Let's be clear from the start: I am not a coffee drinker. You won't see me sipping an artisan drip coffee in a cool-looking place; I don't even have the necessary utensils or ingredients to make coffee at home.
Somehow, that never stopped me from loving coffee ice cream when I was a lot younger. I then replaced it in my heart with straciatella, but I knew coffee would show up somewhere again.
One day, Moonstruck Café came along. Moonstruck was right smack in the middle of the University campus: the place cool people went to, or at least that's what my fourteen year-old self thought at the time. As University Laboratory High School students, we weren't very far away from Moonstruck and its dark blue décor. When we first walked in, I could have opted for hot chocolate, but I went for the mocha. Hey, that's what college kids drink, right? It has coffee! Well, a little bit of coffee and a lot of milk and chocolate, but that's beside the point. Fourteen year-old Lucie was more than happy to be drinking a "specialty coffee beverage" in a coffee shop, long before Starbucks became the ubiquitous chain it is today. Moonstruck made me the cool and confident person I am today. Maybe.
Nowadays, a frozen yogurt shop has replaced Moonstruck, but that's okay. I still like mocha, do not enjoy coffee, but have a renewed taste for coffee-flavored sweet things.
Jacues Pépin's Moka is just one of those cakes: coffee buttercream meets a silky dacquoise cake base. A mocha it is not: this moka has no chocolate, and that's not a bad thing. Coffee is the star, yet doesn't come across as overpowering. This is the type of dessert that can be easily appreciated by anyone.
Even fourteen year-old teenagers who don't like coffee...but can't refuse a mocha. Or moka, in this case.
recipe adapted from Jacques Pépin
3/4 c. strong coffee
1/2 c. coffee
1/3 c. granulated sugar
3 egg yolks
3 sticks (1.5 cups) butter, softened
for hazelnut meringue:
1.5 c. ground hazelnuts
2 TB cornstarch
3/4 c. granulated sugar
7 egg whites
for rhum whipped cream:
1.5 c. heavy cream, very cold
2 TB granulated sugar
1 TB rhum
1.5 cups slivered almonds, for garnish
Bring coffee to a boil and reduce until you get 1/2 cup.
Prepare buttercream: bring coffee and sugar to a boil, two to three minutes, until syrup becomes sticky.
In a stand mixer, beat yolks together, slowly pour in syrup, and continue beating for approximately ten minutes. The mixture should quadruple in volume and be very creamy. Add butter, cut into chunks, until you obtain a smooth buttercream. Set aside.
Prepare hazelnut meringue: Preheat oven to 350°F / 180°C.
In a medium bowl, mix ground hazelnuts, cornstarch, and sugar.
Beat egg whites to stiff peaks, and delicately incorporate hazelnut mixture.
On a parchment-lined baking sheet, spread mixture evenly and bake until golden, approximately 20 minutes. Remove from baking sheet to cool. Once meringue is cool, cut into 2 rectangles of equal dimensions. Place one rectangle on an foil-covered piece of cardboard.
Cover with a very thin layer of buttercream. Next, place a third of buttercream mixture in a pastry bag and pipe onto the perimeter of the meringue, tracing an extra line along the middle (like the line in the center of a soccer field).
Make whipped cream: Beat cream, rhum, and sugar to stiff peaks.
Pipe whipped cream into the two empty rectangles on meringue. Place remaining layer of meringue on top and frost with remaining buttercream on the top and sides.
Toast slivered almonds on the stovetop until golden and fragrant. Let cool, and garnish cake.
Refrigerate before serving.
Note: Although the cake layers are called a meringue, the consistency is more that of a dacquoise, and should be moist and soft.