Chocolate

Luxuriously rich, easy-to-make, flourless Mexican-chocolate cake is blow-them-away fabulous

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It all started with a recipe in Michael Solomonov's Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking. The recipe, for a flourless chocolate cake – in which Solomonov and co-author Steven Cook use almond flour in place of wheat flour – is called "Chocolate-Almond Situation." I was drawn to the recipe because of its unusual name. Why "situation"?

Also, it looked so easy and good I couldn't resist. I melted chocolate, heated the oven, and went for it. 

Rich, luxurious and profoundly chocolatey, with a wonderfully moist, velvet-cream texture, the dessert was a big hit. And it was as easy to make as brownies. Another bonus: It's gluten-free. I posted a snap of it, with a description, on Instagram, tagged Solomonov and Zahav and added, "But still dying to know, Chef, why it's called a 'situation.'" 

"Gorgeous!" came the comment from Zahav. 

"Thank you!" I wrote. "Now why is it called a 'situation'?"

No answer. 

Meanwhile, I had an idea I couldn't get out of my head: Mexican chocolate. Wouldn't it be cool to make this cake using Mexican chocolate instead of regular dark chocolate? 

Last winter, my friend Michalene and I had enjoyed the most amazing Mexican hot chocolate at El Cardenal, a Mexico City restaurant known for its epic breakfasts. The drink, silky and incredibly rich, was prepared at the table by a waiter who used a molinillo, a traditional wooden chocolate whisk. I had to rush off early to catch my flight home, but Michalene surprised me by sending me a box of Doña Oliva chocolate tablets, which they use and sell at the restaurant. I was stunned to find that I could use a tablet to make a cup of chocolate almost as delicious as El Cardenal's; I've been rationing them ever since.

Since I'm always craving a cup, Mexican chocolate has been on my mind for months – especially since the start of winter. 

Could I maybe use the tablets to make a Mexican-Chocolate Situation? 

Nah...those tablets are too precious.

Meanwhile, I'd seen really cool-looking Taza organic Mexican-style stone-ground chocolate tablets at the supermarket. Maybe I could use those! But when I saw the price – they're $5 per 2.7-ounce tablet on the Taza website – I realized they'd be way too expensive, as we'd need four or five tablets for one cake.

Instead, I tried hunting down the Ibarra Mexican chocolate I grew up with. I didn't find it at my local supermarket, but found and purchased a box of Abuelita, another industrial brand.

What a disappointment: I brought it home and tasted it. It tasted nothing like chocolate. Just like sugar and chemicals. No way was this going into my cake (or yours). 

I was back to the drawing board.

Then, as she often does, Michalene came to the rescue. She suggested using the same high-quality 72% cacao chocolate I first used for the Situation and adding spices and other flavorings you'd find in Mexican chocolate. After all, I already had almonds in the almond flour. She suggested not just cinnamon and vanilla, which is what I'd naturally reach for, but also ancho chile powder and brandy. 

I made a couple other little tweaks to the recipe, for instance, changing the amount of chocolate to equal three 3.5 bars (10.5 ounces) rather than the 11 ounces the original called for. 

I whipped up the chocolate batter, added the ancho chile (just a touch), the cinnamon, the vanilla and brandy, mixed in the almond flour, spread it in a pan and baked.

Eureka! Same wonderful texture and richness, and now it had that dreamy Mexican chocolate flavor.

It was such a hit at dinner that one of my guests would not leave until I wrapped up two slices for him to take home.

You can bake it in a round pan and slice it into wedges, but be sure to make them small, as it is very, very rich. I'd say one 9-inch cake serves 10-12, rather than the 8 you'd expect. For an elegant dinner party, you might want to garnish it with a dollop of whipped cream, or whipped cream mixed with crème fraîche. You know what would be wonderful? Nata, the Mexican-style clotted cream El Cardenal serves at breakfast with the pan dulce known as a concha.

Or you can bake it in a square or pan and cut it into brownie-like bars. Dust them with powdered sugar or not, as you like. Honestly, they were so creamy, chocolatey and rich, they didn't need any adornment. 

Here's the recipe:

As for why it's called a "situation," well, that remains a mystery. Chef Solomonov, care to comment?

 

 

Brazilian chocolate cake: Really, it doesn't get any better than this

I can't remember the first time I tasted the Brazilian chocolate cake from Deborah Madison's The Greens Cookbook, but I do remember who made it: my friend Michalene. (She's also the genius who asked the gobsmacking question about whether I'd tried the magic lacquered chicken technique with duck. Now I have! It is going to work! I am developing it! Stay tuned!) But the cake. It doesn't look like the photo above once it's finished; what's pictured is the bottom half of the cake after I iced it with ganache. It just looks so luscious, I couldn't resist. Wanted you to keep reading. Forgive me. This is what it looks like when it's finished:

I know, not as glam. I'm not much of a baker; yours will probably be more beautiful. Michalene's always is. Also it is not easy to photograph a bundt cake.

However – and this is a big however – I've made the Brazilian chocolate cake a jillion times, and every single time it has turned out great: moist, with a lovely, fine crumb, rich and magnificently chocolatey. Not too sweet. 

It is, quite simply, the perfect chocolate cake. When you slice it, you can see a stripe of that fabulous glossy bittersweet ganache in the middle, exactly the right amount. It is the little black dress of chocolate cakes: simple, elegant, necessary. It may look a little austere, but oh, baby, it is anything but. A cup of strong coffee in the batter gives it depth and dimension. 

Otherwise, there's nothing unusual about the recipe, which as far as I can tell is foolproof. When I last made it, a few days ago, I purposely fooled with the recipe. I used pastry flour instead of cake flour. I used room-temperature coffee instead of hot coffee. I used a 3.5 ounce bar of chocolate instead of the 3 ounces the cake part of the recipe calls for; same for the ganache. Both cake and ganache were perfect. 

I wish I had a slice right now. Thierry, Wylie and I polished it off pretty quickly. It is not only dreamy as a dessert, it's amazing the next morning (and the one after that) for a decadent breakfast. Wylie was home for spring break when I made it. Though he has never been a big fan of cake, he loves this one.

And you will, too.  Here's the recipe: