Holiday Feature

Pillars of Chocolate
with Cocoa Thunderheads

Serves 8


Pillars of Chocolate Chocolate Cake
1/2 pound plus 2 tablespoons
   unsalted butter (2 tablespoons melted)
8 ounces semisweet chocolate,
   broken into l/2-ounce pieces
6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
10 large egg whites

1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
16 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into 1/2-ounce pieces
3 cups toasted sliced almonds

Cocoa Thunderheads
3 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

Double Cappuccino Ice Cream
Double Cappuccino Ice Cream recipe


Measuring cup, measuring spoon, baking sheet, small nonstick pan, pastry brush, 3 10- by 15-inch baking sheets with sides, parchment paper, double boiler, plastic wrap, whisk, electric mixer with paddle and balloon whip, rubber spatula, 5-quart stainless steel bowl, paring knife, 3-quart stainless steel bowl, food processor with metal blade, 1-quart stainless steel bowl, cake spatula, cutting board, serrated knife, serrated slicer, cooling rack.


Prepare the Double Cappuccino Ice Cream
Make the ice cream (recipe below), then place in the freezer for at least 2 hours before assembling the pillars.

Prepare the Chocolate Cake

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Lightly coat the bottoms and sides of two 10- by 15-inch baking sheets with melted butter. Line each sheet with parchment paper, then lightly coat the parchment with more melted butter. Set aside. Heat 1 inch of water in the bottom half of a double boiler over medium heat. Place the remaining 1/2 pound butter and 8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate in the top half of the double boiler. Tightly cover the top with plastic wrap. Allow to heat for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from heat, stir until smooth, and set aside at room temperature until needed.

Place the egg yolks and 3/4 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Beat on high until slightly thickened and lemon-colored, about 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat on high for 2 additional minutes. While the egg yolks are beating, whisk the egg whites in a 5-quart stainless steel bowl until stiff but not dry, about 5 to 6 minutes. Using a rubber spatula, fold the melted chocolate mixture into the beaten egg yolk mixture. Add a quarter of the beaten egg whites and stir to incorporate, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites.

Divide the batter between the prepared baking sheets, spreading evenly. Bake on the center rack in the preheated oven until the tops of the cake are dry to the touch, about 12 minutes (when touched prior to that the cakes will leave you with sticky fingers). Remove the cakes from the oven and cool in the baking sheets for 5 minutes.

Invert the cakes onto 2 clean sheets of parchment paper cut to fit the insides of the baking sheets. (If the cakes adhere to the sides of the baking sheets, use a sharp paring knife and cut along the inside edges of the sheets to free the cakes.) Remove the parchment paper from the baked inverted side of each cake. Wash and dry the baking sheets. Slide the cake layers with the clean sheets of parchment paper on the bottom back into the baking sheets and place them in the freezer while preparing the ganache.

Prepare the Ganache

Heat 1-1/2 cups heavy cream, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, and 1 tablespoon butter in a 3-quart saucepan over medium high heat. When hot, stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil. Place 16 ounces semisweet chocolate in a 3-quart stainless steel bowl. Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth.

Process the almonds in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade until finely ground, about 20 seconds.

In a small bowl, combine one third of the ground almonds with 1 cup of chocolate ganache. Keep the chocolate almond ganache and the remaining plain chocolate ganache at room temperature until needed.

Begin Assembling The Pillars

Remove the cakes from the freezer. Evenly divide the chocolate almond ganache onto the cakes. Spread the ganache evenly to within an 1/8 inch of the edges of each cake. Return the cakes to the freezer for 30 minutes. Remove 1 cake layer from the freezer. Transfer all of the ice cream onto the top of the cake layer. Use a cake spatula to evenly spread the ice cream to the edges of the cake. Remove the other cake layer from the freezer and invert it onto the ice cream, pressing gently with your hands to even the layer. Place in the freezer for 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the freezer. Invert it onto a cutting board. Remove the parchment paper. Using a very sharp serrated knife, cut away the uneven edges of the cake so that it will measure 9 by 12 inches. Use a serrated slicer to cut the cake widthwise into 8 1-1/2-inch-wide pillars. Place the pillars onto the baking sheet and return to the freezer for 30 minutes. Place a cooling rack on a baking sheet with sides. Warm the chocolate ganache over hot water until it is smooth and flowing. Remove one of the cake pillars from the freezer and place lengthwise on the cooling rack. Spoon 2 tablespoons of ganache over the top of the pillar. Use a cake spatula to evenly spread the ganache over the top and sides of the pillar. Return the coated pillar to the freezer, placing it on the baking sheet, plain side down. Repeat the coating step with the remaining 7 pillars, coating them and returning them to the freezer 1 at a time. (To prevent the coated pillars from touching each other, place them on 2 baking sheets in the freezer.) Spread the remaining ground almonds onto a clean baking sheet with sides. One at a time, roll the pillars in the ground almonds, coating them on all 4 long sides. Place the coated pillars on a clean baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and return to the freezer for at least 2 hours before serving the dessert.

Prepare The Cocoa Thunderheads

Place 3 cups heavy cream, 1/3 cup sugar, and the cocoa in the well-chilled bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a well-chilled balloon whip. Mix on high until stiff, about 1 minute.

To Serve

Spoon 3 tablespoons of billowy Cocoa Thunderheads onto each of the dessert plates. Remove the pillars from the freezer. Trim about 1/8 inch from each end to form a flat surface. Use a serrated slicer to cut each pillar in half diagonally (heat the blade of the slicer under hot running water and wipe the blade dry before making each slice). Stand 2 pillar halves, flat end down, into the Cocoa Thunderheads. Serve immediately.

The Chef's Touch

The whimsical appearance of this dessert—two ice cream-filled chocolate pillars poking through the clouds—should not mislead one into thinking this is not a serious, decadent, and delicious dessert.

The ice cream may be prepared and kept frozen for two to three days prior to the assembly of the pillars. If so, the ice cream may need to be tempered (softened) before you can readily spread it over the baked cake layer. This is easily done by placing the ice cream in the refrigerator for 30 to 60 minutes before using, just enough time to soften it enough so that it will spread easily over the cake without tearing it.

Wbat to do with the ice cream-filled cake trimmings? Obviously, they can be immediately enjoyed as a sweet indulgence or cut into 12-inch pieces, then fiozen, and saved to fold into a batch of White Chocolate Ice Cream (you need to buy the book for that recipe!).

More than an hour will pass between the preparation of the ganache and the coating of the chocolate pillars. During that time the ganache will no doubt stiffen at air-conditioned room temperature. It is for this reason that the ganache is heated over hot water before being used. An alternative method would be to place the bowl of ganache on a heating pad set on medium for the hour or so before it is used. This should keep the ganache at a flowing consistency.

Successful construction requires that the chocolate pillars spend the specified amount of time in the freezer. In fact, if your freezer is chock full of other goodies, extra freezing time may be required. Hopefully, you have plenty of available freezer space to allow plenty of airflow around the pillars; if not, it may take too long and result in icy (ice crystals will form) ice cream.

I suggest a double cappuccino with this dessert—the simplicity of the pairing creates a "constructive" experience.


Double Cappuccino Ice Cream

Yields 1-1/2 quarts

2-1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup granulated sugar
5 large egg yolks
4 tablespoons espresso powder
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup hot brewed coffee

Heat the heavy cream, milk and half the amount of sugar in a 3-quart saucepan over medium high heat. When hot, stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil.

While the cream is heating, place the egg yolks and the remaining sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle. Beat the eggs on high for 2 to 2-1/2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl then beat on high until slightly thickened and lemon colored, 2-1/2 to 3 minutes. (At this point the cream should be boiling. If not, adjust the mixer speed to low and continue to mix until the cream boils. If the eggs are not mixed until the point when the boiling cream is added, they will develop undesirable lumps.)

Pour the boiling cream into the beaten egg yolks and whisk to combine. Return to the saucepan and heat over medium high heat, stirring constantly. Bring to a temperature of 185 degrees F, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and transfer to a 3-quart stainless steel bowl. Place the espresso powder and the ground cinnamon in a separate small bowl. Pour in the hot brewed coffee and stir to dissolve the espresso powder. Pour the coffee and espresso mixture into the cream and egg yolk mixture. Cool in an ice-water bath to a temperature of 40 to 45 degrees F, about 15 minutes.

Freeze the mixture in an ice cream freezer, following the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer the semi-frozen ice cream to a plastic container. Securely cover, then place in the freezer for several hours before serving. Serve within 5 days.



Desserts To Die For
by Marcel Desaulniers
Photographs by Michael Grand
Copyright (c) 1995 by Kenan Books, Inc.
Text (c) 1995 by Marcel Desaulniers.
Recipe reprinted by permission


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Desserts To Die For


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This page created December 1998; modified November 2006