Chocolate cake: Easy on the flour, easy to make

by Terry B on February 21, 2007

Quality chocolate and butter are key to this easy-to-make, almost flourless cake. Recipe below.

As much as I love to cook, when it comes to dessert I’m often all too ready to follow the advice given with so many main course recipes in cooking magazines: Cap off the meal with a nice store-bought dessert. With all the premium ice creams out there and lots of little bakeries churning out a dazzling [sometimes almost daunting] assortment of goodies, it’s an easy default. But there’s just something so nice about finishing a great meal with something homemade.

Fortunately for me, Marion is far more ready than I am to ignore the easy charms of store-bought and whip up something sinfully sweet and delicious at home. This decadent, rich, nearly flourless chocolate cake is a perfect example. So I’ll get out of the kitchen and let Marion tell you how to make it.

[Almost] Flourless Chocolate Cake

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped coarsely [see Kitchen Notes]
1 cup [2 sticks] unsalted butter, cut into small pieces [see Kitchen Notes]
5 large eggs
One cup plus 5 tablespoons refined white sugar
1/2 tsp salt
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
powdered sugar [optional—see Kitchen Notes]

Preheat oven to 325ºF. Butter and flour a 10-inch-diameter springform pan.

Put the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler so it’s over, not in or even touching, the water. While the water simmers gently below, stir the chocolate and butter together until it’s all melted and smooth. The reasons not to microwave this mixture or melt it more directly [just flat out dumped in a pot and heated over a flame, for instance] are numerous, but chiefest of them is that you will overheat the mix, which is a very bad thing when you get to the next step:

With a big whisk, mix the eggs and refined sugar in a large bowl by hand until everything is well blended and beginning to thicken, about two minutes. Next, sift the flour, salt and baking powder over the egg mixture and, still using the whisk, fold and stir it all together. Now, gradually, add in the chocolate mixture—gently folding it in about 1/4 cup at a time. [This cautious process also helps control the temperature—if the chocolate is too hot, it will start cooking the eggs and ruin the whole thing.]

Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan. [At this point it is permissible to leave a little batter in the bowl, so that, once the cake is in the oven, you can scrape out the bowl with a spatula, lick the spatula and exclaim, man, oh, man.] Put the cake in the oven and set a timer for 20 minutes. When the 20 minutes passes, loosely cover the cake with foil—don’t tuck it down tightly, just lay the foil across the top of the pan.

Bake the cake about 30 minutes longer. Test it, near the center. The tester should come out with a few moist crumbs—not with a glob of raw dough, but not dry either. If necessary, leave the cake in the oven a few minutes more and re-test at intervals.

Take the cake out of the oven; put it on a rack, still in the springform pan, and remove the foil. The cake will be rather puffy and a little of it may cling to the foil—don’t panic! That happens. Walk away for now. As the cake cools, it will fall and flatten out.

When the cake is completely cool, slide a knife around the edge, then gently release and remove the pan sides.

The cake is now ready to serve—of course, see Kitchen Notes.

Kitchen Notes

The pan: If you have a 9-inch pan, not a 10-inch, this recipe will still work, but please use extreme caution in the timing. It will take a few minutes longer and you should definitely be more nervous and attentive in those final minutes, so you don’t end up with a sad, costly chocolate rusk.

Chocolate: This cake is wonderful with even the most mundane grocery-store baking chocolate. You can use bittersweet, you can use semi-sweet, you can mix it up. The central thing is that the finer and more intense the chocolate, the more luscious this cake will be. Right now I am in love with Callebaut bittersweet baking chocolate, a superb product from Belgium, which always takes this straight to the most intense place on Chocolate Planet. Another very good brand is Guittard, originally recommended to us by our friends Allen and Sharon [thanks, guys!]. This brand comes boxed and in the form of convenient little wafers. [I am stunned to see that Moonstruck, one of my favorite American brands, does not appear to sell a chocolate for bakers—how can this be?] Whatever brand you choose, unless you are using one of the basics [Hershey, Nestle] that comes in well-defined one-ounce blocks, get out your kitchen scale and weigh the chocolate before you start baking.

Butter: As with the chocolate, the butter makes a difference. You can use regular American-style butter and this recipe will be delicious [and plenty of times I make this with Baker’s brand chocolate and Land o’ Lakes butter], but European-style butter, with its lower water content, lifts the whole thing to another level. It’s not necessary to buy a European import. There are now several US butters made in the European style, most famously Wisconsin-made Plugra. Everybody loves Plugra, and so do I.

And when I said use unsalted butter, I meant it. You can control the amount of salt you yourself add to the cake [and this recipe does need a touch of salt] but you can’t control the amount of salt someone else has put in the butter—and, of course, salted butter is probably quite a bit more elderly than unsalted.

Finishing: When this cake is done, it looks unassuming, even dull. It is a flat plain disk that begs you to come and play. This is when I usually bring out the powdered sugar, as well as the scissors. I make paper cutouts in the shape of stars, or hearts or random abstract curves, arrange those on top of the cake, then dust everything with powdered sugar. [Beware! If the cake is not completely cool, the sugar will vanish into the surface.] Once the surface is thoroughly whitened, lift off the paper very, very carefully—use a calm hand and, if necessary, the flat blade of a table knife to pick up the sugary papers and set them aside. Another approach is to slice the cake into wedges, plate them and then dust each individual slice with a cloud of powdered sugar [garnish with a few berries if you like]. Or you can make a simple sauce from raspberries [or another tart-sweet fruit], spoon a little puddle of that on the dessert plate and set the cake slice in the midst of that.

As you see, I’ve given you a lot of little details. But all of that is just about the variables. It comes down to this: A cake that can be assembled and baked with a modest amount of attentiveness and time, and that will always be dense and lush.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Lydia February 21, 2007 at 10:59 am

I am a bit of a bake-o-phobe, but this cake looks wonderful and doable. Thanks for the step-by-step encouragement and explanation of why and how this cake comes together.

Mimi February 21, 2007 at 1:47 pm

Terry and Marion, clearly you are mind readers! I was looking for a recipe like this – we had something similar at our Valentine’s Dinner out the other night.

I’m going to make it with fructose.

Thanks for the recipe!

Carolyn February 21, 2007 at 1:59 pm

So, have you ever had an opportunity to try this with pretend sugar? I would love to add this to my “Atkins” recipes. Minus the sugar carbs, this cake could be a godsend.

Terry B February 21, 2007 at 8:01 pm

Regarding sugar substitutes, I recently heard a pastry chef say it’s important to use real sugar. The sugar melts during the baking process—something artificial sweeteners don’t do—and affects the overall liquid content of baked goods. So substituting artificial sweeteners substantially changes the overall moistness, texture and character of baked goods. Recipes written specifically for various sugar substitutes are no doubt adjusted to compensate for this difference.

Kristen February 22, 2007 at 4:27 am

I have been craving a good chocolate cake this week! I wish this was right in front of me right now.

Patricia Scarpin February 22, 2007 at 11:33 am

Terry,

Your cake looks fantastic!
I love the deep color – that slice is pretty tempting, I must add – the beautiful decoration with sugar, the texture.
This would be a great chance for me to use some great chocolate I have at home – I’ll just wait until I have people over or I might end up eating the whole thing alone. 😉

Susan from Food "Blogga" February 22, 2007 at 1:14 pm

Thank you, thank you Marion and Terry! What a rich, intensely chocolate-y cake–mind if I have a little taste? 😉

I’m not an avid baker, but with such a detailed recipe, I might have to break down and give it a try.

Freya February 22, 2007 at 3:06 pm

This cake looks so good! I have made similar flourless ones and they have a wonderful fudgy texture – and they keep for ages (given half the chance anyway). Love the flower pattern too!

peabody February 23, 2007 at 10:40 am

Mmmm, I just made a flourless cake also. Yours looks devine.

Veron February 24, 2007 at 4:16 am

your cake looks absolutely decadent! don’t you just love the flourless or almost flourless chocolate cakes…I think they are the best!

Tanna February 24, 2007 at 10:22 am

Oh, it’s chocolate. These cakes really do let you explore the world of chocolate.

Mary February 24, 2007 at 7:35 pm

With so many great little bakeries it would be an easy default to just pick up some dessert, but I agree, it is very satisfying to bake your own. Marion did a very nice job!

marie h. February 25, 2007 at 8:16 am

I’m afraid Marion’s recipe is totally wasted on me… but the final result isn’t! :)
The picture looks so tantalising!
I’m no cook at all (despite being French) but I’m a definite supporter of home-made cooking, and particularly cakes. Chocolate is very high on my list!

Toni February 25, 2007 at 8:45 am

Terry and Marion, this cake looks absolutely fabulous! I try not to bake. I occasionally break down and bake something simple, like banana bread or cookies, but I leave the cakes for the experts. Marion, you’re obviously an expert! This looks as professonal as anything I’ve seen! I’ll take a slice and a cup of coffee, please…

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