What’s better than chocolate cake? This three-tiered gateau

Baking: Gateau Diane is an old favourite and ideal for a party or special occasion

 

A three-tiered chocolate meringue, bittersweet chocolate filling, a soft, yet crunchy texture – this is one of my favourite party desserts. It’s big and bold and this gateau can be turned into a real show-stopper when adorned with fresh berries or even edible flowers for a special summer occasion. It’s perfect for a first holy communion or as an idea for a wedding cake. 

Gateau Diane was a well known dessert in the 1980s. It featured on the menu of a successful south Dublin catering company called Boytons and was a regular at many of its clients’ lavish house parties. It was always presented in the centre of the buffet table where all eyes could feast on it. As this recipe can easily scale up to feed 30-50, a little preparation know-how makes it a cinch for large parties.

The secret is to use the largest baking tray in the house (usually the one that came with the oven itself) and bake a single giant sheet of meringue at a time – each meringue layer can be made in advance and wrapped tight in clingfilm for a week or so. Once you have baked all three meringue layers, you can build the gateau the day before the party providing it is kept in the fridge which will keep the meringue soft enough to cut. When served in slices, the contrasting colours and textures of meringue, chocolate and cream give an attractive finish.

Gateau Diane  

Serves 12

For the chocolate-cream filling
400ml cream
250g 55%-cocoa dark chocolate, chopped

For the chocolate meringue:
6 large egg whites
300g caster sugar
1tbsp cornflour
1tbsp good quality cocoa powder (plus extra for dusting the top)

For the sweetened vanilla cream
350ml fresh cream (or whipped cream)
2tbsp icing sugar
1 vanilla pod (split lengthways, seeds removed)

To decorate:
25g finely grated dark chocolate

Method
For the chocolate cream filling: Prepare the chocolate cream at least 4 hours in advance of assembling the gateau. Put the fresh cream into a saucepan and bring just barely to the boil. Pour it over the chopped chocolate in a bowl, leave to sit for 1 minute before stirring until the chocolate is glossy and smooth. Set aside, stirring until the mixture is no longer warm to the touch (you can place it in the fridge to help cool it down, but remove it before it stiffens up). 

When ready to whip, use an electric whisk to whip the chocolate cream to a thick mousse-like consistency, firm enough to sit between layers.

For the chocolate meringue layers: Preheat the oven to 120°C fan. Use three 26x16cm baking tins, grease and line each with baking parchment (alternatively use a pencil to clearly draw three same size rectangles on the reverse of parchment paper placed on a baking sheet). 

In a large mixing bowl, use an electric handheld whisk to beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually add the caster sugar and continue whisking until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Sieve together the cocoa powder and cornflour and gently fold into the meringue mixture.

Spoon the meringue into a large piping bag. Neatly pipe a third in three baking trays (alternatively, pipe the outline of 3 rectangles and spread filling inside). Bake for 1½ hours until crisp and dried out.

Whip the cream lightly then beat in the icing sugar and vanilla seeds from the vanilla pod.

To assemble the layered gateau: Fill the gateau at least 2-3 hours before serving. On top of the first layer of meringue, spread half the chocolate cream. Next spread freshly whipped cream over the chocolate filling. Repeat with the second meringue layer. Place the third meringue on top and finish with a light dusting of cocoa powder. Decorate with grated chocolate. 

For a variation, add your own signature to this dessert with a dash of liqueur such as Baileys or Tia Maria added to the chocolate cream. For a nutty flavour, fold ground almonds through the meringue mixture or for extra crunchiness, scatter toasted flaked almonds between layers. 

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