Flourless cake delivers a fast fix for chocolate lovers

June 12, 1994|By Jane Snow | Jane Snow,Knight-Ridder News Service

Flourless chocolate cakes have outlasted poodle perms, Michael Milken and the Berlin Wall.

The signature dessert of the 1980s is still wildly popular in the '90s, long after other elements of '80s cuisine (remember pink peppercorns?) wound up in the trash.

The cakes have a dense texture (kind of a cross between a brownie and fudge) and an intense chocolate flavor. In restaurants, they usually are served in tiny wedges, often adrift in puddles of creme anglaise. They have not just persisted, they have triumphed. More than a decade after their debut, they're everywhere.

At the Trellis Restaurant in Williamsburg, Va., which has earned a national reputation for its fabulous chocolate desserts, flourless chocolate cake is the second-best seller on the all-chocolate dessert menu, behind chef Marcel Desaulniers' famous "death by chocolate cake."

Mr. Desaulniers, author of a well-received cookbook on chocolate desserts in 1992, has had a flourless chocolate cake on his menu since 1980, he says. His current version, called "chocolate temptation," features cake layers filled with hazelnut ganache (a chocolate-cream mixture) and garnished with white and dark chocolate curls.

Customers keep ordering it, he says, because, "Without the flour, obviously there's not much between the palate and the chocolate. For chocoholics, it's a quick fix."

Mr. Desaulniers says he first heard about flourless chocolate cakes from Maida Heatter, probably the world expert on the subject. Few people in the United States had tasted the dessert until she popularized it in this country in several dessert cookbooks in 1980s, including "Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts."

In a phone interview, Ms. Heatter, who lives in Miami Beach, recalled that she first came across the recipe in a women's magazine about 20 years ago. The recipe was a favorite of a French countess. About the same time, a similar recipe appeared in the New York Times, accompanying an article about an internationally famous pianist who said he made the cake for Britain's Queen Mother.

Ms. Heatter published the recipe for "Queen Mother cake" in one of her books, and still chuckles over the letter she received from one of the Queen Mother's ladies in waiting, saying that while the Queen Mother enjoyed reading the story of the pianist and the cake, she had never heard of -- let alone eaten -- one of the cakes in her life.

The densest version, which gives the most primal chocolate fix, is made simply with eggs, sugar and chocolate. Mr. Desaulniers calls his a "truffle cake."

"It's a killer," he says.

Equally good and just slightly lighter in texture are cakes in which beaten egg whites are folded into the chocolate-sugar batter. The egg whites cause the cake to rise, then drop like a fallen souffle.

Both styles produce dense cakes that are much thinner than regular cakes made with flour. The cakes are so rich that a thin slice is all you'll want, though.

The flourless cakes aren't likely to go out of fashion soon, not only because they're luscious, but because pastry chefs keep coming up with new ways to serve them: raspberries in the batter, whiskey or bourbon creme anglaise under the cake, or fancy chocolate shavings on top.

Chocolate truffle cake with whiskey creme anglaise

TRUFFLE CAKE:

1/2 pound plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

16 ounces semisweet chocolate, in small pieces

4 eggs

2 egg yolks

CHOCOLATE GANACHE:

1 cup whipping cream

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons sugar

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, in small pieces

WHISKEY CREME ANGLAISE:

1/4 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling half and half

1 tablespoon whiskey (or rum or other liquor)

raspberries for garnish (optional)

FOR THE CAKE: Lightly butter two 9-inch round cake pans with melted butter. Line each pan bottom with parchment paper; butter the parchment. Set aside.

Melt butter and chocolate in the top of a double boiler. Remove from heat and stir until smooth. Set aside.

Place eggs and yolks in top of a double boiler. Whisk eggs until they reach a temperature of about 110 degrees, about 4 to 5 minutes, or until they thicken just slightly but do not begin to cook. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a balloon whip. Beat on high speed until the eggs become light and pale in color, 6 to 7 minutes. With a rubber spatula, fold 1/3 of the eggs into the melted chocolate. Add remaining eggs and fold together gently but thoroughly. Divide between the prepared pans, spreading evenly.

Bake at 300 degrees for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until tops are firm but centers are still slightly soft. Cool in pans 20 minutes. Invert one layer onto a cardboard round, another onto a plate or a springform pan bottom. Chill.

FOR THE GANACHE: Heat cream, butter and sugar in a heavy pan. Stir to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat. Add chocolate and stir with a whisk until melted and smooth. Remove one cup, place in a small bowl and refrigerate. Keep remaining ganache at room temperature.

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