This cake is so scandalous I can’t even write a headline about it that doesn’t seem obscene. “Preparing Rigo Jancsi”? Not much better. Guess I just have to accept the snickers from the back of the bus and move on.
A good piece of Rigó Jancsi — there I did it again — is essentially a cube, about two inches on a side. It’s all you need since this really is decadent stuff. It’s chocolate mousse, essentially, between two layers of intensely chocolate-y (to the point of being almost coffee-like) spongecake, topped by a layer of chocolate, almost like a softened bittersweet bar.
Chocolate on chocolate on chocolate. What else would one expect from a cake named for a swarthy gypsy violinist, the man who stole the wife of a Belgian prince and scandalized Parisian society for years? Ladies — to your fainting couches! This tale of passion, love and loss may be too much for your sensibilities to bear.
For the spongecake:
2.5 ounces (1/2 cup) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
4 ounces (1 stick) butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
10 eggs, room temperature and separated
4.5 ounces (about 2/3 cup) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
So read Clara Ward’s hometown newspaper, the Ludington Record, on Christmas Eve, 1896. It was the point at which all reportage on the subject of Michigan’s princess of Caraman-Chimay ceased appearing in the society pages and moved over to the gossip columns. It would stay there for the remainder of Clara’s life.
But what exactly caused Clara to stray into the arms of a penniless restaurant violin player? His raw animal magnetism, the newspapers said. That and his gypsy allure. According to most accounts, the first meeting occurred at a restaurant in Paris where Clara and the Prince were dining. Rigó Jancsi (whose name I’m told means “Johnny Blackbird” in Hungarian) was roving among the tables when his smoldering black moustache — I mean eyes — eyes fixed on young Clara. She was mesmerized. Over successive evenings she would implore her husband to take her back and back to thrill to his languid movements and haunting gyspy melodies. Then, one night, she simply disappeared.
Reader Charm suggests that while we’re in Hungary (or thereabouts), we head over to Budapest to sample a cake inspired by a scandalous love affair — the ultra-rich and decadent Rigó Jancsi. Well, we haven’t done chocolate in a while, so…why not?
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There are plenty of myths about that, which is hardly surprising. Clara and Jancsi were the sex symbols of the era despite the fact that he was rather wiry and somewhat stooped and she was quite plump by today’s standards. But for the time their looks, especially hers, were considered bewitching.