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Decadent Desserts

Match great dessert wines with these three recipes to finish a festive meal with a flourish

Harvey Steiman, Jacques Torres
Posted: November 13, 2002

Chocolate Coconut Napoleons
Earl Grey Tea Chocolate Tart
Almond Chocolate Cake

Star pastry chef and chocolate maven Jacques Torres created half a dozen desserts for Wine Spectator editors to match with a wide range of dessert wines. The three for which recipes follow emerged as favorites -- both for their own flavors and because they went exceptionally well with certain wines.

Chocolate is delicious even when nibbled right out of the package. But making fancy chocolate desserts requires dexterity, patience and concentration. These recipes require a fine touch with mixing cake batters and spreading tuiles on baking sheets. But if you follow the instructions carefully, the results will be well worth the trouble -- especially when the desserts are served with the wines that our tasting revealed as the best complements.

Almond Chocolate Cake is the simplest of these desserts, centering on a very rich chocolate cake recipe, but in this case made with almond flour for added flavor. A dense ganache spread over the surface works as an icing. Torres serves the cake with little garnish, all the better to savor the chocolate-on-chocolate character. In our tastings, the Emilio Lustau Sherry East India Solera NV was the best partner for this dish.

Chocolate Coconut Napoleons require a good deal of advance preparation. The various elements of the dessert can be made hours or even a day ahead of serving, including the baking of a dozen tuiles. The coconut tuiles divide layers of chocolate cream in the finished dessert, which is served with spoonfuls of crème anglaise and chocolate sauce. Capezzana Vin Santo del Carmignano Riserva 1996, with its tangy acidity and orange peel note, makes a thrilling match with this dessert.

Earl Grey Tea Chocolate Tart adds the haunting flavor of the bergamot-laced tea to a silky-smooth, dark, gooey chocolate filling. The secret is to steep the tea leaves in some of the cream to be used in the tart filling. Only the tart shell is baked. The filling firms up as it cools in the shell. Torres garnishes the tart with gold leaf, an omissible fillip. Sandeman Tawny Port 20 Year Old has the acidity to balance the chocolate and play off the ber- gamot flavors perfectly.

Chocolate Coconut Napoleons

Chocolate Cream

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other orange-flavored liqueur, divided

Crème Anglaise

  • 1/2 cup custard reserved from chocolate cream, above
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate Sauce

  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Coconut Tuiles

  • 1 2/3 cups unsweetened desiccated coconut flakes (available at natural food stores)
  • 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

To make the chocolate cream, start early in the day or preferably the day before serving. Bring the milk, cream and 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan over medium heat, then remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk the egg yolks and 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar in a medium bowl until thick and pale yellow. Gradually whisk half of the hot cream into the yolks, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a rubber spatula, just until the custard reaches 182 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer and coats the spatula, about 3 minutes. (When you run your finger through the custard on the spatula, the streak will remain intact.) Strain through a wire sieve into a medium bowl. Measure 1/2 cup of the custard into a small bowl and reserve for the crème anglaise.

Add the chopped chocolate and 2 tablespoons of Grand Marnier to the larger amount of hot custard and whisk until melted. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until thick and chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight.

To make the crème anglaise, stir the sugar, Grand Marnier, and vanilla into the reserved custard. Cool, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight.

To make the chocolate sauce, bring the cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate, and whisk until smooth. Pour into a small bowl and reserve at room temperature. If the sauce thickens, reheat on low just until warm and fluid.

To make the tuiles, position racks in the center and top third of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees F. Line two 17-by-12-inch (half-sheet) baking sheets with nonstick baking liners. (If you don't have nonstick liners, use traditional nonstick baking sheets, but you will have to bake the cookies in batches.)

Whisk the coconut, sugar, eggs and melted butter until thoroughly combined. Using about 1 tablespoon of the batter for each cookie, spread the batter into 12 very thin 4-inch rounds.

Bake, rotating the positions of the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking, until the cookies are almost evenly browned, about 12 minutes. Let the tuiles cool on the baking sheets for 1 minute, then use a large metal spatula to transfer to a wire cake-rack. Cool completely.

For each napoleon, place a tuile on a dinner plate, and place a large dollop (about 2 tablespoons) of the chocolate cream in the center. Repeat with a second tuile and another dollop of chocolate cream, and top with a third tuile. Drizzle the crème anglaise and chocolate sauce around each napoleon. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

Note: Other garnishes Torres has used include coconut-sprinkled chocolate curls crowning the napoleon and raspberry reduction surrounding it.

Earl Grey Tea Chocolate Tart

Pastry Dough

  • 5 tablespoons (1/2 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 2 tablespoons almond flour (see note)
  • 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup cake flour


  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup Earl Grey tea leaves
  • 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 3 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • Edible gold leaf for garnish, optional (see note)

To make the dough, beat the butter, confectioner's sugar, almond flour and egg yolk with a handheld electric mixer at medium speed just until combined. Add the flour, and mix on low speed just until the dough clumps together. Gather up the dough and press into a thick disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to a week or frozen for up to a month.)

Rap the disk a few times with a rolling pin to slightly soften the dough. Unwrap the dough and place on a lightly floured work surface. Dust the top of the dough with flour and roll out into a 1/8-inch thick round about 12 inches in diameter. Fold up the round onto the rolling pin and unroll over a 9 1/4-inch round tart pan. Fit into the pan, being sure to press the dough into the corners. With a fork, pierce the bottom of the dough in an even pattern about 20 times. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the plastic wrap, and bake the dough until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Cool completely on a wire cake-rack.

To make the filling, bring the cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Remove pan from heat and add the tea. Let stand for 8 minutes. Strain the cream through a fine-mesh wire sieve into a bowl, pressing the leaves with a rubber spatula to extract all of the cream, then return the cream to the saucepan and reheat to a simmer.

Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let stand for 3 minutes. Whisk until smooth. Whisk in the honey and butter. Pour into the tart shell. Refrigerate until the filling sets, about 1 hour.

Slice the tart and serve chilled. If desired, before serving, garnish each slice with a few flakes of gold leaf. Turn the sheet of gold leaf upside down and place directly on the area of the tart filling you wish to garnish. Touch the paper, and lift it upÑthe gold will remain attached to the tart filling. Small edible flowers, such as Johnny-jump-ups or violets, are another decorating option, as are piped small rosettes of whipped cream. Serves 8.

Note: For almond flour, see the note in the recipe for almond chocolate cake. Gold leaf, packaged in boxes of 25 sheets, is available at specialty kitchenware stores and by mail order from New York Chocolate and Baking Distributors (800-942-2539; www.nycakesupplies.com).

Almond Chocolate Cake

  • 8 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 6 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
  • 2/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup sifted unbleached flour
  • 1 1/4 cups almond flour (see note)
  • 9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, melted

Ganache Icing

  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter the bottom (but not the sides) of a 9-by-2-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper.

Melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally, in the top part of a double boiler over hot, not simmering, water, then remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk the yolks and sugar in a large bowl until pale yellow and thick, about 1 minute. Whisk in the melted chocolate.

Using an electric mixer on medium-high speed, whip the whites until stiff. In three additions, fold the whites into the chocolate mixture, leaving a few wisps of whites visible. Sift the flour and fold in. In three additions, fold in the almond flour.

Transfer 1 cup of the batter to a bowl, add the butter, and fold just until combined. Add to the batter and fold until completely incorporated. Pour into the pan and smooth the top.

Bake until the sides of the cake have risen but the center looks slightly underdone, about 20 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes on a wire cake-rack.

Run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan to release the warm cake. Place a baking sheet over the cake, invert together with the pan, and rap the sheet on a work surface to unmold the cake. Place a wire cake-rack on the cake and invert to turn the cake rightside up. Remove the baking sheet and board. Cool completely (the center may fall slightly). Slide an 8-inch cardboard cake round or tart pan bottom under the cake. Transfer to a wire rack on a rimmed baking sheet.

To make the ganache, bring the cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then whisk well until smooth. Pour all of the ganache on top of the cake, smoothing the icing over the top and down the sides with a metal spatula.

Refrigerate until the glaze is set, about 30 minutes. (The cake can be prepared up to a day ahead, covered with a cake dome.) Remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before serving. Serves 6 to 7.

Note: Almond flour can be prepared by grinding whole blanched almonds in a rotary nut or cheese grinder. A food processor does not grind the almonds to a fine enough consistency. Almond flour is also available at specialty grocers and by mail order from the aforementioned New York Chocolate and Baking Distributors.

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