Layer Up

Chocolate Quad Cake

by Remy Tumin

Chocolate Quad Cake

Elizabeth Cecil

“That’s not cake,” my friend proclaims while we stare at the Quad Cake at La Cave du Grenier. The Belgian white and semi-sweet chocolate mousse encased in a thick ganache frosting, topped with a vanilla crème anglaise and a plate presentation of raspberry and mango coulis, left us in a chocolate cloud.

The dessert was developed 12 years ago by La Cave’s chef James McDonough when he was the chef at the Beach Plum Inn in Chilmark. But with such a loyal following, James has brought the recipe with him to every establishment he works in, including a stop at the West Tisbury Farmers’ Market and now at this French restaurant in Vineyard Haven.

“It’s a two day process,” James says. First he makes the cake, ganache and mousse, letting the mousse set for eight hours. Assembly comes on day two: cake, chocolate mousse, cake, white chocolate mousse, cake, all frozen and then iced with a thick layer of ganache. “One of the tricks to a real successful slice is I slice them semi-frozen, because the mousse is so delicate and soft,” James says. “There were many learning lesson with that; I was such a purist and said I was not going to freeze anything. But with the ganache, the encasement protects it so well that that’s my method of storing them these days.”

Popularity for the cake first grew in his home kitchen.

“It was the favorite cake for my wife and three children, and it was the birthday cake request for a decade or so,” he says. “Actually, it still is.”

The recipe stems from multiple sources. James developed the cake recipe over time, and the mousse recipe comes from a friend on St. Thomas, who recommended a fast and easy take on traditional French dessert: heat the cream and add corn syrup and chocolate. Whisk together and let sit until it reaches room temperature, then fold in the egg whites and unsweetened whipped cream.

“It developed from things I learned along the way, and I’ve refined it more and more as time went on,” James says, “but I really refined it when I was at the Beach Plum.”

At the Beach Plum, James was making six cakes every three days. At La Cave he makes about six cakes a week, and it remains the most popular dessert on the brasserie’s menu.

“I always had my hand in making quad cake,” he says. “It seemed to never end.”

Which, it seems, is just fine by him.

“The quad cake just became part of me over the last decade,” James says. “Years later, people still ask for it.”