If you’ll permit me a sweeping generalization or two, I will say that most of us home cooks, deep down, would love to be able to confidently unveil a dazzling dessert at the end of a dinner party or holiday feast. For the joy it brings our loved ones, for their warm admiration, for the reinforcement that we can do anything we want in the kitchen, and in life.
And almost precisely that same number of home cooks feels a little shaky about pulling it off. Even me. Heck, especially me, because I had to go and write a cookbook about Genius Desserts and now the expectations of my well-intentioned family and friends weigh a little heavier. Failure feels bigger.
For all of us, a dessert that will look and taste spectacular no matter what your sidetracked mind might do is a gift, and we should hold it tightly. Below is one of my favorite recipes like this, an iconic flourless chocolate cake from the late, tremendously talented Richard Sax, excerpted from Genius Desserts.
Read on to understand how it works and how its spirit will save you from anxiety whenever your cakes fall or look unexpectedly disheveled. Swoops of whipped cream and chocolate dust will hide all, as will saying, “It’s supposed to do that. Isn’t that cool?”
Here is where we learn that flourless chocolate cake can mean many different things, depending on ratios and technique. Both this recipe and Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Chocolate Oblivion Truffle Torte are known and loved as flourless chocolate cakes and use the same basic three ingredients (eggs, chocolate, and butter), with wildly different appearances and textures.
This one was a signature dessert of the late, beloved writer and cooking instructor Richard Sax. For the same amount of eggs as Beranbaum’s, he calls for half the chocolate and butter, and—instead of heating and whipping six whole eggs until billowy—he has you whip four of the whites with sugar to make a fluffy meringue, then gently fold them into the rest. Far from a dense and creamy torte, these three changes produce a poufy soufflé of a cake that intentionally caves in the center, leaving a craggy, wafer-like rim behind and a moussey hollow that you fill up with cold whipped cream. The effect is dramatic and bold, giving you, as Sax famously said, “intensity, then relief, in each bite.”
• 8 ounces (225g) best-quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
• 1/2 cup (110g) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
• 6 large eggs
• 1 cup (200g) sugar
• 2 tablespoons cognac or Grand Marnier (optional)
• Finely grated zest of 1 orange (about 1 tablespoon; optional)
• 1 1/2 cups (355g) heavy cream, very cold
• 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
• 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
See the full recipe on Food 52.
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