The classic “flourless cake” is a dense and decadent confection — often oozing with molten chocolate — made from dark chocolate, butter, egg yolks, sugar and beaten egg whites. But you can take the flourless cake in another direction, one that is light and airy, by relying on the magic of egg whites to stabilize the cake.
A perfect example of a light flourless chocolate cakes is the Italian Chocolate-Almond Torte in Alice Medrich’s wonderful Pure Dessert. Whenever I have a few extra egg whites — after I’ve made a batch of pastry cream for a free-form fruit galette, for example — I bake one of these cakes. The batter comes together in a hurry and requires only a few ingredients: almonds, chocolate, egg whites, sugar, salt and cream of tartar.
The original recipe calls for 7 egg whites, but since I rarely have that many around, I weighed the ingredients and calculated the quantity necessary for between 1 and 6 egg whites. For the cream of tartar quantity, however, I used Rose Levy Beranbaum’s recommendation of 1/8 t. cream of tartar per egg white (a short video on her website demonstrates the role of cream of tartar in egg white stabilization. If you are using a copper bowl, however, then you should leave out the cream of tartar, as it can cause a toxin to be produced, but Beranbaum isn’t clear about the identity of that toxin.)
This basic recipe of wildly adaptable: you can add bits of orange zest or candied orange peel, use hazelnuts or walnuts instead of almonds, mix in some Mexican cinnamon (the “true” cinnamon, Cinnamomum verum, while cinnamon in most American jars is cassia, Cinnamomum aromaticum.), fold in a pinch or two of fleur de sel, and so on.
Recipe: Flourless Chocolate-Almond Cake
Adapted from Pure Dessert by Alice Medrich
|# of egg whites||1||2||3||4||5||6|
divided in half
|Cream of tartar (t.)||1/8||1/4||3/8||1/2||5/8||3/4|
Salt to taste – the original 7 egg white recipe calls for 1/8 t. salt. It’s not practical fill out the table with parts of 1/8 t., so use between a pinch and 1/4 t. Or, if you like salt in your desserts, use more, possibly a coarse variety like fleur de sel.
Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).
Prepare the baking pan(s). With such a variety of quantities in the recipe, there are a number of options. For a six-white recipe, use an 8 or 9-inch pan. For two to four egg whites, try a 9-inch by 5-inch by 2 1/2-inch loaf pan. A cupcake or muffin tin might also work nicely. In any case, grease the sides of the pan and line the bottom with parchment paper (or use tin liners).
Place the almonds and one-half of the sugar into the bowl of a food processor and process until the almonds are chopped. Add the chocolate and process until the mixture is a coarse meal, but not so much to make a fine powder.
Place the egg whites in a very clean bowl. Using a hand-held mixer (works best for fewer than 3 egg whites) or a stand mixer (for 3 or more whites), beat the whites on medium speed until they are frothy, then add the cream of tartar (unless you are using a copper bowl). Increase the speed to high and beat until the whites hold soft peaks. With the mixer running on medium, sprinkle in the remaining sugar and beat on high until the whites hold stiff peaks.
Fold about one-third of the chocolate-almond mixture into the egg whites. Then fold the chocolate-almond mixture into the egg whites. Transfer the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the cake has risen and has a golden brown top. Let the finished cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes before removal.
Wrapped well, it will be good for up to 3 days at room temperature.
Serve with whipped cream, ice cream, fruit sauce, or whatever you like with chocolate and almonds.