Le Progrès

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RECIPE: In French cooking the name of what you are making is of great importance, and Childs insists that if a dacquoise is made with only almonds, this dessert is called Le Succès. I chose to make it with half almonds and half hazelnuts, and in this case, it’s called Le Progrès. I stuck religiously to the recipe.

COMPONENTS: I had to make caramel. Brimming with confidence based on previous successful attempts, I raced in, ignoring the instructions and stirred my hot sugar syrup into a dry crumbly mess. Second attempt, I cautiously followed the instructions to the letter, swirling the sugar until it dissolved, putting the lid on the pan for a couple of minutes, then lid off and swirling until I had a nice caramel colour. Unsurprisingly, it worked. I dropped my almonds in and then poured the lot onto a tray to set. Having just made dacquoise for my lemon meringue entremet, I had no trouble with this step, although Julia cooked it at a 120 degrees C for 40 minutes, drying it out, when Felder baked it at 180 degrees C for 15 minutes. There was little difference between them, and I slightly preferred Felder’s version, which was a lot quicker. The buttercream involved making a custard, then beating in cubes of butter. It was runny and not coming together at all, until I stirred in the vanilla and rum right at the end and then magically it came together into a smooth glossy cream. I added some melted chocolate to one quarter of the buttercream, and the remainder got the crushed praline.

ASSEMBLY: Using my frame again, I put in one layer of dacquoise, one third of the praline buttercream, repeated that step, topping it with the final layer of dacquoise and the chocolate buttercream. I put this in the fridge to set, then spread the last third of the praline buttercream over the outside with a slight rim around the top, and then pressed a mix of crushed almonds and hazelnuts over the outside.

IMPRESSION: This cake is far easier than it looks. If caramel is too much of a challenge, buy some praline and you could whip up the remainder of the cake fairly easily. The cake was rich. While I really enjoyed it, I’m starting to prefer cakes that have more balance in their flavours. It needed something tart, or sour like raspberries to balance all the sugar. Overall, I made a traditional French pastry and it turned out well and tasted as it should, so I’m rather pleased with myself. It looks very impressive!

Recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol 2
Julia Child and Simone Beck

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Praline
115g blanched almonds
115g granulated white sugar
45mL water

Heat the oven to 180 Celcius and prepare an oiled pan.

Spread almonds on another tray and roast for 10-15 minutes in a 180 degree Celcius oven until a walnut brown.

Combine sugar and water in saucepan and set over moderately high heat. Swirl pan slowly, but do not sir the sugar with a spoon while the liquid is coming to the boil. Continue swirling while the liquid boils and changes to perfectly clear. Cover pan, raise heat to high, and boil for several minutes until bubbles are thick and heavy. Uncover and continue boiling, swirling gently, until the syrup turns a nice caramel brown.

Remove from heat, stir in the almonds straight away and the tip onto the oiled pan.

When cold and hard, grind in a food processor. Excess can be frozen in an airtight container.

Dacquoise (adapted from Christophe Felder, Patisserie – because I like it better)

450g egg whites
420g sugar
345g ground almonds
105g ground hazelnuts

Heat the oven to 180 Celcius and line three baking sheets with baking paper. Draw an outline of the desired shape of your finished cake on each sheet of paper.

Whip the egg whites with a little sugar to a soft peak. Gradually add the rest of the sugar and beat the egg whites until firm and glossy.

Gently fold in the almonds and hazelnuts.

Spoon the mix into a piping bag fitted with a 10mm round tip nozzle. Pipe the meringue mix to the desired shape to 10-15mm depth. Alternatively use a spatula to spread the meringue. Repeat on the other trays.

Bake the meringue for 15-20 minutes until lightly browned, rotating halfway through if necessary. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Buttercream

230g granulated white sugar
6 egg yolks
120mL hot milk
400g chilled unsalted butter, cut into 10mm chunks
1 tsp vanilla extract
45mL kirsch, dark rum, or strong coffee
60g dark chocolate, melted
170g flaked, slivered or chopped blanched almonds

In a heavy-bottomed pan off the heat, gradually beat sugar into egg yolks until the mixture is a pale yellow. Continue beating while adding the hot milk in a thin stream until combined.

Over a medium heat, stir slowly across the whole base of the pan with a wooden spoon. Stir for 4-5 minutes until there is a thin film over the back of the wooden spoon. Do not allow it to simmer, but it must thicken.

Remove from the heat and beat vigorously for one minute to cool slightly.

Scrape the mixture into a stand mixer bowl, or you can continue in the pan with a hand-held mixer.

Add the chilled butter one or two chunks at a time, beating each time until the butter has melted in and is absorbed. Once all the butter has been added, the mixture should be thick, smooth and glossy.

Beat in the vanilla and kirsch.

For the chocolate buttercream

Stir the melted chocolate into one quarter of the buttercream mixture until combined and smooth.

For the praline buttercream

Stir half the quantity of praline prepared earlier, into the remaining buttercream. It should be able to hold it’s shape in your final cake, so chill if necessary.

Assembling the cake

Trim your meringue layers with a sharp knife to the desired shape of your cake (I used a mould).

On a layer of meringue, spread a third of the praline buttercream. Top this with another layer of meringue, and spread with another third of the praline buttercream. Place your final layer of meringue on top and spread this with the chocolate buttercream. If you are working with a mould, chill the cake before removing it.

Spread the final third of the praline buttercream over the sides of the cake. You may choose to spread the chocolate buttercream after this step, depending on the desired finish of the top edge.

Coat the sides with flaked, slivered, or chopped almonds. I used a mix of ground almonds and hazelnuts because that’s all I had available!

Refrigerate at least two hours to firm the buttercream. Slice to serve.

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