Death by Chocolate

12 to 20 servings

The preparation of all the chocolate components for this seven-layer extravaganza with sauce is spread out over three days. It is a home cooking challenge, no doubt about it. Peggy Girshman ultimately triumphed (see story above), and if you're willing to tackle it, here it is. Save us a piece.

Recipe adapted from Marcel Desaulniers's "Death by Chocolate" (Rizzoli, 1992).

For the cocoa meringue:

4 egg whites

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/8 teaspoon salt

11/4 cups sugar

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa, sifted

1 tablespoon cornstarch

For the chocolate mousse:

6 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped and melted

11/2 cups heavy cream

3 egg whites

2 tablespoons sugar

For the brownie layer:

1/4 cup flour

2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (may use Dutch-process), plus more for the pan

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the pan

2 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped

3 eggs

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup sour cream

For the chocolate ganache:

22 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped

11/2 cups heavy cream

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

For the mocha mousse:

14 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped

1/2 cup water

4 tablespoons instant coffee powder

2 tablespoons cocoa, sifted

5 egg whites

2 tablespoons sugar

3/4 cup heavy cream

For the mocha rum sauce:

6 ounces unsalted butter

11/3 cups sugar

11/3 cups heavy cream

8 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted (may use Dutch-process)

3 tablespoons dark rum, such as Myers's

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons instant coffee powder

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees.

Have ready a 9-inch round of parchment paper or, using a 9-inch cake circle as a guide, trace a circle with a pencil on a sheet of parchment paper cut to fit a baking sheet. Turn the paper over and, with trace mark down, place on a baking sheet.

For the cocoa meringue: In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a balloon whip attachment, combine the egg whites, the cream of tartar and salt. Whisk on high until soft peaks form, about 45 to 50 seconds. Gradually add 1 cup of the sugar while continuing to whisk on high. Whisk until stiff, about 11/2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the mixer and use a rubber spatula to fold in and thoroughly combine the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, the cocoa powder and cornstarch. Fill a pastry bag (with no tip) with the cocoa meringue. Fill the parchment circle with meringue; starting in the center, pipe a 3/4 -inch wide spiral toward the outside of the circle.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 200 degrees and bake for 2 hours and 45 minutes. Let cool for 45 minutes before handling.

Meanwhile, prepare the chocolate mousse: Place the melted chocolate in a large bowl and set aside.

Place the cream in the well-chilled bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a well-chilled balloon whip. Whisk on high until peaks form, about 1 minute. Set aside.

In a large stainless steel bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes. Add the sugar and continue to whisk until stiff peaks form, 2 to 21/2 minutes. Add a quarter of the whipped cream to the reserved chocolate and whisk quickly and thoroughly, then add to the egg whites. Add that combined mixture to the chocolate mixture, along with the remaining whipped cream, folding together gently but thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate the chocolate mousse until needed.

For the brownie layer: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt onto waxed paper. Set aside.

Melt the unsweetened chocolate, butter and semisweet chocolate together and stir until smooth. Set aside at room temperature.

Combine the eggs, sugar and vanilla in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a balloon whip. Mix on high until slightly thickened, about 11/2 minutes. Add the melted chocolate mixture to the egg mixture and reduce speed to medium speed, mixing for 30 seconds. Add the sifted ingredients, reduce speed to low for 10 seconds, then increase to medium speed for 10 seconds. Add the sour cream and mix for 5 seconds. Use a rubber spatula to make sure ingredients are well combined.

Line the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan with parchment paper, then lightly grease the pan with butter and dust with some cocoa, shaking out the excess. Spread the batter evenly in the pan. Bake about 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then transfer to a plate, cover and refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes. After the brownie layer has been chilled, carefully cut in half horizontally to form 2 layers. (At this point, you may remove the parchment paper on the bottom layer.) Set aside at room temperature.

For the chocolate ganache: Place the chocolate in a large stainless steel bowl.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, heat 11/2 cups heavy cream and 3 tablespoons butter until it comes to a boil. Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir until smooth. Cover and set aside at room temperature.

For the mocha mousse: Melt together the semisweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, water, instant coffee and cocoa powder, and stir until smooth. Set aside at room temperature.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a balloon whip. Whisk on high until soft peaks form, about 1 minute. Continue to whisk while gradually adding the sugar. Whisk until stiff peaks form, about 30 seconds.

In a well-chilled separate stainless steel bowl using an electric mixer fitted with a balloon whip attachment, whip 3/4 cup heavy cream until it is stiff. Fold 1/4 of the egg whites into the melted chocolate mixture, then fold in the whipped cream. Fold in the remaining egg whites. Set aside, covered, at room temperature.

To assemble: Place a 9-by-3-inch round springform pan on a baking sheet. Set the top half of the chocolate brownie layer inside the pan, top side up. Ladle 11/2 cups of ganache into the pan. Trim the cocoa meringue with a serrated knife so that it will fit tightly into the pan, then place it, top side up, inside the pan on top of the ganache, pressing down gently on the cocoa meringue to eliminate air pockets.

Spoon the mocha mousse on top of the cocoa meringue, spreading evenly. Place the remaining chocolate brownie layer, bottom side up (removing the parchment paper on its bottom, if you have not already done so), on top of the mocha mousse. Cover the cake and chill it in the freezer for 30 minutes or in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Cut around the edges to release the layers from the springform pan. Pour the remaining ganache over the cake and use a cake or offset spatula to spread the ganache evenly over the top and sides of the cake. Refrigerate for 10 to 15 minutes or until the ganache has set.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip (author Peggy Girshman used the third-largest of her large-tip set) with the chocolate mousse. Pipe a circle of stars (each touching the other) along the outside edge of the top of the cake. Continue to pipe out circles of stars until the top of the cake is covered. At this point, refrigerate the dessert for at least 4 hours -- or preferably 12 hours -- before serving.

For the mocha rum sauce: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the sugar, heavy cream, sifted cocoa, 2 tablespoons of the rum and the salt, stirring with a whisk until well combined. Increase heat to bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the instant coffee, vanilla extract and the remaining tablespoon of rum, stirring until smooth. Cool to room temperature before serving.

To serve, heat the blade of a serrated knife in hot water before slicing the dessert, and clean the blade before each subsequent cut. Before placing slices on individual dinner-size plates, spoon 3 to 4 tablespoons of the mocha rum sauce on each plate and tip so that the plate is evenly coated. Place a single slice in the center of each sauced plate. Serve immediately.

Per serving (based on 20): 862 calories, 11 g protein, 85 g carbohydrates, 60 g fat, 146 mg cholesterol, 36 g saturated fat, 206 mg sodium, 5 g dietary fiber

Recipe tested by Peggy Girshman; e-mail questions to