St Émilion au Chocolat

A very simple and insanely good chocolate dessert, this is my variation of the inspirational Elizabeth David, whose books, many decades later, are never less than an joy to read. Essentially this is a top-notch chocolate mousse that is indulgent yet light textured; this might well be a retro dessert but, quite frankly, when something is this good it matters not one jot!

The more rustic macaroons are used in this recipe for the base (rather than the more delicate macarons) and they get shamelessly soaked in brandy. Macaroons are very easy to make and while they don’t have the sophistication of the French macarons, they are, nonetheless, lovely sweet treats.

You can, however, replace the macaroons with Amaretti biscuits.

I prefer the macaroons to be lightly crushed into smallish pieces for the base: neither too fine nor too chunky. They soak up the brandy, giving the most thrilling sweet, nutty flavour with the gorgeous heat of the alcohol.


I usually put the mixture in an 8″ loose-bottomed cake tin with a layer of the brandy-soaked macaroons on the bottom, followed by a layer of the chocolate wickedness and then topped with a generous sprinkling of brandy-soaked macaroons.

You get a dessert that has just enough depth without being too deep (which, for this, would be far too daunting to eat – even for the most ardent chocoholic – and I count myself among that demographic!)

A trifle different!

You can layer this up, trifle-style, in individual ramekins or small glasses: macaroon, chocolate, macaroon, chocolate…an insanely indulgent trifle for sure!

The brandy (or rum) is absolutely crucial in this dessert; I have made it without alcohol but it doesn’t work nearly as well. Amaretto is also an excellent choice.

Simplicity is key

Simplicity of presentation is the order of the day here: just clean slices, served with cream; the natural elegance of the dessert itself is enough to make it shine.

You can serve the St Émilion with fresh raspberries which cut through the richness, but it doesn’t actually need them!

Recipe: St Émilion au Chocolat: serves 8-10

for the macaroons (makes about 16)

  • 110g ground almonds, blitzed until very fine
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 150g unrefined golden caster sugar

for the chocolate layer:

  • 150g macaroons (or use Amaretti biscuits), plus a few for the topping
  • 100ml excellent quality brandy
  • 110g best quality unsalted butter, softened
  • 110g golden caster sugar
  • 200ml full-fat milk, warmed
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon espresso coffee
  • 225g excellent quality dark chocolate (at least 70% coco solids), chopped roughly
  • 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature

to serve:

  • chilled cream, either whipped or poured –  or crème fraîche

(1) Make the macaroons: preheat oven to 180C(fan). Whisk the egg whites for about 30 seconds until just foamy. Add about half of these to the almonds and whisk for a few seconds to start to incorporate.

(2) Add about half of the sugar and whisk for a few more seconds. Add a bit more of the egg white and the rest of the sugar and whisk again as it starts to form a thick paste. Keep whisking while you add the remaining egg whites a little at a time, until it comes together to give a doughy but malleable paste (as in picture below) – you might not need to use all of the egg whites.

(3) Shape into small balls – about a teaspoonfull at a time – and brush lightly with water. Place on a solid baking tray, lined with a double thickness of greaseproof. Bake for about 15 minutes until just golden brown, checking after 12 minutes. They will be squidgy inside which is perfect. Cool on a wire rack – they will crisp up a little as they cool whilst retaining the lovely chewiness inside.
NB: you do need a double thickness of greaseproof here (or a silicon mat) to prevent the macaroons from burning on the bottom.

The recipe doesn’t use all of the macaroons, but they keep well in an airtight container – brilliant served with coffee, although the remaining macaroons will probably not last long!

(4) Roughly tear apart the macaroons, making sure you don’t end up with pieces that are too fine. Sprinkle over most of the brandy and stir in. Leave for a few minutes until the macaroons absorb the excess moisture. Sprinkle these generously over the bottom of an 8″ loose-bottomed sandwich tin that has an acetate collar around the circumference on the inside.
NB: the acetate collar is not essential but it makes it easier to remove the St Émilion from the tin, maintaining a smooth edge all the way round.

(5) Place the butter and sugar in a bowl and whisk very well until pale and light. You can use vanilla sugar which adds a lovely flavour.

(6) Put the chocolate, coffee, vanilla extract and salt into the warm milk and leave for a couple of minutes to start to melt. Whisk well until smooth.

(7) Add the egg yolk to the butter and sugar and slowly pour in the hot milky chocolate, whisking well – don’t worry about the butter melting; it is meant to! Pour this mixture over the brandy-soaked macaroons and smooth off. The egg yolk will just cook in the heat.

(8) Roughly crush the remaining macaroons over the chocolate mixture and sprinkle gently with more brandy.  Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least 24 hours before slicing thinly and serving with very well chilled cream.

Recipe recreated: July 2016
My recipe was recreated by SRC: July 2016

Author: Philip

Finalist on Britain’s Best Home Cook (BBC Television 2018). Published recipe writer with a love of growing fruit & veg, cooking, teaching and eating good food.

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