I’m typically a calm person. I take things in my stride and when situations get tense or are on the verge of meltdown I take a deep breath and quickly search for a solution. If total destruction is inevitable I ride the wave and then later look on the bright side, taking it as a lesson learnt. “Keep Calm and Carry On” is definitely a mantra I try to apply to everyday life.
Yet when it comes to baking I have to admit that this behaviour is frequently abandoned. Since baking has recently become my profession, I let baking-related disasters affect me so much because I can see my hard-earned profit literally crumble before my eyes, and obviously, being a small start-up, every penny counts. I also think my usually calm demeanour in the face of baking disaster is cast aside because of the fact that I’m a scientist by training – if I follow a recipe TO THE LETTER, and carry out those instructions EXACTLY as I have done previously time and time again with the same timings and temperatures (oh yes, I use a stopwatch and thermometer), then by Jove I expect the results to be PRECISELY the same as they were the time before and the time before that!
Now, on this particular occasion nobody altered the variables, the materials were the same and I wore my “Monday” socks… So, can someone, anyone, please explain why THIS happened?! (And yes, it was Monday!):
I’ve made macarons hundreds of times before and I have to say, being the little divas that they are, I never get a 100% success rate; there is always a small handful that despite perfectly turned-out neighbours are determined to rebel against nature and crack or deflate or wrinkle up in the most unsightly fashion. This is why macaron-making instils fear into the hearts of even highly skilled chefs; they are unpredictable, temperamental and require a lot of care and attention. But three or four failed macarons out of a batch of over one hundred does not a disaster make – I always taste-test every new batch of macarons to check for the perfect texture and flavour, and so those ill-behaved shells are the perfect subjects, and once delivered their death sentence (and cooled sufficiently) are rapidly devoured.
So, whilst a small percentage of macaron shells misbehaving is common, what is not common in my kitchen and is quite unacceptable is for the entire batch to miserably fail for NO REASON WHATSOEVER!!! (Can you feel my frustration? My oven certainly did after I slammed it so hard after seeing tray upon tray of the wretched little things that I was worried that I’d shattered the glass door. I didn’t. Thankfully!)
Now, you’re probably thinking “what’s the big deal? They don’t look so bad!” but, for me, they do. I couldn’t possibly expect people to pay their hard-earned cash for them and so therefore I was stuck with around 150 sad and wrinkly shells. Sure, they still tasted good and my husband and I had a pretty good go at eating them (he even took a handful for breakfast one morning) but there’s only so much we could stand, and with every mouthful I swear I could taste the bitter taste of failure.
So for a time it looked like the best place for these was the bin. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I hate waste and these were an expensive mistake: ground almonds and Willie’s Superior 100% Madagascan Black Sambirano cocoa do not come cheap! So I got to thinking and I got to experimenting…and then came up with this!
I was astonished with how the sponges baked: perfect straight sides and flat bottom, no sunken middle and meltingly tender and moist. In fact I think this is the most tender chocolate cake I have ever made, with an almost melt-in-the-mouth texture which perhaps comes down to the meringue-like consistency of the macarons that went into the mix.
This is a triumph of a cake with macarons not only on it but in it, smothered with mocha buttercream and drenched in a rich chocolate glaze, making for a seriously decadent dessert. It’s almost worth smashing up some perfectly-formed macaron shells just to make this cake but that’d just be silly. In any case, I’m sure to get another failed batch soon; I think I heard that the wind is changing direction next week….
Recipe (provides 8-10 large slices)
I call this cake the “Machertorte” as the recipe is based on the classic Sachertorte where finely ground macarons replace the ground almonds called for in a Sachertorte recipe. There is also less added sugar in the recipe than normally required in a Sachertorte but don’t be fooled into thinking that this is therefore a healthier version: macarons are roughly 50% sugar (scary I know, but they are delicious!).
200g dark chocolate, minimum 53% cocoa solids, broken into small pieces
6 eggs, separated
150g caster sugar
175g sad macaron shells (to make 150g oven-dried finely ground macarons)
60g dark chocolate, minimum 53% cocoa solids, broken into small pieces
60g single cream
60g icing sugar
60g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp strong coffee, cooled
200g dark chocolate, minimum 53% cocoa solids, broken into small pieces
80g unsalted butter, at room temperature and cubed
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease and line with greaseproof paper two 6” cake tins that are at least 2” high.
2. Arrange the macaron shells in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for around 8 minutes, flipping them over halfway, until they are dry and hardened to a biscuit-like texture (the aim is to remove moisture and produce a shell that can be finely ground. Keep a careful watch whilst the shells are in the oven – depending on the initial bake they may not need long at all to get to the biscuit stage).
3. Cool the shells and then blitz to a fine powder in a food processor. The mixture will feel crunchy – don’t worry, the texture of the final cake will be perfectly tender once baked. Measure out 150g of ground macarons.
4. To make the sponge, melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl suspended over a pan of barely simmering water (be careful not to let the steam enter the bowl and react with the chocolate) then remove from the heat.
5. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until combined then add this mixture, along with 150g of the finely ground macaron shells, to the melted chocolate. Stir to combine – the mixture will be very thick at this stage.
6. In a clean, dry bowl whisk the egg whites to a stiff peak then add one third of this to the chocolate mixture. Combine together to loosen the mixture and then gently fold in the remaining egg whites in two parts. The mixture should now be quite runny.
7. Divide the mixture equally between the two tins and bake for around 40 minutes until a skewer inserted into the centre of the sponges comes out clean with just a few crumbs clinging to it.
8. Allow to cool fully on a wire rack.
1. For the buttercream filling, boil the cream and pour onto the chocolate. Stir until fully combined and smooth. Allow to cool but do not let the ganache solidify.
2. Beat the icing sugar and butter together until light and fluffy and then add the coffee. Mix well.
3. Combine the chocolate ganache with the coffee buttercream to complete the filling.
Chocolate Coating (prepare when the cake is filled and ready for pouring)
1. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl suspended over a pan of barely simmering water (be careful not to let the steam enter the bowl and react with the chocolate) then add the butter cube by cube and stir until fully incorporated and the mixture has the consistency of thick pouring cream (the temperature should be around 30°C).
1. Remove the top crust from each sponge and trim to level if necessary. Reserve the crust for later.
2. Divide each sponge into two equal layers.
3. Place a sponge layer on a serving plate and spread a thin layer of buttercream onto the surface.
4. Place a second sponge layer on top and spread with another layer of buttercream.
5. Continue to build up the cake in this way, alternating sponge and buttercream. Once all the sponge layers are assembled spread a thin layer of buttercream on the top and sides of the cake to give the cake a smooth neat finish ready for the chocolate coating (this step is optional but will give the neatest finish if your cake is a little rough around the edges – but feel free to omit and use up all of your buttercream in the filling instead).
6. Chill the cake whilst you make the chocolate coating, then when ready carefully pour the chocolate glaze evenly over the cake, smoothing it over the top and sides using a palette knife or the back of a teaspoon. Frame the bottom of the cake with crumbs from the reserved cake crust (crush lightly with your fingers).
7. Leave to set then enjoy!