Mexican Marquise on Meringue

The May 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Emma of CookCraftGrow and Jenny of Purple House Dirt. They chose to challenge everyone to make a Chocolate Marquise. The inspiration for this recipe comes from a dessert they prepared at a restaurant in Seattle.

I have been so busy making jam this week that I almost didn’t notice that it was the end of the month—time for the May Daring Baker’s challenge! The project this month is a composed dessert with several components, none of which are particularly difficult on their own, but which come together to create a unique, complex, and impressive dessert: chocolate marquise on a nest of torched meringue, garnished with caramel sauce and spiced nuts. I haven’t had much extra time to contemplate variations, so I went with the first idea that popped into my head: Mexican chocolate. This wasn’t much of a stretch, since the original marquise recipe called for cayenne and tequila.

The first step was to make the marquise itself, since this needed several hours in the freezer before serving. It is a combination of sugar-tempered whipped egg yolks, spiced chocolate ganache, and whipped cream, and sets up something like frozen mousse. My only adjustments here were to use brown rice syrup instead of corn syrup, omit the tequila in favor of a little extra Mexican vanilla, and add a bit of cinnamon. Although I used the quartered recipe which was supposed to make 6 servings, I not only filled up 6 silicone muffin cups, but the bottom of a loaf pan as well—this is a generous recipe, perfect for showing off to guests at a dinner party!

Once the marquise was safely tucked into the freezer, I got started on the caramel sauce. Rather than the tequila sauce listed in the challenge, I decided to continue the Mexican theme by making cajeta—although technically it was dulce de leche since I used cow’s milk rather than goat’s milk. I had better luck this time around than on my first attempt, even though it boiled over at one point and then took a good two hours to caramelize to the texture I was looking for.

The challenge also calls for crunchy candied almonds with cayenne and cinnamon. I used a slightly different recipe for my almonds, and dusted them with cocoa powder once they had cooled.

Finally, I made basic meringue swirls flavored with vanilla, cacao nibs and cinnamon, broiled until golden brown in the oven on a sheet of parchment since I don’t own a torch. It just figures that this simple task had to be repeated because two of the first meringues to a crisp—guess I am not quite in tune with my parents’ broiler yet.

Composing the plates was a race against time. While wishing I had an extra eye in the back of my head to watch the meringues, I moved the marquises to the refrigerator, drizzled—or rather, glopped—dulce de leche on the plates, and scattered handfuls of Mexican chocolate almonds. The toasted meringues were like soft marshmallows, sticking first to the parchment and then to the spatula, but I managed to move them intact. Finally it was time to unmold the marquises. I had been hoping that they would slide right out of the silicone muffin cups, but that was clearly too optimistic; I was, however, able to peel them back with only one instance of the mold snapping back and spattering chocolate everywhere. This was also about the point where my 3-year old decided he wanted to have his mama’s undivided attention. A quick dusting of cocoa powder over the top, and I rushed my plate over to the dining room for some beauty shots, shouting over my shoulder to my parents to eat theirs up before it had a chance to melt.

After that momentary chaos, I was able to sit down on the sofa with my little guy and dig into the dessert, which turned out perfectly. The chocolate marquise, which my dad insisted on calling ice cream, was light and creamy with just a hint of cayenne peeking through; I had been quite worried, unnecessarily as it turns out, after tasting the chocolate base alone and finding it too spicy for my palate. The meringue was pillowy soft, and nicely cinnamon-scented with the occasional crunch of cacao nibs; it was Nolan’s favorite element. The dulce de leche was smooth and sweet, much more successful than the one I attempted at Thanksgiving; we have lots leftover for drizzling on ice cream. And the Mexican chocolate almonds were subtly spicy, adding a nice element of crunch and salt to the otherwise uniformly sweet plate.

I thought this was a great challenge! I love the ones that involve lots of components, and this recipe would lend itself to lots of chocolatey variations: other spices like ginger or chai, berries or citrus, coconut, even peanut butter (I was very tempted to try folding peanut butter powder into some of my meringues, and may do this when we go to eat up the leftover marquises). It is gorgeous, and since most of the elements can be made well in advance, it would be a very impressive dessert to serve at a dinner party. Despite all the components involved, it was also a very light dessert, good for this time of year as the weather begins to warm up—but before the kitchen gets too hot to handle the frozen marquise. I’ll keep this one in my repertoire to pull out on occasions when I want to impress!

I am a member of the Theta Class of the Daring Bakers, inducted in July of 2007. For more information and a list of my previous challenges, click here.

Chocolate Marquise on Meringue

Servings: 6 2″x2″ cubes (or more!)

3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 large egg
2 T + 2 tsp (40 ml) (40 grams/ 1½ oz) sugar
1 T + 1 tsp (2/3 fluid oz/ 20 ml.) water
Chocolate Base, barely warm (recipe follows)
½ C (4 fluid oz./ 120 ml.) heavy cream
½ C Dutch process cocoa powder (for rolling)

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the egg yolks and whole eggs. Whip on high speed until very thick and pale, about 10-15 minutes. When the eggs are getting close to finishing, make a sugar syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small saucepan (I actually made about twice as much as I needed because of the small amounts). Bring the syrup to a boil and then cook to softball stage (235F/115C).

With the mixer running on low speed, drizzle the sugar syrup into the fluffy eggs, trying to hit that magic spot between the mixing bowl and the whisk. When all of the syrup has been added (do it fairly quickly), turn the mixer back on high and whip until the bowl is cool to the touch. This will take at least 10 minutes. In a separate mixing bowl, whip the heavy cream to soft peaks. Set aside.

When the egg mixture has cooled, add the chocolate base to the egg mixture and whisk to combine. Try to get it as consistent as possible without losing all of the air you’ve whipped into the eggs. Fold 1/3 of the reserved whipped cream into the chocolate mixture to loosen it, and then fold in the remaining whipped cream.

Pour into loaf pans prepared with parchment paper (or other molds) and cover with plastic wrap (directly touching the mixture so it doesn’t allow in any air). Freeze until very firm, at least 2 – 4 hours (preferably 6 – 8 hours). When you’re ready to plate, remove the marquise from the freezer at least 15 minutes before serving. While it’s still hard, remove it from the pan by pulling on the parchment ‘handles’ or by flipping it over onto another piece of parchment. Cut it into cubes and roll the cubes in cocoa powder. These will start to melt almost immediately, so don’t do this step until all of your other plating components (meringue, caramel, spiced nuts, cocoa nibs) are ready. The cubes need to sit in the fridge to slowly thaw so plating components can be done during that time. They don’t need to be ready before the cubes are rolled in the cocoa powder.

Plate with the torched meringue and drizzled caramel sauce, and toss spiced almonds and cocoa nibs around for garnish. You want to handle the cubes as little as possible because they get messy quickly and are difficult to move. However, you want to wait to serve them until they’ve softened completely. The soft pillows of chocolate are what make this dessert so unusual and when combined with the other elements, you’ll get creamy and crunchy textures with cool, spicy, salty, bitter, and sweet sensations on your palate.

Chocolate Base

3 oz bittersweet chocolate (about 70% cocoa)
1/3 C + 2 tsp (90 ml/3 fluid oz.) heavy cream
1/8 tsp salt
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 T vanilla extract
1 T brown rice syrup
1 T Dutch-process cocoa powder
dash freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tsp butter, softened

Place the chocolate in a small mixing bowl. In a double-boiler, warm the cream until it is hot to the touch but not boiling (I admit to doing this in the microwave). Remove from the heat and pour over the chocolate. Allow it to sit for a minute or two before stirring. Stir until the chocolate is melted completely and is smooth throughout. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Set aside until cooled to room temperature. Do not refrigerate, as the base needs to be soft when added to the marquise mixture. If you make it the day before, you may need to warm it slightly. Whisk it until it is smooth again before using it in the marquise recipe.

Torched Meringue

Servings: Makes about 1 cup of meringue.

3 large egg whites
1/2 C less 1 T (105 ml) (3½ oz or 100 gms) sugar
Splash of apple cider vinegar

1/8 tsp vanilla

Combine the egg whites, sugar and vinegar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using your (clean, washed) hand, reach in the bowl and stir the three together, making sure the sugar is moistened evenly by the egg whites and they make a homogeneous liquid. (This is where I added about a teaspoon of cinnamon also.)

Over a saucepan of simmering water, warm the egg white mixture. Use one hand to stir the mixture continuously, feeling for grains of sugar in the egg whites. As the liquid heats up, the sugar will slowly dissolve and the egg whites will thicken. This step is complete when you don’t feel any more sugar crystals in the liquid and it is uniformly warm, nearly hot. (I did this with a whisk instead and was still able to tell when the sugar was dissolved; I also scaled the recipe back even further, using just two whites, since that was the amount leftover from the marquise.)

Remove the mixing bowl from the saucepan and return it to the stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Whisk until you reach soft peaks. In the last 10 seconds of mixing, add the vanilla to the meringue and mix thoroughly (fold in cacao nibs here if you like).

When you’re ready to plate the dessert, spoon the meringue onto a plate (or use a piping bag) and use a blowtorch to broil. This can also be done under an oven broiler; watch it very closely or set the broiler to low.

Update 5/30/11: Another successful variant of the marquise on meringue: I cut slices of marquise from the loaf pan to serve for dessert tonight, and made peanut butter flavored meringues using peanut butter powder. The flavor was definitely discernible, and my mom indicated that she actually preferred it that way.

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