Recipe Spotlight

This Showstopper Holiday Dessert Is Also Gluten-Free

Layers of nutty meringue, rich buttercream, and dark, satiny ganache, dacquoise is an elegant, make-ahead masterpiece—that also happens to be gluten-free.

Published Dec. 9, 2021.

There’s no more stunning finale to a holiday celebration than a chocolate dacquoise. Named for Dax, a town in southwestern France where the dessert was first made, the confection is all sleek planes and clean right angles, elegantly enrobed in glossy dark chocolate studded with toasted nuts. Slicing it reveals a layered interior of light, nutty meringue sandwiched with silky buttercream.

You rarely see dacquoise anywhere but fancy patisseries or high-end restaurants because making one is a project. But it’s eminently doable with a solid strategy and formula, and naturally make-ahead; in fact, this dessert improves when it’s assembled a day or two before serving, as the flavors meld and the buttercream softens the meringue. The fact that gluten-free guests can enjoy it, too, is just one more plus. Here are some of my key discoveries.

For the Meringue

  • I whipped together egg whites, cream of tartar, and sugar, withholding some of the sugar until the whites were thoroughly aerated, which helped the foam bake up lighter, then folded in ground nuts.
  • Instead of piping the meringue onto a baking sheet, I spread it in a single flat rectangle, which was easier.
  • To speed the baking time, I increased the oven temperature and spritzed the surface of the meringue with water so it didn’t form a skin and cause the foam to trap air and balloon as it baked.
  • Wrapped tightly in plastic, the cooled meringue kept well at room temperature for a week.

For the Buttercream

  • I opted to make a German buttercream—soft butter that’s whipped with pastry cream—which is only moderately sweet and doesn’t require fussing over a hot sugar syrup.
  • Instant espresso powder gave the buttercream a classic coffee-flavored profile, while a splash of amaretto complemented the nutty meringue. 
  • In addition to spreading a generous layer of buttercream between the dacquoise layers, I lightly coated the exterior with buttercream to “spackle” over the rough bits and so that its richness and flavor would cover every surface. 

For the Ganache

  • Stirred into the melted chocolate-cream mixture, a couple teaspoons of corn syrup gave the satiny mixture extra shine.  
  • For substantial chocolate presence in every bite, I layered the ganache with the buttercream and meringue in addition to pouring it over the exterior of the dacquoise.

Assembling the dessert takes some precision and care (and the right tools—be sure to have an offset spatula and serrated knife on hand), but the results will look and taste patisserie-caliber. In fact, the first time I served it, my guests were practically speechless.

More holiday showstoppers:

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