Wednesday, January 27, 2016

For National Chocolate Cake Day, I give you a Valentine's treat

If you've never tried flourless chocolate cake, you don't know what you're missing. It's a cross between a gooey brownie, fudge, and a truffle. I first encountered it at Tippecanoe Place, a gourmet restaurant in the old Studebaker mansion in South Bend, Ind.

I have to say it spoiled me for all other chocolate cakes. And since then, I’ve encountered this delicacy so seldom on restaurant menus that I decided to learn how to bake one myself. Today is National Chocolate Cake Day, so I thought it only fair I share my recipe with all of you.



Don’t let the “flourless” part fool you. Even if you don’t have a gluten allergy, you'll want to try this. It’s not terribly difficult to make, but you need to read the instructions ahead of time and follow them precisely. Baking is chemistry, after all, and in the absence of flour, precision is important.

And did I mention this cake makes a killer Valentine’s Day surprise? If your sweetheart is a chocolate-lover, he or she will be all over you for making this for them. It’s a guaranteed score!


Make a shopping list for these ingredients



For cake:
  • 12 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • ¾ cup (1½ sticks) of unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 12 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
For ganache:
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • ½ cup dark corn syrup
  • 9 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
For garnish: Raspberries (or whatever you prefer)


Ready, set, prep!



Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9-inch diameter springform pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment or waxed paper, and butter the paper. Wrap the outside of the pan with foil.


Chocolate 101



Use a high-end chocolate in this cake. Yes, ordinary chocolate chips will work, but this is a special cake, and you want it to be extra rich. I use Ghirardelli bittersweet baking bars, but you could also choose another high-cacao-content bar, including ones flavored with espresso, orange, chili peppers, etc. Or add your own special flavorings to your chocolate mixture (1-2 teaspoons of espresso, orange zest or chili pepper nips).


Stir chocolate and butter in heavy, medium saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and allow to cool to lukewarm, stirring often.

Note: Don’t skip the cool step. If you add the eggs (next step) into hot chocolate and butter, you’ll fry the eggs. A lot of different flavors work well with chocolate, but I’m pretty sure fried eggs isn't one of them.


Eggs 101



Using an electric mixer, beat egg YOLKS together with 6 tablespoons sugar in a large bowl until the mixture is thick and pale; about 3 minutes.



Fold lukewarm chocolate into the yolk/sugar mixture, then fold in vanilla extract.

Because there’s no flour, any rise in your cake will come from the beaten eggs. So remember to be gentle when incorporating the chocolate into the eggs. To FOLD means to use a wire whisk or rubber spatula in long, slow, smooth strokes. You don’t want to deflate those egg yolks.



Using clean dry beaters, beat egg WHITES in another large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar, beating until medium-firm peaks form.



Fold the whites/sugar mixture into the chocolate mixture in 3 additions. Remember: long, slow, smooth strokes. You especially don’t want to push out all the air you just pumped into those egg WHITES. When your batter looks like the last picture, pour it into the prepared pan.


Ready, set, BAKE!



Bake cake until top is puffed and cracked and tester (toothpick) inserted into center comes out with some moist crumbs attached; about 50 minutes. Leave cake in pan to cool on a cooling rack. 

Expect the cake to fall and don’t fret over it. This cake will be somewhat shorter than a single layer of a traditional cake made with flour. But what it lacks in volume, it makes up for in density. Gently press down the crusty top to make the cake evenly thick. Don’t worry about cracks on top because this will become the bottom of your finished cake.



Using a small knife, cut around the pan sides to loosen the cake, then open the spring latch to release the pan sides. Place a tart pan bottom or cardboard round atop the cake and invert so the cake is resting on the round. Peel off the parchment paper from the new, smooth top.


Ganache with panache!



Use the same high-end brand of chocolate used in the cake, but chop it finely. Bring cream and corn syrup to simmer in a medium saucepan. Remove from heat, add the chocolate, and whisk until melted and smooth.



Place cake (leave on round) on a cooling rack set over a baking sheet or a length of waxed paper. Pour ½ cup of the ganache onto the top and spread smoothly over top and sides for a crumb coat. Freeze until almost set, about 3 minutes. This step helps keep crumbs from messing up the look of your cake.




Now pour the remaining glaze over the cake. It will easily drip over the sides with a little help from you and a knife or an offset spatula. Smooth/even out where necessary. Scoop up what drips off and return it to the cake top if needed. If not needed, you have my permission to eat it, just lick fingers thoroughly! Chill the finished cake until ganache is firm, about 1 hour.

You can make this a day ahead. Cover your finished cake with a cake dome and store at room temperature. If garnishing with fresh fruit, wait until closer to serving time to add it.


Cool raspberry coulis



Pick out the best of your raspberries and use them to decorate the top of the cake however you like. The room temperature ganache should allow you to press them gently into place. You can also wait and add them to plated servings.



Puree remaining raspberries in a blender or food processor until smooth. Some people sweeten to taste with confectioners’ sugar, but I think the mild tartness of the raspberries adds depth to the chocolate and helps cut the overall sweetness of the dessert. It’s sugar you don’t need and won’t miss. But if you think you need it, add it at the beginning of the puree process. 

Remove the seeds by pushing the puree through a sieve or strainer. Use the back of a tablespoon to help the process along, and discard the seeds and pulp left in the strainer.



Your finished coulis should resemble this photo. Refrigerate until ready to serve the cake. You might want to take the sauce out of the fridge about 10 minutes before serving to allow it to warm up to the same temperature as the cake.


Finishing touches



Pool puree onto a dessert place and spread in a large circle with the heel of your spoon or ladle. Place a wedge of cake in the center of the pool. Add more raspberries if desired and a sprig of mint (optional). If you have a steady hand, feel free to get artistic with the coulis and decorate the plate and/or cake with swirls instead.



I love presenting this cake on a pedestal plate because it looks so grand! To keep it that way as you serve, rinse your knife in warm water between cuts and pat dry to make cleaner wedges and avoid tearing up the remaining cake.



Instead of raspberries, you can also garnish with chopped nuts, coconut or strawberries. Pictured are toasted hazelnuts, which sound yummy, and I’ve made it with slivered almonds, which were also good and looked pretty. I’d like to try it with chopped pistachios embedded in the side. The green would look so pretty and the combination of flavors would be double-yumm, don’t you think?

If you’re not a fan of ganache, you can skip it altogether and sift powdered sugar over the unglazed cake top. I’ve had it with ice cream (mint chocolate is to die for!) instead, but whipped cream or crème fraiche would also be good. When you start with this cake, I don’t think you can go wrong. So choose what appeals to you or that lucky someone you’re making it for.


For real decadence and an extra-special treat 



It is Valentine’s Day after all, so serve this with a full-bodied red wine. We like:
  • Cocobon, a California red blend
  • 14 Hands Cabernet, Columbia Valley, Washington.
  • Louis Martini Cabernet, Napa Valley, Calif.
  • Estancia Cabernet or Zinfandel, Monterey, Calif.
  • St. Francis Old Vine Zinfandel, Sonoma Valley, Calif.

Cheers! Salud! Chin-chin! Score! (uh, I meant, Skâl!)


Here's to love and the chocolate buzz of a lifetime!! (They're the same, aren't they?)
Print out the full recipe for the cake and ganache, minus the photos, at Epicurious.

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