Valentine’s Day chocolate nemesis
This recipe was made famous by the late Rose Gray of the River Café – it is economical and unadorned and I love the brilliance of using the hot syrup to melt the butter and chocolate: smart well thought out cooking for busy people. I have made this in the US with Scharffen Berger 70 percent bittersweet when helping a friend pregnant with twins reverse an alarming week of weight loss (it worked !), I have made it with Valrhona, with Callebaut, with Willies (his chocolate not his wonka) and yes with Heidi. I have used it to line pre baked pastry cases, I have added raspberries, done a version with chilli, added cardamon and I have a version with “magiun de prune”… in short I have tested this relentlessly and it has never failed me.
Essentially this is a baked flourless cake that needs to be treated very very gently and made with much love. If you like unfussy foods, damn good chocolate and indulging then try this little piece of kitchen alchemy. The only word of warning I would add is that to do the “wow” factor thing and turn it out you do need a cake tin with a removable bottom. If you do not have one, I have also made it in ramekin dishes and espresso cups. This way you are saved the nerve wracking experience of turning it out. If it cracks a little (not the cook’s fault but the oven’s) dust lightly (death by inhaling cocoa dust not recommended) with cocoa powder.
The original recipe is for 10-12 so I have halved it here. I love this recipe but that is a lot of chocolate cake! The cake tin should be 22cm and quite deep, ie not a tart tin.
340g dark chocolate 70% (the best your budget can stretch to)
225g butter 82%
125g sugar and 125ml water (for the syrup)
215g sugar to be whisked with the eggs
Line your tin with greaseproof paper (“hartie de copt”) . There are a number of on-line sites with videos to show you how to do this these days, but the basic idea is to make sure the cake mixture doesn’t have contact with the pan directly and that the paper is not all scrunched up. Sometimes I do this really well and sometimes I end up with a failed origami project.
If your oven is fierce and convection, like mine, heat it to 140°C, if it is gentle and non-convection then 160°C. Have a big roasting dish ready and put a large kettle of water on to boil. Your cake is going to sit in water as it cooks and if that water is cold, it will not start cooking.
The only tricky thing about this recipe is to decide whether to make the syrup first or whisk the eggs – I tend to do both at the same time as I believe in multitasking and never can do the focus thing very well. But if that freaks you out do the syrup first – hot sugar syrup has a high latent heat.
Chop all your chocolate up into smallish pieces (a few pieces nibbled won’t hurt). Chop the butter into small cubes.
Heat the sugar with the water and boil it until it just becomes the consistency of a thin syrup. Switch off the heat. Add the chocolate and butter and DO NOT TOUCH. Let the hot syrup do all the hard work melting the butter and chocolate. Give a gentle stir after 10 minutes. Vigorous stirring can split the mixture.
Put your eggs and sugar in a bowl; this is where you do need some electrical power. I use my trusty Kenwood and whack the whisk on high until I have really frothy eggs, as if for a genoise sponge. Personally I think this is where the recipe stands or falls – those eggs really do need to be frothy – you need the volume to increase four to five times. It does help to whisk over hot water but I don’t want to over complicate this and the original recipe does not call for that. Although I may have done it in an obsessive “my eggs must be frothy” moment.
Now the final part calls for a gentle touch and this is where I deviate slightly from RG who advocates pouring in the chocolate and continuing to beat for 20 seconds. I like the efficacy of this method but shudder at the thought of losing all those bubbles of eggy foam. It may take a little longer but pour in the chocolate, butter and syrup mixture and fold lightly and delicately through until well combined. The odd fleck or two of eggy mousse is allowable if that has meant preserving the texture. If you do this right you end up with a mousse like texture rather than solid chocolate and butter. Pour the mixture into your cake tin right up to the rim. Place the cake in the empty roasting tray. Now at this point, I open the oven door and place the cake inside the oven and then I pour boiling water from a kettle into the roasting tin. I just don’t like walking around a kitchen carrying a tray of boiling water.
Set the timer for 40 minutes and relax with a cup of tea and lick the bowl out (unless you don’t like raw eggs or have lost faith in food supply chains. Anyhow as long as you are not sick or pregnant and you know the provenance of your eggs, go ahead and clean the bowl in an eco friendly manner). After 40 minutes, have a look and if the cake looks solid on the outside and wobbles a very little bit in the middle, it is done. Take it out and now the hard part…let it cool before eating. If you feel brave unclip your tin and peel off the paper when cool! (not before). I like my chocolate neat but if serving for a dinner party some fresh raspberries on the plate go well as does some slightly tangy crème fresh or good sour cream (“smantana”).