chocolate cake, a classic updated

chocolate mousse cake with hazelnut praline

I’ve come to the conclusion that a good chocolate cake is the little black dress (LBD) of the dessert world. I mean they are both absolute classics that are always in vogue. There is a dress-them-up or dress-them-down flexibility which makes them a workhorse in their respective arenas. And they are both excellent examples of why when you’re onto a good thing, you should stick to it.

Just as my LBD is the ‘go to’ clothing item whenever there’s a party on the social agenda, my latest favourite chocolate cake is the first thing that springs to mind when I start thinking Birthday cakes. That is unless the Birthday person in question is like my gorgeous little sister Nao, one of those rare and slightly unbelievable types that does NOT like chocolate. I know. I know. I don’t understand either, although it may explain her tiny tiny waistline, but that’s a whole other story.

Of course every now and then even the classics need an update, a bit of a twist to freshen things up. Which is why when I was looking for a cake for my dear friend Pen’s birthday, I decided to put my old faithful chocolate ‘herion’ cake on hold and try something new. The inspiration came from Sean Moran of Sean’s Panaroma in Bondi and his gorgeous book Let it Simmer. And while the pictures did look enticing, it was the story behind the cake that had me itching to give it a whirl.

Apparently Sean’s ‘modest’ cake had started out as a mistake, a sunken flop, until one of his mates rescued it with an upper ‘coif’ of mousse and since then she’s been the life of many a social gathering. Think moist, delicate, light chocolate cake as a base for a decent layer of artery clogging rich rich chocolate mousse and you’re in the ball park.

While Sean likes to pretty his up with ruffles of the darkest chocolate, I prefer to give mine a bit of confectionery ‘bling’. Golden gems of hazelnut praline to add a sparkly touch along with some crunch….what all the most stylish chocolate cakes should be wearing this season…all good things

chocolate mousse cake
serves 10-12
adapted from Sean Moran in let it simmer.

I know my Mum would have found this cake to be way too rich but I’m sure she would have loved the Aussie ingenuity behind taking a sunken ‘failure’ of a cake and improving it to being almost out-of-this-world good with a little ‘patching’ in the form of chocolate mousse.

One of the best things about this cake is that it makes a mess of not one but four bowls. And while the pessimists amongst you will be thinking of all that washing up, those of you with a more sunny disposition will like me, will be eyeing off all those delicious bowls to lick. Yum.

If you’re new to the whole cooking with chocolate things, I really recommend you have a quick read through the story of one of my misadventures with chocolate HERE so hopefully you’ll avoid the dreaded chocolate ‘splitting’.

150g dark chocolate (I used Lindt 70% cocoa solids)
150g unsalted butter, chopped
5 eggs, separated
150g caster sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it)
pinch salt
for the mousse:
250g dark chocolate (I used Lindt 70% cocoa solids)
3 eggs
3T Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur)
hazelnut praline, to serve optional

Preheat oven to 180C and line and grease a 24cm springform cake tin. Whizz chocolate in a food processor until it resembles crumbs and place in a heatproof bowl with the butter. Place about 2cm of water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer with chocolate bowl on top, making sure that the water doesn’t touch the base of the bowl. Allow chocolate to gently melt, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile whisk egg whites with salt until soft peaks form, Gradually beat in half the sugar until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Beat yolks with the remaining sugar until pale and thickened slightly. Stir yolk mix through the melted chocolate and then delicately fold chocolate mixture through the egg whites. Scoop into the prepared tin and bake for 45-50mins or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

Allow cake to cool in the tin and don’t stress when the center starts to sink…it’s all part of the plan. 

For the mousse, whiz the remaining chocolate and melt over a water bath as before. While the chocolate is melting, beat the eggs until pale and slightly thickened. When chocolate is melted combine with the egg mixture. Spoon mousse into the hollow of your now sunken cake and refrigerate for an hour or longer.

To serve, sprinkle over crushed praline and cut cake into small slices. This is one seriously rich cake.

hazelnut praline
makes approx 3 cups

This recipe makes way more praline than you’ll need for the cake but trust me, you won’t have any problems getting rid of the leftovers. It’s a match made in heaven sprinkled over or stirred through your favourite vanilla icecream. Or if you happen to have some silken panna cotta spare, the praline makes a magnificently crunchy counterpoint. Or if you’re feeling slightly more virtuous go for some sweetened natural yoghurt like the one from Harris Farm.

You can substitute in pretty much any nuts you fancy. Pistachios, macadamias, almonds, cashews or even pecans…endless possibilities. I prefer to roast my own nuts as the roasting process encourages the onset of rancidity but feel free to use commercially roasted nuts if you’re short on time.

If, like me you are a goose and forget to grease your baking paper, don’t despair. Just rip off all the paper that will come easily and then lightly moisten the rest with a little water and it will peel away like magic.

330g sugar
½ cup water
200g hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 180C. Place hazelnuts on a baking tray and lightly roast for 5-10mins. Allow to cool then place in a clean tea towel and rub to remove the papery skin. Whizz the peeled nuts in a food processor for a few seconds to roughly chop or cut by hand.

Line the baking tray with greaseproof paper and grease lightly with oil or butter. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan and stir over a medium heat until sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook without stirring until the syrup goes a dark golden brown colour. Remove from the heat and stir through nuts then quickly spread on your prepared tray and allow to cool.

When cool break with a heavy knife or whiz in the food processor for a few seconds. Will keep in an airtight container for a couple of months, depending on how fresh your nuts were.

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