Valentine's day is approaching. In general, chocolate is not my first choice in the dessert department...but for Valentine's Day, even I will admit that chocolate seems to be in order. To fill the bill, there are lots of good options—custards, tarts, mousses, cakes, soufflés, etc.—but I think most people gravitate towards flour-less (or nearly flour-less) types of chocolate cakes for this particular holiday. I taught a favorite Fallen Chocolate Soufflé Cake (something in the "nearly flour-less chocolate cake" category) in a class last week. Although the class was focused on French food, I had the impression that several attendees would be making the cake for the upcoming holiday. And because I still had this cake in my mind as the weekend approached, I made it to take to a pot luck. There was not even a sliver left....and a friend requested the recipe so she could make it for her Valentine's Day celebration. It seems to be the cake of the moment.
This cake has many good qualities, but one thing that makes it particularly appropriate for a Valentine's Day that falls on a week night is that it can be made very quickly. In about an hour from the time you walk into the kitchen you can be enjoying a soft, warm chocolate cake. If you measure your ingredients and prepare your pan ahead, it will be even faster.
As far as technique is concerned, the cake is not difficult. The main thing is to make sure that the eggs are whipped sufficiently. They should be very light in color, very fluffy (as the whisk moves through the egg foam, it will leave a trail) and they will have tripled in volume. Also, when the whisk is lifted a few inches above the whipped egg foam, the foam should fall away from the whisk in a thick ribbon that folds back and forth upon itself and remains barely visible on top of the foam.
You will also need to know how to "fold" correctly. The folding process is much easier (and faster) to execute than it is to describe...but for those who are new to folding, I will take a stab at it: Holding the rim of the bowl with one hand and a rubber spatula with the other (your "working hand"), cut straight down through the center of the bowl with the rubber spatula until the spatula touches bottom. Then, bring the spatula up and toward you, scraping the side of the bowl with the spatula as you do. The heavier ingredients (chocolate and butter) will be clinging to the spatula as you lift it out of the mixture. Lay this heavier mixture over the top of the foam by rotating your wrist/lower arm as you return to the center of the bowl in order to make the next pass with the spatula. Before cutting down through the foam again, use your non-working hand to rotate the bowl so that your next "folding" pass through the mixture will be in a different spot (right next to the folding pass you just completed). Continue to fold and rotate until the mixture is homogenous (i.e.—no streaks remain). Stop folding as soon as you reach this point...the more you work the batter, the more it will shrink in volume. The goal of folding is to completely mix a heavy substance with a light foamy one without knocking too much air out of the foam. Your movements should be gentle and at the same time, purposeful.
I suppose I should end with the reassurance that I really do like chocolate....a lot. I just happen to like fruit desserts better. One of the reasons I shy away from chocolate desserts is that so often they tend to be way too rich. So much so that they can't really be comfortably enjoyed at the end of a meal. Flourless and nearly flourless chocolate cakes are particularly prone to this problem. But not this one. The recipe for this particular cake was given to me by my friend Bonnie (who adapted it from an old issue of Cook's Illustrated). What I love most about Bonnie's baked goods is that they have what I can only call finesse. Her desserts are never heavy handed....or over the top. And this cake is an excellent example of the kinds of things I have had the privilege of enjoying at her table. It isn't too sweet...or too rich...or too dense. It is light...yet still very chocolate-y—a chocolate dessert that even I can appreciate.
Fallen Chocolate Soufflé Cake
4 oz. unsalted butter (plus extra to butter pan)
8 oz. semi-sweet or bitter-sweet chocolate (I like Ghirardelli 60%), coarsely broken or chopped
4 large eggs plus 1 large egg yolk
1 t. vanilla extract
1/4 t. salt
1/2 c. sugar
2 T. all purpose flour (plus extra to flour pan)
Heat oven to 375°. Generously butter and flour an 8- or 9-inch spring form pan. Melt butter and chocolate in a medium size bowl over a pan of simmering water; set aside.
Beat eggs, yolk, vanilla, salt and sugar at highest speed in bowl of stand mixer with a whisk attachment. Volume will triple, mixture will be fluffy and very light in color and a fat ribbon will form when the whisk is lifted out of the egg foam. Depending on the temperature of your eggs, this will take anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes.
Spread egg mixture over melted chocolate and butter; sift the flour over the egg foam.
Gently, (but purposefully) fold the egg foam and flour into chocolate until mixture is uniformly colored. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake 22 to 25 minutes for 9-inch pan—about 5 minutes longer if using an 8-inch pan. The cake will puff up and a thin, dry crust will form on the top. Start checking the cake at about 20 minutes. When the surface at the center ceases to look shiny and wet, the cake is done.
Cool for 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to remove the pan sides. Lightly dredge confectioner’s sugar over the top and serve. Serves 8 to 10.
The cake is best the day it is made...but is still delicious on the second or third day if it is wrapped air-tight.
|...with whipped cream and raspberry sauce.|