To make the reindeer and carriage: Refer to the templates and trace these shapes onto parchment paper or poster board. Use a pair of scissors to cut them out. Place another sheet of parchment paper on your work surface. Use an offset spatula to spread a 1/4-inch-thick layer of tempered chocolate on the paper, being sure to spread it all the way to the edges. Lift the paper by its corners and move it to a clean space on your work surface. Let the chocolate harden slightly, 4 to 5 minutes. The chocolate will be firm enough to cut but it will not be hard.
With the tip of a sharp paring knife, trace around the templates (2 reindeer, 2 stands, and as many of the pieces of the carriage that will fit), cutting through the chocolate all the way. You will need to repeat the process in order to finish all of the pieces. When you cut out the wheels, you can choose to use a heart-shaped cutter. If you want to add more detail, cut a round circle for each hub of the wheel. Work quickly or the chocolate will become too hard to cut. When finished, allow the chocolate to set completely before removing the scraps. Now you are ready to assemble the carriage. With additional chocolate, "glue" the reindeer to the stands, and glue together the pieces of the carriage. For the wheels, suspend the carriage on top of an overturned bowl where you have clearance to attach them. Allow it to dry completely before removing from the bowl.
For additional decorations, half fill a cornet with more tempered chocolate and cut a small opening at the tip. Use to pipe dots or teardrops onto the side of the carriage. When the chocolate is dry, you can dust with gold leaf or combine the gold with a few drops of oil to use as paint. You could also decorate with mini M&M baking bits.
Chocolate Gift Cakes:
For the ganache:
- 2 3/4 cups heavy cream
- 28 ounces pounds bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1/3 cup orange liqueur
For the cake layer:
- 18 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted and still warm
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 10 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 cup almond flour
- Scant 1/4 cup dark rum (optional)
- 10 large egg whites
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
For the decorations:
- 16 ounces bittersweet chocolate, tempered
Ganache: Heat the heavy cream in a 2-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan until bubbles begin to form around the edge of the pan. Place the chopped chocolate in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Gradually pour about half of the hot cream over the chocolate. Let stand for 30 seconds to melt chocolate. Slowly whisk it until smooth and homogenous. Add the remaining cream gradually (the shock of the hot cream can cause the fat in the chocolate to separate or "break", if added too quickly), and mix until all of it is incorporated and the ganache is smooth and homogenous.
It should be thick, shiny, and smooth. Add the liqueur and mix to fully incorporate. Pour the ganache onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet to cool.
When the ganache has cooled to the consistency of toothpaste but is still easily spreadable, it is ready to be used. If the ganache has set too much, soften it by heating a small amount in a saucepan placed over medium heat until melted. Then quickly, but gently, stir the melted ganache into the harder, cooler ganache. If it's still too hard, repeat the procedure until the desired consistency is reached.
Cake layer: Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. In a medium bowl with an electric mixer, combine corn syrup, egg yolks, butter, and almond flour. Beat at medium high speed until light and fluffy. Add dark rum (or substitute vanilla and orange zest).
Fold the meringue into the butter mixture all at once. Using a rubber spatula fold up from the bottom of the bowl, careful not to deflate the meringue. When the two mixtures are just incorporated, add the warm chocolate. Fold again, carefully. Use a whisk, if the meringue does not fold in well.
Pour the batter into a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and spread it evenly to the edges with a rubber spatula. Careful not to smash the batter or it will lose its air and the cake will be flat and chewy. Bake until the cake springs back when touched, or a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool cake in the pan on a wire rack. The cake will collapse slightly as it cools.
Using an offset spatula spread the ganache onto the cake layer. Spread the ganache all the way to the edges. If the cake is uneven, use the ganache to make it flat and even as possible. Place the cake in the refrigerator and allow the ganache to harden, about 20 minutes. Then use the offset spatula to make the edges as clean and straight as possible. Place the frosted cake in the refrigerator for about 1 hour to set.
When ready to serve, remove cake from the refrigerator and allow to come to room temperature for at least 30 minutes before serving. Heat a chef's knife in hot water; wipe off excess water and cut cake into the serving size preferred.
Decorations: Spread about a 1/16-inch thick layer of the tempered chocolate over a transfer sheet (see note below). Use a chef's knife to cut the chocolate, but not the transfer sheet, to match the size of the cake pieces. Set aside and let the chocolate set about 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the air temperature. When the chocolate has set, lift each pre-cut piece from the transfer sheet and place it, design side up, on top of the individual cake serving.