Christian is a chocolate FIEND. I have never seen anyone who can eat more chocolate than Christian. For his birthday several years ago, Julia Child’s Chocolate Bombe just wasn’t cutting it any more, which was my replacement for Chocolate Blackout Cake. So I had to think of something new.
This was the result: Christian’s Big Chocolate O. (Well, we use a different word for it, but there may be kids looking over your shoulder!) This dish consists of a layer and shell of chocolate ladyfingers (French style…which means they are soft like sponge cake), a layer of Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread), a layer of dulce de leche-coated toasted hazelnuts, and a final layer of coffee chocolate mousse. I also usually grate chocolate shavings on top. It’s like a cake-sized candy bar…lots of chocolate, caramel, and hazelnuts all crammed together.
You need an 8″ or 9″ springform pan for this recipe. There’s not really a way around this. But you should have a springform pan anyway, to make cheesecakes with. They’re not expensive, so go get one!
This recipe will be formatted in sections, layer by layer. At the end I’ll give instructions for assembly.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment and spray with cooking spray (or just use silicone pads). In the bowl of your stand mixer, or using a hand mixer, beat:
4 egg whites
Begin on high speed until the egg whites turn foamy. Then reduce the speed to medium and gradually add:
2/3 cup granulated sugar (ie normal sugar)
Add just a bit at a time, mix for a few seconds, add a bit more, etc. Take your time doing this, and also when making any meringue or whipping whites for cakes. The slower you incorporate the air, the better the whites will hold it. Once all the sugar is incorporated, continue beating at medium or medium-low speed until the whites reach stiff peaks.
In a separate bowl, combine:
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
Stir together with your fingers until they are combined, and set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine:
4 egg yolks
1 Tablespoon sugar
With a whisk, whip the yolks by hand until their volume doubles and the color lightens just a bit. Pour half the whipped yolks on top of the whites and gently fold for 6 strokes. Add the remainder of the yolks, and then sift the dry ingredients on top using a strainer or sifter. Very gently fold the batter together until there are no more white streaks of egg white in the mix. The gentler you are, the lighter the ladyfingers will be.
Gently spoon the batter into a pastry bag fitted with a 3/4″ round tip. If you don’t have a pastry bag, use a gallon-sized ziploc bag, spoon in the batter, and then cut an opening in one corner about 3/4″ wide. Then gently pipe lines of batter about the length of your finger onto the pans. (You should have room for 2 rows of ladyfingers for each pan.) Your first few may be ugly…that’s okay. You’ll get better the more you do it. Leave about half an inch of space between lines.
Place several Tablespoons of powdered sugar into a strainer or sifter and dust powdered sugar liberally on top of the lines of batter. The bake in a 400F oven for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately pull the parchment or silpats onto cooling racks, otherwise the ladyfingers will overcook from the heat of the pan. Let the ladyfingers cool for 10 minutes, then gently pull away from the parchment or silpat.
Okay, there’s no recipe for nutella unless you want to grind your own hazelnuts and mix them with sweetened condensed milk and melted chocolate. Get a large tub of Nutella. You won’t use it all, but there will be leftovers to spread on toast in the morning! Mmmm…
Again, the easiest thing to do here is buy a can or carton of dulce de leche. That’s basically cream-caramel and you can usually find it in the Latin foods section of your grocery store. If you can’t find any, you can make it yourself. How hard this process is depends on whether or not you have a pressure cooker or Instant Pot (and how brave you are with it), or whether you’ve only got an oven.
The simplest method is also the most “dangerous.” Put a steamer basket inside your pressure cooker, put the can of sweetened condensed milk on its side, cover with water, and cook on high pressure for 30 minutes (45 minutes in an Instant Pot) and let the pressure release naturally. The scaremongers will tell you that the can of milk will explode inside your pressure cooker, which will turn your pressure cooker into a bomb and destroy your house. I’ve done this method a dozen times and never had an issue, and I’ve never heard of a documented case of this method going awry.
The BETTER method is to empty the can of sweetened, condensed milk into a small stainless steel bowl that will fit inside your pressure cooker, stir in 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 2 Tablespoons water, cover with 2 layers of foil. Add 1 cup of water to the pressure cooker, place the bowl into the water, and cook on high pressure for 30 minutes (45 in an Instant Pot), let the pressure release naturally, and then check your caramel. If you want it darker, cook it another 15 minutes. (The baking soda alkalizes the milk, and sugars caramelize faster in an alkaline environment. The salt adds complexity of flavor.) Buzz with an immersion blender to smooth it out, and it’ll thicken as it cools.
Here’s how to make it in the oven:
In a pie plate, scrape 1 can of sweetened condensed milk, and stir in 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda dissolved in 2 Tablespoons of water. Cover the plate tightly with 2 layers of foil.
Place a pan large enough to hold the pie plate on the middle rack of your oven. Place the milk-filled pie plate into the pan. Add hot water to the pan until it comes halfway up the side of the pie plate. Turn the oven on to 425F. Bake the milk for an hour and 20 minutes, checking every 20 minutes to add enough hot water to keep the level halfway up the pie plate.
After 80 minutes has passed carefully pull the rack out of the oven and pull the foil back, being careful of escaping steam. The milk should be medium brown and caramely, and smell delicious. If it’s not caramel colored, seal the foil and return the plate to the water bath in the over for an additional 10-20 minutes until it gets nicely caramelized. Let the caramel cool for a few minutes, then whisk it briskly until smooth.
Take 1 cup of hazelnuts or you can substitute pecans, walnuts, cashews, really ANY nuts. Very coarsely chop most of them, leaving some pieces whole. Place them in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 20-second increments, stirring between each cycle, until the nuts begin to smell fragrant and toasted and you can hear them crackling when you place your ear near the bowl.
Pour the warm caramel over them and stir to coat. If you are using dulce de leche and it’s very stiff, warm it in the microwave in 15 second increments, stirring between each cycle, until it’s workable.
COFFEE CHOCOLATE MOUSSE
In a microwave safe bowl, place:
8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (preferably Valrhona or Callebaut)
Microwave for 30 seconds. Stir, then continue to microwave in 15 second increments, stirring between each cycle. When most of the small lumps of chocolate are melted and only a few larger lumps remain, let the chocolate sit on the countertop. The thermal mass will continue to melt the remaining pieces.
In the bowl of your mixer, place:
1 pound cream cheese (2 blocks), softened
Beat on high speed until smooth. Then add:
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons instant coffee dissolved in 1 teaspoon hot water
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Beat on medium speed until mixed, then increase speed to high and beat until very smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl every now and then. Decrease speed to low and pour in the melted chocolate slowly until it is perfectly incorporated.
Place one ladyfinger vertically into the springform pan. Pinch or cut off the top until it is even with the top of the pan. This is your “template” ladyfinger. You’ll use it to cut the other ladyfingers the proper height so they can stand up, cut side down, around the edge of the pan. Remember to place the flat side (baked bottom) of the ladyfinger facing the inside of the pan. Line the pan with ladyfingers. Then place the remaining ladyfingers on the bottom of the pan. Squeeze the cut pieces into the cracks here and there. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but cover as much of the bottom of the pan as you can.
Next spread a layer of Nutella. It may be a good idea to microwave the bottle for 20 or 30 seconds to help soften it. The stiffer the Nutella is, the harder it will be to spread, and you may end up “picking up and moving” some of the ladyfingers when you spread the Nutella. Just keep smearing until you have a layer about 1″ thick.
Next scrape the dulce-de-leche coated hazelnuts on top of the Nutella layer.
Next spread the mousse on top of the nuts.
Optionally, grate some chocolate or dust cocoa powder on top. Chill the Big Chocolate O in the fridge for at least an hour or longer. Then remove the springform side of the pan carefully and your incredible dessert is ready to eat!
You’ll need to cut it with a hot, wet knife for best results. Enjoy!