets.

Combine 2/3 c walnuts, 1/4 c sugar and cornstarch in the bowl of your food processor. Process until the mixture is quite fine. Set aside. Mix egg whites with cream of tartar in the bowl of your mixer. Beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/2 c sugar while continuing to beat until stiff, glossy peaks form. Add the vanilla, and gently mix in the nuts with the aid of a spatula.

Divide the meringue evenly among the traced circles. Use the back of a spoon to fill in the circles. Bake until the meringues are crisp and pale gold, about 1 hour and 20 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes and peel off the parchment. Allow to cool completely on wire racks.

Place a meringue layer on your serving plate. Spread 1/3 c buttercream over the top of the meringue. Repeat with the other 2 meringue layers. Cover the cake with the remaining buttercream. Chop the remaining 1/2 c of walnuts and press into the sides of the cake. Pipe rosettes of buttercream lining the sides, and decorate with walnut halves. Refrigerate overnight to allow the meringues to soften.