This magical chocolate entremets will blow the minds of chocoholics and also people who say ‘I don’t usually like chocolate cake, … ‘. A French climbing friend who’s extremely honest about my cakes (yes, sometimes it hurts) said this really tasted like master pâtissier Gaston Lenôtre’s Feuille d’Automne and I hadn’t just brought him cake but also childhood memories. Aw, that was sweet. The other French climbing companion (who doesn’t usually like chocolate cake) repeated again and again wide-eyed Il est incroyable (‘unbelievable’, but in a good way). Finally our Chinese climbing friend simply loved it. So I’d like to share this cake with you. As with most entremets, the elements are quite easy and fast to make or assemble especially if you spread the work over a day or two. There are two layers of succès (moist almond meringue) and a middle thicker layer of French meringue all interspersed with dark chocolate mousse. The sides are wrapped in a layer of dark chocolate and the most technical part is usually the beautiful signature chocolate fans but simpler chocolate curls can be used instead as suggested by the popular French blogger Mercotte, whose recipe I’ve adapted. So if you’d like an amazingly delicious chocolate hit, have a go at this dark chocolate mousse and meringue cake! It’s worth it and will make you happy with a guaranteed high. 🙂
The original cake, with helpful videos and links
I’d been dreaming of this cake for a while. lol. The contestants made it in the French equivalent of the Great British Bake Off, Le Meilleur Pâtissier (Season 4 episode 5 and meringue masterclass,17:05 to 30:23 but you need 6play installed online, which I downloaded here in Spain – apologies if you can’t). Mercotte, one of the judges, gave them a simpler version of the mousse and succès layers, which are included in the Feuille d’Automne recipe on her blog (her photos of inside the cake show the original version with three meringue layers). I decided to try her recommended version with the moist succès and creamy mousse.
I made this cake during hot humid summertime in Barcelona and attempted the chocolate fans. Oh dear. But it still looked okay and tasted wonderful. There are video links below in the recipe on how to shape those fans. And here are some professional ones on the mini Feuille d’Automne bought at a Lenôtre pâtisserie last November in Paris.
All part of cake research. Sitting on a park bench with my Cordon Bleu friend and transported to chocolate heaven, I decided I really needed to make this.
THE RECIPE (updated May 2018)
My cake’s based on Mercotte’s Feuille d’Automne, with slightly adapted instructions and ingredients. I used my meringue recipe adapted from the Roux brothers because of the smooth light texture achieved by gently folding in some icing/powdered sugar. The quantities of chocolate used for decoration and chablonnage have been reduced to avoid waste but you can have extra chocolate on hand (for additional chocolate fan or mousse ‘practice’).
My most recent Feuille d’Automne has better fans and sides for three reasons: I made it over two days so the cake was well-frozen when I applied the band of chocolate on the sides; mycryo cocoa butter helped temper my chocolate well; and the temperature in my kitchen wasn’t too high (23ºC/73ºF) so I could work the fans without refrigerating the tempered chocolate. Note to self: don’t make this cake during summer in Barcelona again! 🙂
The fans are a bit messy and could be better but was quite pleased (and surprised) by the result! Yay! 🙂
Cake ring, 20cm/8in diametre and 6cm/2.4in high. Acetate strip 6cm/2.4in wide. Disposable piping bags.
For a smaller 16cm/6.3in cake ring use two-thirds of all the quantities. This is a great size with a nice height so I’ve reposted the smaller Feuille d’Automne with the quantities.
Using really good-quality chocolate is very important, as Mercotte emphasizes. She suggests Valhrona dark 66% for the mousse, which is a bit pricey. Instead I initially used good-quality beautifully fruity couverture Chocolat noir 70% Saint Domingue by Cacao Barry (reviewed here by le Meilleur du Chef website). I’ve also seen it on Amazon uk here. Top quality 70% chocolate for the decoration and 66% for the mousse is a great balance but the latest smaller cake was made with Valrhona 70% for all the elements – it’s absolutely delicious and not too sweet. Just remember if your chocolate doesn’t taste great, your cake won’t either – speaking from bittersweet experience here!
A characteristic of this cake is the chocolate provides a strong slightly bitter contrast to the meringue – my French climbing friend who’d eaten them throughout his childhood told me this. He added that the delicious but bitter chocolate doesn’t make for a typical child’s cake but he adored it.
Timings (approximate) – can be spread over 1 to 3 days
Make the succès/meringue discs the day before (store in an airtight tin or wrapped in foil) or in the morning so they have time to cool down before assembly: succès (15-20 mins work; 1hr – 1hr 15mins baking) and meringue discs (10-15 mins work; 1 hr 45 mins to 2 hrs baking). They’re at different temperatures so can’t go in together – I did the meringue separately in my mini oven.
Once the discs are cooled coat them in chocolate – chablonnage (6 mins + 10 min setting each side). Chocolate mousse (15-20 mins) and assembling cake (10-15 mins) Freeze 30 mins – 1 hour (or preferably overnight).
Same or next day temper chocolate and decorate (25-35 mins).
Two succès discs (20cm/8in diametre) – pipe onto a silpat (silicone mat) on a baking tray. If you pipe on baking paper it could be difficult to peel off the paper after baking (I lost some discs like that once).
- 100g/ml egg whites, at room temperature (from 2 and 1/2 medium-large free-range eggs)
- 10g/2 teaspoons caster/superfine sugar
- 90g/2/5 cup caster/superfine sugar
- 50g/2/5 cup icing/powdered sugar
- 50g/1/3 cup ground almonds
- 3 tablespoons/42g full-fat milk, at room temperature
- Whisk the whites to soft peak, add the small quantity of sugar and whisk to stiff peak.
- In a separate bowl whisk the large quantity of caster sugar, icing sugar and ground almonds to combine well. Whisk in the milk.
- Fold a quarter of the whites in gently but well (use a whisk if necessary) then gently fold in the remaining whites until just combined.
The rounds can be quite dark golden but don’t take out of the oven too early – if the succès circles are a little underdone some sticks to the silicone mat so scrape free with a small sharp knife. It’s not ideal if the crisp shell comes off or they break a little but coating with the chocolate later will still work and helps strenghthen them. It’s good they’re moist inside anyway.
One thicker meringue disc (20cm/8in diametre) – pipe onto baking paper on a baking tray plus a few kisses with the extra mixture
- 90g/ml egg whites (from 2 and 1/4 medium-large free-range eggs), at room temperature
- 79g/1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon caster/superfine sugar (or golden caster sugar)
- 79g/2/3 cup minus 1 teaspoon icing/powdered sugar
Please see my meringue recipe in the basics section for more details and photos.
Chablonnage – covering the discs in chocolate
Brushing chocolate on the meringue/succès discs helps avoid them breaking up or getting soft later. The cocoa butter makes the chocolate fluid enough to brush easily.
- 85g/3oz dark chocolat
- 85g/3oz cocoa butter drops
Melt the chocolate and cocoa butter over a bain marie until smooth and around 40°C/105°F. Take off heat and off the bain marie and let it cool to room temperature.
Use a brush to coat one side of the discs and place in the fridge to harden 10 mins (keep the remaining mixture warm so it doesn’t solidify). Then turn over and brush the other side. Place in the fridge again to set.
As in many French chocolate mousses, the eggs are only partially-cooked in the warm mixture or raw so make sure they’re fresh. I’ve never had any problems but if you’re worried separate using a method other than passing from shell to shell or substitute this mousse with a chocolate and whipped cream one (like in this French recipe).
- 200g/ml egg whites, at room temperature (from 5 medium-large free-range eggs)
- 60g/1/4 cup plus 1/2 teaspoon caster/superfine sugar
- 310g/10.9oz 70% good-quality dark chocolate
- 150g/ml whipping cream (35% fat)
- 60g beaten egg yolks (from 3 medium-large eggs), at room temperature
- Whisk the egg whites to soft peak.
- Whisk in the sugar little by little and continue whisking to stiff peak (but not dry).
- Melt the chocolate in a big metal or glass bowl over a bain marie. Take off heat and off the bain marie. It should be around 45°C/115°F to 50°C/120°F (don’t heat over 60°C/140°F or the taste becomes affected).
- At the same time bring the cream to the boil in a small heavy-based saucepan. Take off heat.
- Immediately whisk the cream (add it in 3 goes, each time in a stream) into the chocolate very fast. Whisk fast and hard in a round circular motion to ’emulsioner’ and get a smooth ganache.
- Immediately whisk in the yolks little by little (in 3 goes). Keep whisking hard to make sure the mixture doesn’t separate. If it does keep whisking hard to make it smooth. Note: if it stays separated (a common problem) warm 2 to 3 tablespoons milk in a saucepan or microwave, first slowly whisk it in then keep whisking well until smooth (I tried this and it works!). Here are some helpful articles by Tales from the chocolate shop on ‘Rescuing a split ganache‘ and by Kara’s couture cakes on ‘How to save broken ganache’.
- When the chocolate is at 45°C/115°F fold 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate with a silicone or rubber spatula, combining quite well.
- Gently fold in the remaining egg whites to make a light mousse. Stop when it’s just combined – don’t overwork or it will flatten.Get ready to assemble the cake.
- acetate strip (6cm/2.4in high) to go round inside the cake ring (join and stick with double-backed sellotape or standard sellotape stuck in a loop).
Here’s a little illustration to help.
- Line your cake ring with the strip of acetate.
- Place your lined ring on a cardboard cake base or plate and pipe a low ring of chocolate mousse on the base just around the inside the ring.
- Add the layers in the following order: 1st succès disc, 1/3 of the chocolate mousse, meringue disc, 1/3 of the chocolate mousse, 2nd succès disc (upside-down), 1/3 of the chocolate mousse (spoon extra chocolate mousse into an ice-cream cup). Smooth the top layer of mousse with a long offset spatula to make a flat surface the same height as the cake ring.
- Freeze 30 minutes to 1 hour (or overnight if you prefer) until firm so the acetate strip comes off cleanly.
Final chocolate decoration
- 450g/15.9oz 70% high-quality couverture dark chocolate
- (if tempering with mycryo cocoa butter use 4.5g/2 and 1/4 tsp)
- acetate strip (6cm/2.4in high and about 64cm/25in long) to go around the cake
- icing/powdered sugar, as required
- Take the cake out of the freezer and remove the cake ring. If the cake is set enough then quickly peel off the acetate strip from around the cake. Return to the freezer.
- Temper the dark chocolate. Follow the curve very precisely: first melt on a bain marie to between 45°C/113°F and 50°C/132°F. Then allow to cool to 26-27°C/79-80.5°F then reheat on the bain marie for a minute or so to 30-31°C/86-87.5°F (30°C/86°F is the best temperature). Use immediately. For more details and photos see my basics section for Tempering chocolate (ice-bath method) or Tempering chocolate (spreading system).
- Spread some chocolate on the strip of acetate. Smooth to and fro on the strip with an offset spatula. Before you place around the cake you need to wait until it starts setting (when you touch with a finger it doesn’t stick any more). Then place carefully around the frozen cake and press lightly before peeling off the acetate (the coldness of the cake helps the chocolate set and stick). You can do this after placing the fans on the cake or before, like I did. Here’s a silent youtube video showing chocolate work on the sides of a Feuille d’Automne, with optional chocolate disc and leaves on top.
- Meanwhile with the offset spatula spread the remaining chocolate on a marble surface or the underside of an inox metal baking tray. Again when it starts setting you scrape with a triangular metal palette knife and press down your finger on one side of the chocolate/knife to make large chocolate fans. Place artistically on top of the cake. Here are some youtube videos on how to make small chocolate fans or larger chocolate fans. Keep practising and don’t worry if it doesn’t work out immediately because you’ll simply achieve chocolate curls or shavings instead.
- Sift a little icing sugar over the chocolate fans or curls.
Or leave with no icing sugar.
Storing and eating
Chill 30 minutes or so in the fridge before eating. Store in the fridge in an airtight container and eat within 3 or 4 days (take out of fridge 10-20 minutes before serving) or keep in the freezer up to 2 weeks, cut in slices. It freezes really well.
A little background
There’s a comprehensive article about Lenôtre’s life written in 2009 for the New York Times, ‘Gaston Lenôtre, Who Built a Culinary Brand, is Dead at 88′.
The Feuille d’Automne (Autumn leaf) is one of his most classic cakes, invented in 1968. Originally the three layers were meringue but Lenôtre’s creative director Guy Krenzer later adapted it to include 2 layers of succès (an almond meringue layer ressembling macaron). You can learn to make this and other cakes at their culinary school in Paris! Or follow this recipe. 🙂
It’s really worth making, naturally gluten-free, not very difficult and amazingly delicious! Please have a slice of chocolate heaven, aka La Feuille d’Automne dark chocolate mousse and meringue cake.
I might not wait till autumn but make another one soon! Like Mercotte I intend to make this entremets regularly and I’d encourage you to give it a go. With a simpler version…
… or some almost signature fans! 🙂
So farewell for now sweet reader! Wishing you a lovely week with some great chocolate highs and wonderful baking, no baking or just eating! 🙂 Lili x