4-layer flourless chocolate cake.

4-layer flourless chocolate cake.

It’s been a time for serious baking, friends and neighbors. One of my (now former) work colleagues, Sarah, was leaving the law firm to move to the Bahamas and get married and stuff, and there was to be a party so we could all say our goodbyes. Dessert’s kinda become my thing around the office (what else would I do with all the leftovers?), so I asked Sarah if she would like me to make anything sweet to bring to the festivities. At first she mentioned black forest cake, which I’d never heard of and sounded exciting, but then she remembered that one of her good friends who would be in attendance that night has celiac disease. So instead, she requested some sort of flourless something. I’d made Tartine’s chocolate souffle cake on Memorial day, and it was fantastic, but I felt it would be fun to try something new and exciting.

For inspiration, I turned to smittenkitchen, with whom I’ve recently become quite obsessed; the lady makes some super delicious food, and she’s funny to boot. And one of the recipes that I’d been drooling over for a few days prior to my conversation with Sarah was a certain flourless chocolate (expletive) cake. So yeah, okay, this is in the same vein of Tartine’s thing, but it had four layers and no butter (“healthy,” you know?) and involved freezing the layers and making filling and stuff, and it just looked like it would be a rollicking good time.

four layers, two pans, two batches, phew.

mmmmmmmmmm

On the morning of the party I went out and bought the ingredients: a shocking number of eggs (a dozen!), 12 ounces of chocolate, some heavy whipping cream, and some Dutch-process cocoa powder.** Then it was time to get down to cakeness. I realized straight off that there was no way I was going to be able to whip 12 egg whites in my tiny little Brooklyn apartment-sized mixing bowls, so I decided to do the thing in two separate batches. Luckily, I started this whole process relatively early in the morning, which made the time issue (see below) slightly less stressful than it otherwise would have been. Another small glitch was that I didn’t have 9-inch cake pans. I borrowed some from Boots, but they were a bit flared at the sides and I was scared of that making an already delicate cake into a crumbly nightmare. So I went ahead and used my 8-inch pans (which made for slightly thicker layers than smittenkitchen describes), hoping that nothing entirely awful would happen as a result.

Anyhow, I started with the first batch, all nervous and excited. I melted the chocolate with a bit of water and set it aside to cool. Then came the egg part, which is probably my favorite step in any recipe, because eggs are magic and I love them (I was vegan for quite a while, and I’m still always a little surprised and excited that I get to eat eggs now). I whipped six yolks with some sugar until they formed a fluffy, shiny, sticky, joyful ribbon. Then I folded the chocolate into that mess, which was lovely to behold. Then I whipped the whites until they held soft peaks and added the rest of the sugar and a bit of salt and whipped it some more until the mixture was glossy and stiff and stuff. Then I folded the whites into the yolk-chocolate mixture (again, beautiful) and poured the batter into the pans and baked until the tops were dry and transferred the pans to cooling racks after dusting them with a hearty layer of cocoa powder. After getting them out of the pans, cooled and into some plastic wrap, I placed the first two layers in the freezer.

And then I started all over again. As always seems to be the case, the cake was easier the second time round: I knew what was coming next, I timed everything correctly, and I was more efficient at doing the things that were a bit tricky. After I’d gotten all the layers wrapped up and in the chill box, it was time to get started on the next stage of my adventure.

** Note: In case you’re wondering (as I was) what the deal is with Dutch-process cocoa powder and why it’s different than other cocoa powder, apparently the thing is that the powder is alkalized, which neutralizes the acids in the cocoa and stops it from reacting with baking soda. The process of alkalizing the cocoa also gives it a less bitter and more delicate taste, which makes it less likely to overpower the other flavors in whatever it is you might be baking. Neat, eh?

the brooklyn-chelsea-brooklyn-jersey-chelsea cake shuffle

delicate, see?

As soon as I had promised Sarah that I would bring something sweet to her party, I realized that I was going to have a somewhat problematic scheduling pinch. You see, Kenan’s grandmother recently turned 90 (90 years old, people!), and we were expected in New Jersey for her surprise party on Saturday from 5 to 8. But Sarah’s party was in Chelsea, on the same day, starting at 7. Very tricky. And then there was also a question of how I was going to transport a towering and delicate four-layer cake from Brooklyn to Chelsea without it all going smash.

I very quickly realized that it would be impossible to get the cake safely to Chelsea if it had already been constructed, so my only option was to somehow get the layers there first and then make the filling and put it all together when we arrived from the party in Jersey. I called the person hosting the party and he agreed to store the cake and the filling ingredients in his apartment until my arrival. So I went and dropped everything off, and then Kenan and I quickly got showered and dressed presentably and hitched a ride down to Jersey. The party was lovely and sweet, and tiny little Nana was so excited and happy, and when we’d said our goodbyes, we drove back and we made it to Chelsea by 9.

dropping crumbs in a fancy apartment.

not pictured is the guy kneeling on the floor, cleaning up after me

The party was in full swing when we walked in. People were schmoozing, mixing drinks and eating delicious cheese, and pretty much everyone looked like they were having a great time. I got started on assembling the cake right away, slightly intimidated by their gorgeous and extremely well-appointed kitchen. The host cleared off some counter space and kindly provided me with a mixing bowl and a hand mixer. The filling consists of some heavy cream, some confectioner’s sugar, and Gran Marnier. It whipped up beautifully, thanks to the mixer, which turned out to be incredible (Sunbeam: who knew?). Because they’d been frozen for so long, the layers were easy to handle and flip around, which made my job a lot easier, but there was no way to stop stray crumbs and drifts of cocoa powder from dropping onto the counter and the floor. I was, of course, planning on tidying up after myself once the cake had been served, but someone beat me to it by getting down on the floor and wiping up the bits of fallen cake. This was all a bit stressful: I was a bit tipsy from the birthday party, I hadn’t tasted the cake or the filling yet, everything was loud and distracting, we were a couple of under-dressed Brooklyn scrubs in a fancy apartment, and there was a middle-aged man crawling about on the floor below me, cleaning up after my mess.

But after I’d finally gotten all the layers together and topped the thing with the last of the filling (it looked quite elegant, I must say), everything was okay. There was a champagne toast, and everyone seemed to really enjoy the cake. I didn’t really get to eat much of it, because we’d just had dinner and I was full and distracted, but the bite that I did have was crazy good. The cake was melty and floaty and not too rich, the filling was heavenly and perfectly flavored with Gran Marnier, and the combination of the two was decidedly luscious. And most importantly, of course, Sarah (and her gluten-free friend) loved it.

Seriously: phew.

smitten kitchen’s four-layer flourless chocolate cake

so many layers of delicious

four-layer flourless chocolate cake (adapted from smitten kitchen)

bittersweet chocolate, cut into chunks 12 ounces (about 2 cups)
water 6 tablespoons
large eggs at room temperature, separated 12
granulated sugar 1 1/3 cup
salt 1/2 teaspoon
Dutch-process unsweetened cocoa powder 2 tablespoons

sweet cream cheese sauce

heavy whipping cream 2 cups
sifted confectioner’s sugar 6 tablespoons
Gran Marnier 3-4 tablespoons (according to taste)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease four 9-inch circular cake pans and line the bottom of each pan with a circle of parchment paper cut to fit exactly. Place two racks in the center levels of the oven.

Over low heat, melt the chocolate with the water in a small heavy saucepan, stirring constantly. Set aside to cool.

Beat the yolks, 2/3 cup sugar, and salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer until thick, pale, and shiny, about 5 minutes in a standing mixer or 8 minutes with a hand mixer. Gently fold in the chocolate mixture until just blended. With cleaned beaters, whip the whites in a very, very large bowl until they just hold soft peaks.

Gradually add the remaining 2/3 cup sugar and beat until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks. Fold one third of the whites into melted-chocolate mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly (making sure that there are no pockets of either whites or chocolate).

Spread the batter evenly over four circular baking pans and bake until the tops are puffed up and dry to the touch, 15 to 18 minutes. Rotate the cakes halfway through the baking process to ensure that they bake evenly. Transfer the pans to cooling racks and if necessary, loosen edges with a knife.

Sift cocoa powder over the tops of the cake layers and place a piece of waxed paper over the top of each of the pans. Place a baking sheet or flat plate over the waxed paper and invert the cake layer onto it, gently peeling off the parchment paper on top. Place the layers in the freezer for about an hour (I wrapped them in plastic, but I guess you don’t really need to) until they are firm enough to be carefully lifted without breaking.

For the filling, beat cream with the confectioner’s sugar and Gran Marnier until it just holds stiff peaks.

To construct the cake, bring the first cake layer out of the freezer and arrange on a platter, cocoa side down. Spread one quarter of filling evenly over the layer. Bring the next cake layer out of the freezer, placing it gently over the filling, again with the powdered side down. Repeat this process until all layers and whipped cream are used. Top the cake with the last of the filling.

Keep refrigerated until ready to serve – two hours should be enough to ensure that the layers are not still frozen.

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4 notes

  1. Boots says:

    I too was vegan, once upon a time, and I too am excited and surprised every time I eat them. Pure magic!

  2. emiliejolie says:

    I dunno, you look pretty cute in those photos! Hardly like a Brooklyn scrub! The cake sounds magnificent, too. And gorgeous photos, as always.

  3. mom says:

    Truly gorgeous photos, great prose and a pretty cool quilt in the background…where was Midnight? Wish I could have tasted the cake!

    • girlcate says:

      Yay, I’m glad you liked it! Midnight has been sleeping on the quilt all the time. And now we have the quilt on the bed, cause it’s getting chilly and fallish, and we’re all happy as clams.

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