We make this often at the cooking school, and serve it up with rum-whipped cream or just-made caramel—or even slowly simmered poached berries. A chocolate cake—a really good one—becomes a starting point for flavor plays, a brilliant stepping off point for mixing in the fruit of the season or contrasting flavors like vanilla cream anglaise or rum sauce.
Besides: who doesn’t need a good chocolate cake recipe? Then it’s just a matter of laying on the flavors:
- Basic Caramel Sauce. I recently learned how to make caramel. It was the coolest thing—and not that difficult. When I teach students to make caramel—many of whom don’t spend a lot of time in their home kitchens—they are amazed at how simple it is. Like an episode of culinary mythbusters. Sometimes: things are much, much easier than they seem.
- And flavored whip cream? Easy. Make whip cream as usual (whip 1-2 cups of heavy cream with 1-2 T of sugar, confectioner’s sugar OR honey—taste it, and you will know if you need to add more—until it has firm peaks); add in a teaspoon or two… or three… of rum. Or a pinch of cinnamon, or a spoon of orange zest plus a tsp. of orange liquor… see? That wasn’t so hard.
- Berry sauce. Peek at a few recipes online, and you will quickly get the idea. Fresh or frozen berries, simmering over low on your stove for 20-30 minutes until it reduces. But not just the berries; add in sugar, water (I sometimes put in brandy or port, maybe a splash of rum, some kirsch, Grand Marnier—even red wine depending on what type of berry) and maybe some citrus zest (orange, lemon). You will learn to play around, trust me. You can make it with dried fruit too, just let is simmer longer and you will need a bit more liquid. A safe play: 1 cup mixed berries, 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup brandy, 1/3 cup sugar (brown OR white), zest and/or spices (for fall I might add some cloves, cinnamon, vanilla). It looks dry? Add more liquid. Sour? Add more sugar. Good to note: if you are adding alcohol, add it in the beginning so it has time to ‘lose its alcohol flavor.’
Oh—I almost forgot! The cake:
Flourless Chocolate Cake.
9 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (use high quality baking chocolate; can use some unsweetened)
7 ½ ounces butter, salted
8 eggs, large
¾ cup sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
Melt chocolate and butter in metal bowl over simmering water; water should not touch bottom of ingredient bowl. Stir often. When melted, remove from heat to let cool. In separate bowl (or mixing bowl) beat eggs, sugar and vanilla until it increases in volume, the color turns to ‘butter’ and all the sugar is dissolved. Meanwhile, spray small/8 oz. ramekins and coat with cocoa powder (the classic ‘butter and flour’ pan but instead you are using cocoa). Now it’s time to temper: add just a tiny bit of the chocolate to the eggs and whisk to blend. I always tell students: we don’t want chocolate scrambled eggs for dessert! So we need to tease the eggs to a higher temperature. Slowly add more chocolate to the eggs, whisking to blend. Once you have about a third of the chocolate stirred into the egg mix, you are home safe—and can add the rest of the chocolate to blend. Pour evenly into the ramekins, place on cookie sheet in 325 degree oven for 5-7 minutes, rotate pan and bake another 5 minutes. Edges should start to set, but middle should still look ‘unbaked.’ Remove and let cool. Add all sorts of glorious sauces—or don’t;).