One of our more regular guests for dinner are Astrid and Bruno, a couple living not far from us who have graced our table numerous times with their grace and wit. Astrid provides more grace, Bruno the wit, but together they are a lively couple. To celebrate Bruno’s recent ##th/rd/st (!!) birthday, we asked them to dinner, with the choice of cuisine left to us. All Bruno really wanted for sure was the Chocolate Espresso Dacquoise for dessert.

Is that all?

Let me tell you about making a Dacquoise…to begin with, there is the meringue, a finicky, easy-to-crack egg and almond and sugar-based ‘cookie’ which takes 90 minutes to bake, 90 minutes to rest in the oven, and then…you basically have to trim it into four equal-sized rectangles with the care of a heart surgeon (okay, okay…). The meringue can crack, not to mention the fact that my luck with buttercream filling isn’t stellar…buttercream has an awful tendency to simply lose consistency and become soup if not done properly. Why this is with me, I can’t say, but cakes have never been my go-to fallback for these reasons. Baking the sponge cake? No problem. But buttercream…brrr-rr-rr! Then there is the chocolate ganache to go on top, which actually may be the easiest of all the three tasks, though not today.

Its so stressful!

Top this off with doing a cuisine and three or four dishes that I’ve never made before…all in one or two days.

OK, never mind. Cooking new dishes is nothing to me and is as stressful as falling asleep. My wife won’t do it—she would cook up a dish until she perfected it in quiet secrecy till it got mastered perfectly, and would never risk failure in a big, social context. Me? Failure and social awkwardness is my bread and butter…so to speak.

It’s…just…the cake. GAWD!

Here is the night’s plan:
paprika almonds (appetizer)
warmed marinated olives (appetizer)
Dina Vosh (a Portuguese pork dish marinated for two days prior)
Feijoa Branco e Chourico (linguica with beans dish–a classic)
Kale Salad with Honey Crisp Apple, Parmesan, and Honeyed Almonds (this ain’t Portuguese at all, so we really need to get over that)

Oh, and that…dessert.

So, update. The meringue came out fine, I managed to saw it into its four component pieces without cracking, the buttercream came out just right, and assembly went smoothly, but the chocolate ganache…error…error. I warmed it as required to allow for its better spreadability, but the chocolate ‘split’ or ‘broke’ and there wasn’t enough ganache there to cover the sides; only the top. The instructions state that the sides are not so important to be covered, but frankly, it looks undone and incomplete.

Here are the pieces of meringue coated with the ganache…so far so good.

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I then applied the buttercream to each layer, and slathered the buttercream all over the sides and top. Consistency came out pretty decentl, not too runny, sticky enough. Pretty awful looking at this phase.

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I applied the ganache and it just…wasn’t right. Awful looking, really…sorta separated and grainy. So, what does a baker do?
Cover up the error.

I plan to buy up another chunk of chocolate to add some more chocolate to the sides and hope for the best.

Chocolate ganache–what a bitch!

Update #2!

Miracle of miracles, the line at Berkeley Bowl West at 1015am wasn’t crazy, so I was able to get in and get out quickly. Came home, heated up some corn syrup and whipping cream, poured it over the chocolate, and began spreading…and spreading. Perfect consistency, spreadable, and by George, I think I’ve figured out some things: reheating/warming the ganache isn’t a good idea. Too hard to control the heat, but when freshly concocted, the ganache spread like a dream, the nut garnish attached effortlessly (always garnish nuts on a rack over a flat baking dish to catch the nuts that don’t stick), and it’s now chilling in the fridge.

Look at that, citizens! Can this 60-year-old naive, neophyte baker #%&@ing bake or what?

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Woo. Now to the cornbread…which, frankly, at this point, looks potentially like crisis #2 if the current proof on this loaf is any indication. Better get a backup loaf in case.

Update #3. Bread came out fine. Happy happy. The Portuguese Feijoa also came out smashingly, as did the Dina Vosh...which was peculiarly similar to Filipino pork adobo. All in all, a successful dinner.

Observations. Cornbread was too ‘spicy’ because of the regular pepper, the kale salad could have used a bit more candied almonds (no disagreements), and the Feijoa was too spicy for my wife due to her current gum issues (long story another time).

</ peculiarly like pork adobo

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