Moving right along on our culinary world tour, our next stop will be in Lyon, France! Although I’ve never been to Lyon, I have visited Paris, and am rather familiar with one French specialty in particular… Pastry! As soon as I learned of this destination, there was no doubt in my mind that another grand dessert experiment was in store. How many times do I have the opportunity to let loose and go wild with chocolate, sugar, and cake? Perhaps more than the average person, true, but French pastries are something different altogether.
Recalling towers of multi-colored macaron shells, spiraling upwards to impossibly tall heights, and glass cases lined with glittering fruit tarts so dazzling, they could easily be confused with a jeweler’s wares, all my inspiration could be found in one memory of one patisserie. Pierre Hermé, the so-called “Picasso of Pastry,” pairs daring flavors into modern pastry presentations, which is right up my alley.
On my “dream pastry challenge” list, (Yes, such thing really does exist! The pages are lined with ideas of croquembuche and napoleons, but those are for another day) there sat the scribbled title of “plaisir sucré.” An individual portion that unflinchingly packs in the chocolate in a layered attack that seems greater than each component would be capable of. Originally based on a hazelnut cake and hazelnut praline foundation, followed by waves of milk chocolate, I just had to put in my own little twist. Speculoos is my secondary flavor, playing harmony to many shades of dark chocolate instead. There’s a lot going on in each bite, so let me break it down for you…
Though far from perfect, it felt as though I had scaled Mount Everest when that final sheet of chocolate fell into place. It’s true, I could use a whole lot of work on my chocolate skills, but a nice transfer sheet covers a multitude of tempering sins. I’m not sure that Monsieur Hermé would approve of my eggless and dairy-free rendition on his masterwork, but I’m fairly certain that my tasters did, in any event. Who knows if the competitors on the upcoming episode will turn to pastry, but I would crown them the winner right then and there if they did the French tradition justice! Tune in when Around the World in 80 Plates heads to France, this Wednesday at 10/9c on Bravo, to find out.
Speculoos Plaisr Sucré
10 Ounces Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped, Melted, and Tempered
12 Ounces Bittersweet Chocolate, Finely Chopped
3/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
3/4 Cup Speculoos Spread
1 Cup Water
1/2 Cup Confectioner’s sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
1 Cup Cake Flour
1 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Roughly Crushed Speculoos Cookies
1 1/3 Cups Speculoos Spread
6 Ounces (1 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, Melted
1/4 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine, Melted
2 Cups Crispy Rice Cereal
Starting with the chocolate sheets, use an offset spatula to spread your tempered chocolate onto plain acetate sheets, or chocolate transfer sheets, large enough to cover a baking sheet. Mine had been rolled up for quite some time, so in order to get it flat, I had to tape down the corners with masking tape; you may choose to do the same, just to prevent it from sliding around. Spread the chocolate very thinly (thinner than is pictured- these layers were a bit tough to get a fork through) and as evenly as possible. Allow them to set, undisturbed, until completely solidified. If your kitchen is particularly warm, you can place the whole sheet in the refrigerator to help them firm up. Once solid, warm a sharp knife to allow for smoother cuts, and slice the sheet into 2 x 4-inch rectangles. Set aside.
Next up, prepare the ganache. Simple place the chocolate and “milk” in a microwave-safe dish, and heat on full power for 60 seconds. Let sit for 60 seconds more, and then stir thoroughly, until completely smooth. If there are still a few stubborn pieces of chocolate that haven’t fully melted, heat again at intervals of 20 seconds, stirring well after each heating, until smooth. Let cool until firm enough to pipe. You may wish to hasten the process by chilling the mixture in your fridge, but don’t just leave it there, because it will set to hard if allowed to reach such a cold temperature. Set aside.
Moving on to the dacquoise, preheat your oven to 325 degrees and lightly grease a 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan.
Place the speculoos spread, water, sugar, and vanilla in your blender, and process to emulsify. Scrape down the sides of the container if any of the spread is sticking, and blend once more, until the liquid mixture is entirely homogeneous.
Separately, whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, and salt in a large bowl. Pour the liquid mix into the dry goods, and whisk just until the two are combined to create the batter. Transfer to your prepared jelly roll pan, and smooth it out into a thin but even layer. It may not seem like enough cake to cover all that space, but just keep spreading and you’ll get there! Sprinkle the crushed speculoos cookies equally over the entire surface.
Bake for 15 – 18 minutes, until lightly browned around the edges and a toothpick inserted into the center pulls out cleanly. Let cool completely before proceeding.
For the praline, simply mix together all of the ingredients until well incorporated, and quickly spread it on top of your cooled sheet of cake. This mixture is extremely thick and sticky, so I would highly recommend lightly greasing your offset spatula before going at it. It only gets thicker as it cools, too, so don’t waste any time or let it sit there unattended! Spread it out as evenly as possible, to ensure that the rest of your layers follow suit.
Okay, now we’re finally ready for assembly! Slice the praline-topped cake into rectangles measuring 2 x 4-inches. Load the ganache into a pastry bag fitted with a medium-sized round tip, and pipe ganache in a zigzagging pattern across the top of each piece. Place a sheet of chocolate on top, and pipe another zigzag of ganache over that. Add another sheet of chocolate, and now grab your chocolate chantilly. Place that into a second piping bag, this one fitted with a large round tip, and pipe two straight lines lengthwise down each piece. At long last, finish it all off with a third sheet of chocolate. You’re done! Now, savor every single bite; this isn’t an ordinary, everyday sort of treat!
Makes Approximately 18 – 24 Servings (depending on how many scraps you eat during the process)
For participating in this competition, Bravo has compensated me for my time, but all recipes and opinions are solely my own.