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The Beauty of Simplicity

I had a lot of big ideas for a Valentine's Day post. This is usually how it starts. The big ideas, the lists, the brainstorming. The idea phase is always the most exciting--armchair ambition at its finest. But then, you actually have to bring an idea to fruition. Sometimes things fall right into place, but usually the process is much more involved and trying. Sometimes very trying.

This is one of the most interesting aspects of the work I do at the restaurant. I brainstorm with the pastry chef, and we come up with an avalanche of ideas. Turning an avalanche into a polished snowball of a plated dessert, though, is a much longer, more arduous process.

In my opinion, it's actually much easier to develop a new dish at the restaurant than it is at home. Even with intense time constraints and the stress of finishing an ever-expanding to-do list, restaurants are set up for exploration. All the necessary equipment is at your fingertips, and specialty ingredients abound. If you don't have the ingredients you need, almost anything is a phone call or email away. And the kicker is that you have someone to do the dishes for you. All these things by no means negate the difficulty of developing a new dish ready for the eyes and palates of your guests, but they help things along a bit.

By necessity, we are a bit more limited in what we can create in our home kitchen. This is actually okay. When the sky is the limit, you can easily get bogged down in possibility. But I've come to appreciate more and more the beauty of simplicity. Even at the restaurant, the desserts I adore the most are the simple ones with just a few well-executed components.

And so, for Valentine's Day, a day that should be dedicated first and foremost to loved ones, I decided once again that simplicity was my best bet.

Flourless chocolate cake is just about as simple as it gets, and this one in particular is a knockout. It needs no accompaniment. We topped ours with a bit of very lightly sweetened whipped cream. I could see sprinkling the whole thing with coarse sea salt before baking it. Maybe accompany it with a thimble of red wine. But otherwise, just cut it into tiny slivers and serve it neat. I even thought of using a small round or scalloped cookie cutter to cut out little circles for an interesting presentation. Any way you slice it, though, this dessert is a keeper. For you and yours from us at the Joy of Cooking--Happy Valentine's Day.

Other articles you might enjoy: Chocolate Ganache Tart With Press-In Shortbread Crust, Dark Chocolate Truffles With Liqueur, Ginger-Citrus Florentines

Flourless Chocolate Decadence
Makes one 9-inch round cake (at least 20 servings--it's that rich)

*Note: You can use baking chocolate for this or just pick up a pound of your favorite chocolate. I used Trader Joe's (not an endorsement) dark chocolate.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Grease an 8 × 2-inch round cake pan (not a springform) and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Combine in a large heatproof bowl:
           1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
           10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Set the bowl in a large skillet of barely simmering water and stir often until the chocolate and butter are warm (not hot), melted, and smooth. Remove from the heat and whisk in:
            5 large egg yolks

Beat in large bowl on medium speed until soft peaks form:
            5 large egg whites 
            1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Gradually add, beating on high speed until the peaks are stiff but not dry:
            1 tablespoon sugar

Use a rubber spatula to fold one-quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remaining whites. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly.

Set the pan in a large shallow baking dish or roasting pan, set the baking dish in the oven, and pour in enough boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Bake for exactly 30 minutes; the top of the cake will have a thin crust and the interior will still be gooey.

Set the cake pan on a rack to cool completely, then refrigerate until chilled, or overnight. To unmold, slide a thin knife around the cake to detach it from the pan. Invert the cake and peel off the paper liner. Reinvert onto a serving platter. Using a doily or hand-cut stencil, if desired, sprinkle with:
            Confectioners’ sugar

Store in the refrigerator, but remove 1 hour or more before serving to soften.



jaquelinne's picture

me gusta todas sus recetas las que hice me salieron bien gracias
JoAnn's picture

I made this today and it was so delicious, but mine came out very dense and quite dry. I followed the recipe to the letter, made sure the chocolate and butter mixture was warm and not hot when I whisked in the egg yolks (I was worried about the yolks scrambling). I'm not sure what I may have done wrong. I don't think I made the egg whites too stiff... one thing is that I think I may have (unintentionally) added more boiling water than halfway up the pan, it was difficult to tell in the dark pan and I realized when I opened the oven after the ½ hour that the water was nearer the top of the pan. Would that make a difference? It wasn't burned of course, just dry. What do you think?
meg's picture

The cake is supposed to be very dense and fudgy. But it shouldn't be dry. It's possible the egg whites were over whipped--sometimes that can lead to a dry cake. I don't think the water bath would cause the cake to be dry.

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Have all ingredients at room temperature, about 70℉. Preheat the oven to 350℉. Grease a springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Melt in a double boiler or heatproof...