October 18, 2009

Deep chocolate bliss

It's about time for a chocolate recipe around here. It's hard to believe I haven't posted one yet, since my family members, boyfriend, and myself are great eaters of dark chocolate. One of my brothers had a birthday several days ago, and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to bake a rather rich looking chocolate cake I'd had my eye on since August. He usually requests some sort of chocolate dessert on his birthday, any way, so I figured he'd appreciate this recipe.

Rich chocolate desserts, those that aren't too sweet but have a deep cocoa flavor, are some of my favorite desserts to make. Taking the first bite out of whatever chocolaty concoction you've just created -- crafted, baked, and cooled to perfection -- is incredibly satisfying. Making such a dessert gives you the excuse to use really good, high quality dark chocolate, too, which is a great bonus. The better the chocolate, the better the flavor and overall results will be. With that outcome, I feel like I've mastered something only found in bakeries or patisserie shops, which lends a tremendous boost in confidence to my kitchen skills.

That being said, since it was a spur of the moment decision, the best chocolate wasn't available when making this recipe, due to the local grocery store's limited variety in chocolate bars, but the cake itself still tasted great. A shot or so of espresso helped to intensify the dark chocolate, in the cake as well as the icing, ground almonds added a slight crunch to its texture, and almond extract a complimentary boost in flavor. A small slice of this is, like I've already mentioned, very satisfying and intriguing in its blend of flavors. For me, the process of making the cake, seeing others enjoy it, then eating a piece myself, are what make it so satisfactory.

Reine de Saba
Adapted from Julia Child, via Bon App├ętit, August 2009

For cake:
4 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 Tbsp freshly brewed espresso
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
⅔ cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar, divided
3 large eggs, separated
Large pinch of salt
⅓ cup finely ground almonds

½ tsp almond extract
¾ cup sifted all-purpose flour (sifted, then measured)
Chocolate butter icing:
1 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 Tbsp freshly brewed espresso
3 Tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature

To make cake: Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350° F. Butter and flour 8-inch diameter cake pan with 2-inch-high sides. (I used a 9-inch pan, so the cake was slightly thinner, but it still worked)

Combine chopped chocolate and espresso in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over medium saucepan of barely simmering water. Stir until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water. Cool melted chocolate, stirring occasionally.

Using electric mixer, beat butter and cup sugar in large bowl until fluffy and pale. Add egg yolks and beat until blended.

Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites and pinch of salt in medium bowl until soft peaks form. Add 1 tablespoon sugar and beat until stiff but not dry.

Fold chocolate mixture, then almonds and almond extract into yolk mixture. Fold in ¼ of egg whites to lighten batter. Fold in of remaining egg whites. Sift of flour over and fold in. Fold in remaining egg whites alternately with flour in two more additions each. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Push some batter ¾-inch up sides of pan with rubber spatula (batter will slip down while baking).

Bake cake until puffed and gently set in center and tester inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached, about 25 minutes. Cool cake in pan 10 minutes. Cut around pan sides and carefully turn cake out onto wire rack. Cool completely, about 2 hours.

Chocolate butter icing: Combine chocolate and espresso in small metal bowl. Set bowl over small saucepan of barely simmering water and stir until melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water. Using wooden spoon, beat in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until icing is smooth.

Place bowl over medium bowl filled with ice water. Continue to beat until icing is cool and thickened to spreading consistency. If need be, place both bowls in fridge for several minutes to speed up the cooling process. Don't leave them in there too long, or else the icing will become too thick.

Place cake on platter. Scrape icing onto top center. Using small offset spatula, spread icing evenly and thinly over top and sides of cake.

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