Praline–White Chocolate Staircase
This is a spectacular dessert, using all the skills of a professional pastry chef. White chocolate tubes are filled with alternating layers of praline cream and chocolate mousse, capped by striped chocolate wafers. Successively smaller striped wafers are inserted into the sides of the tubes to create the “staircase” effect.
6-inch slanted tube molds, PVC plastic, transparent, with a 2-inch interior diameter (see below)
2 heavy plastic sheets, approx. 12 by 15
One icing or mortar comb (serrated scraper used to scratch parallel lines in cement)
Three steel ring cutters, one 3-inch, one 2-1/2-inch, and one 2-inch diameter
- Glazed Hazelnuts with Crystalline Tails
- Sugar - 2 cups
- Hazelnuts - 12 large
- Cocoa powder for dusting
- Striped Chocolate Discs
- Bittersweet Chocolate - 8 ounces
- White Chocolate - 16 ounces
- Chocolate Tubes
- White Chocolate - 1-1/2 pounds
- Praline Cream Filling
- Milk Chocolate - 7 ounces, melted
- Hazelnut-almond or hazelnut paste - 13 ounces
- Heavy (whipping) cream - 1/2 cup
- Dark Chocolate Mousse
- Bittersweet Chocolate - 6 ounces, chopped
- Milk - 2 cups
- Eggs - 4, separated
- Sugar - 1/2 cup
- Espresso Coffee - 2 tablespoons
- Dark Rum - 1 tablespoon
- Heavy (whipping) cream - 1 cup, beaten to firm peaks
- Thick caramel - 1 cup
To make the glazed hazelnuts: These lovely decorations are similar to caramel apples, only you will allow the caramelized sugar to create long tails on the hazelnuts. Arrange a rack system for hanging the hazelnuts; a very simple system is to stretch a string or a long strip of masking tape between the cabinets over the kitchen sink. Hang the string or tape up high; the caramel tails need space. Fasten it firmly, as the nuts will be heavy. Have at least eight large paper clips handy. Uncoil the paper clips so that they have a small hook at the top and a long straight wire. Clean the clips, then push the straight wire into the bottom center of each hazelnut. Make sure the hazelnuts are dry. Set aside.
Put the sugar in a heavy saucepan and place over low heat. Let the sugar melt, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, then increase the heat to medium. Cook without stirring until the sugar reaches 325 F (light caramel, just beyond the hard-crack stage); brush away any crystals which form on the sides of the pan with a damp brush. Remove the pan from the stove and place it in the kitchen sink.
Holding the hook end of a paper clip, dip a hazelnut completely into the caramel mixture, lift, hold for 5 seconds, and dip again. Slowly raise the hazelnut out of the mixture, letting the caramel create a long tail. Hook the paper clip to the string or masking tape, letting the “tail” hang down. Repeat. You will only use 8 hazelnuts; make 12 to allow for breakage. When the caramel on the hazelnuts and “tails” has completely set, gently remove the paper clips and lay the caramel-covered hazelnuts and their tails on waxed paper or foil in a cool, dry place.
To prepare the tube mold: Have someone saw a transparent plastic tube 6 inches long. Using a mitering box, saw the ends of the tube at parallel 15-degree angles, so that the tube stands on one end, and the other end is then parallel to the surface.
To decorate the plates: Cut a triangular piece of parchment paper large enough to reach all the way across the serving plates you plan to use, and half as wide as the plates at the end opposite the point. Run dampened fingers over one side of the triangle to make it adhere to the plate. Position it on a plate, point touching one side. Dust with cocoa powder. Carefully lift the triangle, leaving a clean triangular swath across the plate. Carefully set the plate aside. Repeat with all plates. Note that you only want enough dampness on the parchment to make it adhere; any extra moisture or drops would ruin the design.
To make the striped chocolate wafers: Have the steel ring cutters ready. Turn over 2 baking sheets and cover the bottoms with heavy plastic. Grate 2 ounces of the bittersweet chocolate. Melt the remaining chocolate in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water and heat to 114 F. Take off the heat and stir in the grated chocolate. Let the chocolate cool to 86 F. Hold at that temperature on a heating pad set to 90 F.
Pour half the bittersweet chocolate out on a prepared pan and quickly spread to a thin layer with an offset spatula. Make a thin rectangle at least 10-by-12 inches. Using the comb, draw straight down the sheet of chocolate, making a series of parallel stripes. Clean the comb and continue until the entire sheet is reduced to a series of stripes. Repeat with the remaining chocolate on the other prepared pan. Put in the freezer for 10 minutes to set.
Grate 4 ounces of the white chocolate. Melt the remaining chocolate in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water and heat to 114 F. Take off the heat and stir in the grated chocolate. Let the chocolate cool to 84 F. Hold at that temperature on a heating pad set to 84 F.
Take the bittersweet chocolate stripes out of the freezer. Working with one pan and half of the white chocolate, pour the white chocolate over the stripes, spreading it rapidly into a thin layer with an offset spatula. Work quickly or the stripes will melt and mix with the white chocolate. Let cool. When the chocolate just loses its sheen, cut four circles of each size from the chocolate, pulling away the portion between the circles and leaving the discs behind. Return to the freezer to set. Repeat with the remaining chocolate and the other pan of stripes.
To make the white chocolate tubes: Grate 6 ounces of the white chocolate. Melt the remaining chocolate in the top of a double boiler over barely simmering water and heat to 114 F. Take off the heat and stir in the grated chocolate. Let the chocolate cool to 84 F. Hold at that temperature on a heating pad set to 84 F.
Holding the tube mold in your fingers, over a pan, spoon melted white chocolate into the tube, letting it coat the side. Rotate the tube and pour more chocolate inside. Continue in this manner until the entire tube is coated inside with a layer of chocolate just a little thicker than 1/8 inch. The advantage of a transparent tube mold is obvious! Do not hold the mold in the same place too long or the heat from your fingers will affect the chocolate. Clean the edges and let cool to room temperature. The melted chocolate which runs into the pan may be remelted and reused. When the chocolate inside the tube reaches room temperature, slip two fingers into one end of the mold and gently rotate the chocolate lining; it will slide out. Dip the end of the white chocolate tube in a little of the melted white chocolate and use it to cement the tube in the center of the triangular swath on one of the prepared plates, pointing away from the point of the triangle. Repeat to form and cement all the tubes in place. Place in the freezer or refrigerator until ready to fill.
To make the praline filling: Put the ingredients in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whisk attachment and beat together. Set the mixer on medium-high and whip for 5 minutes. Set aside.
To make the chocolate mousse: Put the chocolate in a bowl. Bring the milk to a boil over medium-high heat. Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a medium bowl. Whisk a large spoonful of hot milk into the egg mixture to temper it, then slowly pour in the remaining hot milk, whisking constantly to blend. Place back over medium heat and cook until the custard mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Pour the hot custard over the chocolate. Let stand for 30 seconds, then gently stir to blend in the chocolate. Stir in the espresso and rum. Beat the egg whites to firm peaks. Fold a large spoonful into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites in two additions. In the same manner, fold in a large spoonful of the whipped cream, then fold in the remaining cream.
To assemble: Take the plates with the chocolate tubes and pan of striped chocolate wafers out of the freezer. Put the praline cream and the chocolate mousse in separate pastry bags fitted with large plain tips. Carefully — there can be no drips on the already-decorated plates — insert the tip of the mousse pastry bag into a tube and fill about 2 inches of the tube with chocolate mousse. A long-handled iced teaspoon may come in handy to push the mousse down in the tube. Pipe about 3 inches of praline cream into the tube. Pipe a puff of mousse into the praline, then fill to the top with more praline filling. Lift a 3-inch striped chocolate wafer from the pan and place on top of the tube to seal it, pressing it gently into the top of the praline cream. Repeat for each plate.
Lift all the remaining chocolate wafers from the pan. Using a heavy knife, heat the knife over a stove burner, then gently press the knife into the exposed slanted edge of a tube, about one third of the way from the top, making a notch for a wafer. While the chocolate is still hot and melted, gently press a 2-1/2-inch wafer, stripes up, into the notch and hold it until the chocolate cools enough to keep it in place. Repeat, making another notch two thirds of the way down the tube from the top, and insert a 2-inch striped wafer in the same manner. Repeat for each dessert.
Put the caramel in a pastry bag fitted with a medium plain tip. Starting at the bottom of the staircase, pipe three successively smaller dots of caramel, ending at the point of the cleared triangle on the plate. Repeat for all plates.
Rest two glazed hazelnuts against the staircase on each plate, crystalline tails up.