One of life's great pleasures is the taste of chocolate. Writing about chocolate evokes many wonderful memories of my childhood. I can still recall the sheer ecstasy of the first bite of an ice cream concoction, or a chewy cookie, or a frosted cake.
My sister Cathy, who is seven years older than me, was my inspiration in the kitchen. One day, out of the blue, she decided to make an angel food cake from scratch. I was amazed; the only cakes I had tasted had come from a box. One bite and I was hooked. This, I thought, is what I want to do. When Cathy opened up a trendy restaurant in West Hollywood and asked me to join her, I jumped at the chance. We had a part-time pastry cook then, and when she quit one day I became the de facto dessert chef.
I have Rudi Gernreich, the designer of the topless bathing suit, to thank for nudging me to Spago. He was a big supporter of mine and a constant inspiration. Rudi came into the kitchen one night and showed me how to make a Sachertorte. It was my first professional dessert. Rudi told me about a friend of his named Puck who was opening a restaurant. He kept pushing me to go for an interview. At his urging, every day after work for four days in a row I walked (I didn't have a car then) to Spago, which was under construction at the time, and every day there was no one to talk to. Finally, on the fifth day, I went upstairs and saw a desk and chair and said to myself, I'm sitting here until someone comes whom I can talk to. Sure enough, after an hour or so a man appeared and asked me who I was and what I wanted. I was so angry by then that I shouted at this unsuspecting person, "Do I have a job here or what?" The man was Wolfgang Puck. I guess he liked my spunk, because he hired me on the spot.
Some of my fondest memories involve Spago's famous Academy Award parties. Back in 1986, while I was looking through the aisles of Gloria's Cake and Candy Supplies store in California, I noticed a candy mold in the shape of an Oscar. On a whim, I decided to buy it.
While we were preparing for our annual Oscar gala that year, Wolfgang told me that Irving "Swifty" Lazar, the host of this big bash, was celebrating his birthday on the night of the party and Wolfgang wanted to make a special cake for him. I realized I had the perfect centerpiece. I made a milk chocolate Oscar, decorated it with gold leaf, and stood it up in the center of his cake. Swifty loved it!
In 1989, my Oscar got his big break: Wolfgang wanted chocolate Oscars for all the tables. We made about three hundred of them. The night of the party, Wolfgang and I were standing in the pastry kitchen with cameras flashing all around us. He held up one of the Oscars, gave a little of its background, and then proceeded to bite its head off. Wolfgang--and my headless Oscar--got a standing ovation.
I hope the chocolate desserts in this book will help you create your own wonderful memories--and maybe even earn you a standing ovation!Individual Chocolate-Hazelnut Cakes
Makes twelve 3-inch cakes
At Spago, we bake these cakes in special tins that we have made specifically for us. The tins are round circles of stainless steel, 3 inches in diameter and 11/2 inches high. You can use ramekins of the same dimensions. This is a rich dessert and, accompanied by Drambouie-Flavored Crème Anglaise, a particularly flavorful one.
EQUIPMENT:--12 muffin tins or ramekins, 3 inches in diameter and 11/2 inches deep, medium heatproof bowl, whip or egg beater, electric mixer with 2 large bowls, food processor, rubber spatula
1. Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter or coat with vegetable spray 12 muffin tins or ramekins. Dust with flour, tapping out any excess flour. Set aside.
2. In a medium heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate. When it is almost melted, turn off the heat and allow it to melt completely, stirring occasionally. Chocolate should be warm, not hot, when used.
3. In a large bowl using a whip or eggbeater, whip the cream. You should have 2 cups whipped cream. Refrigerate, covered, until needed.
4. In the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle or beaters, on high speed beat the eggs and sugar until thick and pale yellow in color, about 8 to 10 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape the melted chocolate into the egg mixture, then add the hazelnut paste, and beat on high speed until well mixed. Stop the machine occasionally and scrape down the sides of the bowl and under the beaters using a rubber spatula.
5. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in about one-third of the whipped cream. Scrape the egg mixture back into the whipped cream and fold through.
6. Fill the tins or ramekins three-quarters full. (If using the same tin or ramekin again, after baking, cool, clean as needed, spray, and flour.) Bake until the top is fairly firm to the touch, but the center is still soft, about 20 minutes. Cool on a rack. To remove the cake, run a sharp knife around the inside of the tin or ramekin, loosening the cake, and unmold the cake onto a flat surface.
7. To serve, place one cake in the center of a plate and sift confectioners' sugar over the top. Spoon Drambouie-Flavored Crème Anglaise around each cake and place a large dollop of whipped cream alongside. Garnish with a sprinkling of chopped hazelnuts and place a mint leaf in the cream. Top with a few chocolate curls, if desired. You can also decorate the outside rim of each plate with dots of Raspberry or Strawberry Compote (see page 222), if desired.TO PREPARE AHEAD:
--Through step 6, the cakes can be made early in the day. When cool, refrigerate the cakes, removing them about 30 minutes before serving.*
Gelatin sheets are used in most restaurants. They can be found in gourmet shops and food catalogs. The sheets melt more easily and have less flavor than the powder.Roulade au Chocolat Pour Julia
Makes one 17-inch cake roll
Serves 10 to 12
Mary made a version of this cake for Baking with Julia, the television series with Julia Child. (The recipe was included in the cookbook based on the series.) It's based on our Chocolate Chiffon Cake (see page 13), which we spread with filling and then roll, making this the most delectable "jelly" roll you have ever tasted. When the Spago staff sampled the cake, they all came back for second helpings--and they're a tough audience.
EQUIPMENT:--12 x 17 x 2-inch baking tray, sifter, electric mixer with 2 large bowls, rubber spatula, offset spatula, long serrated knife, pastry bag with #3 star tip
1. Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter or coat with vegetable spray a baking tray, 12 x 17 x 2 inches. Line with parchment paper and then spray the paper. Set aside.
2. Sift together 1 cup of the sugar, the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
3. In the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle or beaters, beat the egg yolks at high speed. Turn the machine to low and pour in the oil, water, and vanilla. Gradually add the sifted ingredients and, when almost incorporated, turn the speed to medium and beat until well combined.
4. In another clean large bowl, with whip or clean beaters, whip the 6 egg whites until soft peaks form. Start on medium speed and raise the speed as the peaks begin to form. Gradually pour in the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and continue to whip until the whites are shiny and firm, but not stiff. With a rubber spatula, fold one-quarter of the whites into the chocolate mixture, then scrape the chocolate mixture back into the whites, quickly folding until completely incorporated.
5. Scrape into the prepared pan and spread with an offset spatula, smoothing and leveling the top. Bake until the edges of the cake pull away from the pan and the cake springs back when lightly pressed, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on a rack.
6. When completely cool, place the pan on a firm surface. With a sharp knife, cut around the outside edges of the entire cake, separating the cake from the pan. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of granulated sugar over the surface of the cake (to prevent sticking when you invert the cake). Invert a second baking tray on the top of the cake and flip the cake over onto the second tray. Carefully peel off the parchment paper, turn the paper over, and place back on the cake. Invert the cake and the paper so that the paper is on the baking tray and the sugared side is on top. You are now ready to spread the filling onto the cake.
7. Fill and roll the cake: Place the cake with one of the 17-inch sides directly in front of you. Using your spatula, spread 11 2 cups of the Chocolate-Hazelnut Mousse over the surface of the cake to the edge of three of the sides, leaving about a 1-inch space along the one side directly in front of you (see photo). Level the filling. Refrigerate the remaining mousse, covered.
8. Starting with the 17-inch side in front of you, using the parchment paper to help you, roll the cake toward the opposite side, completely enclosing the filling (see photo). Make certain that you do not roll the paper into the cake. Tuck the paper around the rolled cake to secure (see photo). Leave the cake on the pan and refrigerate until the filling is firm, at least 2 hours, up to overnight.
9. To serve, remove the cake from the refrigerator and unroll out of the paper onto a firm surface. Using a long serrated knife, cut a 2-inch diagonal piece off each end. With a #3 star tip fitted into a pastry bag, pipe 10 or 12 rosettes of mousse spaced evenly across the tip of the cake. Dust with sifted confectioners' sugar. Carefully transfer to a serving platter and refrigerate until needed. When ready to serve, cut into 10 or 12 portions. Pass the remaining mousse.TO PREPARE AHEAD:
--Through step 8, the cake can be made 1 day ahead. Decorate about 1 hour before serving.Classic Chocolate Soufflé
The grandfather of dessert soufflés! When folding the whites into the basic mixture, it is important not to overmix. Overmixing will make the egg whites deflate and you won't get the proper consistency for a light soufflé. (If we repeat ourselves, it's to make an important point.) Finely chopped orange zest can be added for additional flavor. When serving with a sauce, it is best spooned into the soufflé at the table.
EQUIPMENT:--six 3/4-cup ovenproof soufflé dishes, flat baking tray, small heatproof bowl, electric mixer with 2 large bowls, large spoon
1. Position the rack in the lowest part of the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush six 3 4-cup ovenproof soufflé dishes with melted butter and invert the dishes to allow excess butter to drip out. Then, pour a little granulated sugar into each dish, turning to coat all sides, tapping out any excess sugar (see page 112). For easier handling, arrange the dishes on a flat baking tray and set aside.
2. In a small heatproof bowl placed over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate. When almost melted, turn off the heat and let the chocolate melt completely, stirring occasionally.
3. Meanwhile, in the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle or beaters, on high speed beat together the egg yolks, 1 4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and the vanilla until pale yellow and thick. Scrape the melted chocolate into the yolks and continue to beat until well combined.
4. In another clean large bowl, with whip or clean beaters, whip the 5 egg whites. Start on medium speed and raise the speed as peaks begin to form. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and continue to whip until the whites are shiny and firm, but not stiff. (When the bowl is tipped slightly, the whites should stay in place.) Stir one-third of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten, then turn the chocolate back into the whites and fold until completely incorporated. Do not overmix.
5. Using a large spoon, spoon the soufflé batter into the prepared dishes, filling to the top of each dish. Bake 10 minutes; the tops will be slightly crusty and the inside creamy.
6. To serve, carefully remove each soufflé and place on a small doily-lined plate. Dust with sifted confectioner's sugar and serve with softly whipped cream or Drambouie-Flavored Crème Anglaise. Serve immediately.TO PREPARE AHEAD:
--Do not prepare ahead, unless you are freezing the soufflés (see page 112).Drambouie-Flavored Crème Anglaise
Makes about 21/2 cups
This versatile sauce can accompany any number of desserts, such as Crunchy Toffee Tortoni or Buttermilk Layer Cake. If you prefer, the sauce can be flavored with chocolate, mocha, orange, or liqueur of your choice. It can be infused with crushed coffee beans, or praline can be folded into it.
EQUIPMENT:--2 medium bowls, whisk, medium saucepan, long-handled wooden spoon, large fine-mesh strainer, large bowl, larger bowl
1. In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until very pale yellow and smooth.
2. In a medium saucepan, bring to a boil the heavy cream, sour cream, and vanilla bean with its scrapings. Whisk about half this mixture into the egg yolk mixture until well combined, then pour back into the saucepan. Over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, cook until the mixture coats the back of the spoon. (It is very important to stir constantly. Do not overcook; cooking too long will result in scrambled eggs.)
3. Pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl and immediately set the bowl over a larger bowl filled with ice cubes and cold water until chilled, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Stir in the liqueur. Refrigerate, covered, until needed.TO PREPARE AHEAD:
--Through step 3, the crème anglaise can be made up to 3 days ahead.Chocolate Frosting
To frost one 8- or 9-inch layer cake
Makes about 21/4 cups
This super dark and creamy frosting can be used for layer cakes as well as cookie fillings. It can be easily doubled or tripled.
EQUIPMENT:--2 medium heatproof bowls, electric mixer with large bowl, rubber spatula, small saucepan
1. In a medium heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate. When almost melted, turn off the heat and allow to melt completely, stirring occasionally.
2. While the chocolate is melting, in the large bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle or beaters, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy, stopping the mixer occasionally and scraping down the sides of the bowl and under the beaters as necessary with a rubber spatula. Start on slow speed and, when combined, turn up the speed to high.
3. In a small saucepan, over low heat, dissolve the cocoa in the coffee, stirring as necessary. Remove from the heat, scrape the melted chocolate into the saucepan, and stir to combine thoroughly. On low speed, pour into the butter-sugar mixture, again stopping the mixer and scraping down the sides of the bowl and under the beaters. Beat until smooth and shiny. Transfer to a medium bowl and set aside until of spreading consistency. Use as needed.TO PREPARE AHEAD:
--Through step 3, frosting can be prepared 1 day ahead. Refrigerate, covered, until needed.
Excerpted from Spago Chocolate by Mary Bergin and Judy Gethers. Copyright © 1999 by Mary Bergin and Judy Gethers. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.