Ganache Hides All Flaws Like a Dream: Chocolate Feather Bed

The retirement party my friend Jim recently hosted happened to fall during Passover, so I decided to make a couple of Passover desserts to go along with the salted caramel brownies and white butter cake. One was a flourless almond cake that I've made before. The second was a recipe that's been on my to-bake list for some time, Rose Levy Beranbaum's "Chocolate Feather Bed." The headnote explains the dessert's name: "Slim layers of flourless mousselike chocolate cake filled with whipped ganache conspire to give the impression of diving into a downy-soft feather bed."

You need to make two half-sheet chocolate cakes (each of which will be cut in half to yield four layers) for this recipe and since I have only one small oven, I mixed and baked them seriatim. The cake requires only four ingredients: you beat sugar with egg yolks until thick and fluffy; incorporate melted and cooled chocolate; and incorporate egg whites that have been beaten with cream of tartar and sugar to stiff peaks. You pour the batter into a greased and lined half-sheet pan and bake until puffed and springy. After you take the cake out of the oven you  immediately cover it with a clean dry towel and keep it covered until completely cool.

I found these thin cake layers very difficult to handle. The recipe notes that the cakes are much easier to handle when they are cold and I followed the directions for the minimum suggested chilling times -- but I was making this cake the day of the party and I didn't any extra time to spare. I chilled the cooled cake layers for about an hour before attempting to trim and cut them in half. The cake was very sticky and fragile and stuck to the knife, so I wasn't able to get clean edges.

The filling for this cake is a whipped ganache that you make by chopping dark chocolate in a food processor until fine, and then adding scalded cream while the processor is still running. You pour the mixture into a bowl and chill, stirring occasionally, until it's cold (this took about an hour and forty-five minutes for me). Then you whip the mixture in a stand mixer with some vanilla until it forms soft floppy peaks. I loved the smooth and creamy texture of the ganache -- it was easy to suave and nothing like regular ganache, which tends to harden into a stiff and clunky layer.
Assembling the cake was incredibly challenging. In theory it should have been a simple task because all you have to do is stack the four layers of chocolate cake and spread some whipped ganache between each one. But because I didn't have time to chill the cake layers further (they spent a total of about two hours in the fridge), they were unbelievably crumbly. Each of my four cake layers was still attached to the parchment I had baked it on (when I cut each of my two cakes in half I just cut right through the parchment and didn't release the cakes) and they were too fragile to lift off from the paper in one piece.

I found the method that worked best for me was to quickly flip each cake layer upside down while still attached to the parchment, try to place the cake where I wanted it, and then gingerly peel off the paper. There were still a lot of broken pieces of cake that I just reassembled and cemented together with ganache. After I stacked all of the layers and frosted the top of the cake it looked pretty bad -- the edges of all of the cake layers were shaggy, and they were slightly askew since I wasn't able to position them precisely. But I just trimmed off the edges of the finished cake and much to my delight, it cut cleanly and easily once everything was held together with ganache. You're supposed to decorate the top of the cake with chocolate curls but I didn't have any block chocolate in the house and so I skipped the garnish. I was happy with the way the cake looked even unadorned.

This cake held up beautifully at room temperature for hours and I thought it tasted amazing. The cake was so soft that it blended in seamlessly with the ganache, which remained soft and creamy. The overall texture was very light and each bite melted in my mouth like a chocolate cloud; the dessert absolutely lives up to its name. I received many compliments on this cake and requests for the recipe. This is an outstanding recipe for Passover and worthy of any special occasion.

Recipe: "Chocolate Feather Bed" from Rose's Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum.

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Louise said…
In spite of the fight this cake put up, it looks amazing. Chocolate curls wouldn't have added anything to it.
Raylene said…
I had to look up the definition of SERIATIM! One after the other . . . I learned a new word in addition to learning about a new cake. It is indeed an amazing looking cake. You must have an extensive cookbook library. How about posting about that one day?
Well there is a full-page color photo of the cake with the chocolate curls in the cookbook, and it does look pretty impressive! But I agree, it's chocolatey enough as is!
Ha -- you learn a lot of Latin terms in law school that aren't terribly useful, but seriatim actually comes in pretty handy from time to time! My cookbook collection is a disaster -- I've run out of room to keep it in one place, so there are books scattered throughout the house, meaning I often can't find a book when I'm looking for it. My dream kitchen includes an organized system to store all my cookbooks!