St. Theresa of Avila

Theresa was born a Spanish noble woman, but after facing the loss of her mother and poor health, she felt called to enter religious life. She was known for her deep prayer life. She would enter into moments of ecstasy in a trance like state. Some even say that she would levitate!

She began writing about prayer and her works started a movement toward deeper contemplative life. She is best known for Interior Castles, which describes prayer as an inward journey to a full union with Christ.  Posthumously she was given the rare (especially for a woman) status of Doctor of the Church. Bernini’s famous sculpture, the Ecstasy of St. Theresa, is an image of ideal rapturous prayer.

To celebrate Theresa we are preparing a rich three-layer chocolate dessert which we are calling Triple Chocolate Ecstasy. There is something that is rapturous about this rich chocolate recipe. It is a reminder that prayer can sometimes be like rich chocolate, deeply satisfying and surprisingly pleasurable. 

Pictured Above: The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa, by Gian Lorenzo Bernini; circa from 1647 until 1651; Marble; Height: 350 cm (11.4 ft); Located at the Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.


Triple Chocolate Ecstasy

Ingredients

Bottom Layer (Flourless Chocolate Cake)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into pieces
¾ teaspoon instant espresso powder
4 large eggs, separated
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
Pinch of cream of tartar
Pinch of salt
⅓ cup tightly packed light brown sugar

Middle Layer – Chocolate Mousse
5 tablespoons hot water
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into pieces
1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream, chilled
1 tablespoon sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt

Top Layer – White Chocolate Mousse
¾ teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 tablespoon water
6 ounces white chocolate, cut into pieces
1 ½ cups heavy cream, chilled

Extra chocolate for decorating

Instructions

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325F. Grease a 9-inch springform pan. Microwave butter, chocolate, and espresso powder in large bowl at 50% power, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth, 2 to 4 minutes. Let cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in egg yolks and vanilla. Set aside.
  2. Using a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment (or hand mixer with whisk attachment), whip egg whites, cream of tartar, and salt on medium-lower speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Add half of the sugar and whip until combined, about 15 seconds. Add remaining sugar, increase speed to high, and whip until soft peaks form, about 1 minute longer, scraping down bowl halfway. Using whisk, fold one-third of whipped whites into chocolate mixture to lighten it. Using rubber spatula, fold in remaining whites until no streaks remain. Carefully pour batter into the prepared pan and smooth top with rubber spatula.
  3. Bake until the cake has risen, is firm around the edges, and center springs back when pressed gently, about 15 – 18 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through. Let the cake cool on a wire rack, about 1 hour. Do not remove the cake from pan.
  4. Middle Layer: Combine hot water and cocoa in a small bowl. Microwave chocolate in large bowl at 50% power, stirring occasionally, until melted, 1 to 3 minutes. Let cool slightly, 2 to 5 minutes.
  5. Using a clean mixer bowl and whisk attachment, whip cream, sugar and salt on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes.
  6. Whisk cocoa mixture into melted chocolate until smooth. Using whisk, fold one-third of whipped cream into chocolate mixture to lighten it. Using rubber spatula, fold in remaining whipped cream until no streaks remain. Spoon mousse into pan over cooled cake and smooth top with rubber spatula. Gently tap pan on counter to release air bubbles. Refrigerate cake for at least 15 minutes.
  7. Top Layer: Sprinkle gelatin over water in small bowl and let sit until gelatin softens, about 5 minutes. Place white chocolate in large heatproof bowl. Bring 1/2 cup cream to simmer in small saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from heat, add gelatin mixture, and stir until gelatin is fully dissolved. Pour cream mixture over chocolate and let sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Whisk mixture gently until smooth. Let cool, stirring occasionally.
  8. Using clean, dry mixer bowl with whisk attachment, whip remaining 1 cup cream on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. Using whisk, fold one-third of whipped cream into white chocolate mixture to lighten it. Using rubber spatula, fold in remaining whipped cream until no streaks remain. Spoon white chocolate mousse into pan over middle layer and smooth top with spatula. Refrigerate cake until set, at least 3 hours or up to 24 hours.
  9. Remove cake from pan and serve. Garnish top of cake (or individual slices) with chocolate shavings or curls. To make shavings, use a vegetable peeler on a block of chocolate.