Category Archives: Flourless Chocolate Cake

Ze Flourless

Flourless chocolate cake has a unique feeling on the tongue. At first it does feel almost floury and cake-like, but rapidly melts into a luscious, molten pool. The density of the cake (and all the fat) prolongs the sensation, meaning a little goes a long way (though not if you’re either one of my daughters…then a lot goes a long way).

I prefer a pretty simple presentation for flourless, but then I like a simple presentation for most things. I just slice and serve. A very simple and classy alternative is a dusting of cocoa powder, which makes your guests feel as though they’re eating a giant truffle (and in many respects they are). For that I recommend dusting the cake before you cut it, just put a little cocoa in a small sieve and tap it gently until you have the coverage you want. You can do the same thing with a slice on a plate, but then anything from a gentle breeze to a finger to a rolling raspberry can mess up the presentation.

If you don’t like the little pits and such on the top and want a more uniform look, you can also turn the cake over, provided it’s nice and cold and firm. Simply unmold it from the springform pan, invert a plate on top, flip the whole thing over and (gently) peel off the springform bottom and parchment paper. Easy. And in fact you’ll need to do that very thing if you want to transfer a flourless onto a platter. If you don’t like the way the bottom looks (mine always has a stippled pattern on it from my cheapo industrial springform), just flip it a second time onto yet another plate or platter. No biggie.

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Is it safe?

That scene from Marathon Man, I’m sure, wrecked the livelihood of many a respectable dentist. Talk about a classic. Though it’s a pity such a realistic torture sequence could not have come later in Dustin Hoffman’s career, say after he’d done films like Ishtar, Outbreak, Finding Neverland, and Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. The scene could have been rewritten with Sir Lawrence Olivier demanding: was it necessary???!!

But then I’m here to talk about flourless chocolate cake. The fact that such a cake is baked to a mere 140 degrees might have a few of you food safety fanatics out there wondering just how safe a nice silky flourless cake actually is. The answer is, quite safe. True, USDA food safety guidelines recommend that all eggs be brought to a temperature of 160 degrees for several seconds to ensure that any Salmonella bacteria that might be present are killed. However the very same degree of pasteurization that’s realized by five seconds at 160 can be achieved by three and a half minutes at 140, but of course without the resulting chalkiness.

But if you take the cake out of the oven as soon as it reaches 140, won’t it cool down? Obviously it will, but not before the three and a half minutes are up. In fact the temperature will actually go up a couple of degrees in the few minutes after the flourless is taken out of the oven, a phenomenon known to meat cooks as carryover. By the time the temperature in the middle of this very dense and heat-absorbent cake dips below 140, all the bacteria inside it will have long since shuffled off this mortal coil.

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Making a flourless chocolate cake

This cake is a prime example of Joe Pastry’s Inverse Law of Ingredient Dynamics, which states that as the number of ingredients in a given recipe goes down, the importance of the quality of those ingredients and the techniques by which they are handled goes up. There’s a great misconception out there that because a flourless cake isn’t leavened, it’s basically fool-proof. However as all of us who’ve eaten chalky homemade flourless cakes can attest, they can be, and usually are, messed up. Thus it’s important to pay attention to the details.

So then, first thing is to get the oven on to 325. Set a large pot of water simmering for your water bath, and turn the heat on under your double boiler. Then, beginning with whatever blend of semi- and extra-bittersweet chocolates you wish, lay them down on your cutting board…

…and with the biggest, heaviest chef’s knife you own, carefully chop it.

Next, get your cake pan ready for its nice warm bath. Prepare your 9″ springform pan (instructions are over to the right). Lay it on a sheet of tin foil, gather the foil up around the sides, and press it to form. This is where the double-width foil of a professional kitchen comes in very handy, but I don’t keep a two-ton roll like that hanging around (at least not anymore).

You want the foil to come at least half way up all sides of the pan like so:

What you’re making is essentially a little boat. Now then, put your eggs in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a whip and turn the mixer on medium-high (this is one instance where your eggs don’t need to be at room temperature…in fact cold eggs are preferred since they whip up into a “finer” foam).

While the machine is running, put your butter and chocolate in the double boiler (yes that’s expensive Euro-butter…remember what I said about ingredients?). Very gently melt them together. It should take about ten minutes.

…by which time your eggs should be very foamy and light, several times their original volume. About like so:

Now all you need to do is combine them, but gently since those bubbles are all the leavening this cake will have. Thus you’ll want to fold them in (instructions for that are also over there on the right). Since the mixture needs to be lightened before real folding can happened, begin by adding a third of the egg foam…

…and simply stirring it in until it looks like so:

Streaks are OK. So then, add another third…

…and this time fold like you mean it. Until it looks like so:

Add the last of the egg…

…and keep folding diligently until just a few streaks remain.

Pour your batter into your prepared pan/boat…

…and insert it into your expensive Continental bain marie. Mine I have cleverly disguised as a cheap speckled tin roasting pan, so as not to make all of you feel inadequate.

Add your hot water, enough to come half way up the side of the cake pan.

Carefully insert the whole thing into your oven on the bottom rack (alternately, you can wait to fill the water bath until after it’s in the oven). Bake at 325. I set my thermometer for fifteen minutes, then check the temperature every five or so minutes afterward to make sure I don’t overshoot my target temperature of 140 degrees. A digital thermometer comes in very, very handy for this.

Ah yes, there we go, right about 140. You’ll notice that the cake is still very pudding-like in the middle at this point. Never fear, it will firm. Remove it from the water bath and place it on a rack to cool. Once it’s cooled down to room temperature, place it in the fridge to chill overnight.

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Selecting ze chocolates

A flourless chocolate cake is a great time to let your inner chocolate snob shine through. Assuming you decide not to use any added sugar or flavorings, the only thing you’ll really taste in this cake is chocolate, so it makes sense to get finicky. This is one of those times the home baker has a tremendous advantage over the professional pastry chef, since even Jacques Torres, Mr. Chocolate himself, couldn’t afford to use the kind of top-quality chocolates you can. He’d never make a profit. So whip out your Garbo scarf and sunglasses and head out to the nearest gourmet shop.

The thing to remember when choosing chocolates for a flourless is that the more fat in the chocolate, the smoother and more pudding-like the cake. I therefore steer away from milk chocolates, since I like a nice firm stand-up slice on a plate. All bittersweet is the standard way to go, though I’ll frequently put in a proportion of extra-bittersweet for kick (about a third). I’ll even do all extra-bittersweet for a party of either serious chocoholics or Chinese immigrants (whom in my experience are not accustomed to sugary sweets and appreciate the harshness). Sweetness can be added after the fact by serving the cake in a puddle of some sort of sweet sauce…raspberry, crème anglaise, even chocolate. Of course the sugar can go right into your cake too if you wish, a quarter cup added to an all-bittersweet cake (with the 8 eggs) is a very satisfying middle ground.

But the what brand of chocolate is best? There I can’t help you, since that’s such a personal choice. Of the readily available high-end brands, Valrhona and Ghiradelli are excellent, as is Scharffen Berger if you dig their sort of rustic fruity-bitter aesthetic. Personally I like El Rey for flourless chocolate cakes. It’s a Venezuelan brand whose makers somehow manage to work a little of that South American rain forest authenticity into their flavor profile. I don’t know how they do it, but they do. Funny isn’t it that a country run by a socialist dictator should produce a chocolate called “The King”. My disdain for Hugo Chavez is almost enough to stop me from buying the stuff, though I’m fairly certain he doesn’t make it himself.

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Heart of Darkness

This week I have a yen for some serious chocolate. And what delivers a chocolate body blow better than a flourless chocolate cake? Great flourless cakes are made of just three things: chocolate, eggs, butter. Nothing else is needed if the chocolate is truly spectacular — and why make a cake with anything less? The proportions are:

1/2 pound butter
1 pound chocolate (semisweet or mix of semisweet and bitter)
8 eggs

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