Birthday cakes need to be so many things: celebratory; they need to fulfill the wishes of the birthday boy or girl rather than the baker; and demonstrate an appropriate level of effort. It’s this last one that can give me trouble. While I love to make a cake, and will use any excuse to do so, it sometimes feels odd to create something really elaborate for a work colleague or boss. And besides, I don’t often have the time to go overboard. This is where the chocolate torte comes in.
Chocolate torte is one name for a soft chocolate cake made with ground almonds. Other names are Reine de Saba, or Queen of Sheba cake, or it can simply be referred to as a flourless chocolate cake.
To give some idea of the amount of variation possible, I compiled this table from books I own (oh stop: you didn’t already know I was a geek?):
|Author||Nigella Lawson||Sybil Kapoor||Gordon Ramsay||Alice Medrich||Elizabeth David||Julia Child|
|Book||How to Eat||Taste||Just Desserts||Bittersweet||French Provincial Cooking||Mastering the Art of French Cookery|
|Recipe||Torta alla Gianduja||Catherine’s Chocolate Cake||Dark and Delicious Torte||Queen of Sheba||Reine de Saba||Reine de Saba|
|Flour||0||2 tbsp||0||2 tbsp||0||50g|
|Others||400g Nutella||Water, brandy, coffee||Brandy, almond essence||Brandy, coffee||Rum, coffee|
As with so many of my chocolate experiments, it began with Alice Medrich’s ‘Bittersweet’. She devotes a chapter to a number of variations on this recipe, and reassures the reader that this is a recipe that will accommodate, even welcome changes. She provides us with that elusive license to create almost infinite experimental variations, and still produce an edible result. There can be few experienced home cooks who don’t read through a recipe and mentally edit it. However, we are often admonished that one really ought to follow a recipe to the letter the first time, so you can understand the starting point. While that remains good advice, the freedom to add your own stamp right away is a great inducement to try this recipe. So here at last is a recipe that you can rearrange and make your own, and still produce something that everyone will be happy to eat – and provides a suitable celebration cake at the same time.
Prepare a 20cm/8 inch springform or loose-bottomed tin, by lining the base with baking parchment.
150g dark chocolate (I used 64% Valrhona Manjari)
–> melt together, and stir until smooth
1 cup espresso (I used about 1/2 tbsp instant espresso powder in enough water to just dissolve it)
2 tbsp brandy
–> mix into melted chocolate, and set aside
100g ground almonds
–> measure and mix together
4 large eggs
–> separate into yolks and whites. If you have a stand mixer, use that bowl for the whites.
–> combine with the yolks and beat until well blended (you can do this by hand, or briefly with a machine)
–> stir in the melted chocolate to combine.
–> separately, whisk the egg whites to soft peaks
–> whisk in 50g sugar to make a meringue, and continue whisking until you have stiff peaks.
–> Fold the whites into the chocolate mixture, by first adding one-quarter, and thoroughly beating it in, then folding in the remainder.
–> Bake for around 30 minutes at 190C/375F, or until a skewer inserted about 4cm from the edge comes out clean, but one inserted in the centre is still gooey.