Monday, January 2, 2012

Spiced Flourless Chocolate Cake

 I celebrated New Years Day at my friend Sherry's house  in Doral. She served a Southern-style spread including a glazed ham, cornbread and black-eye peas with collard greens (they symbolize wealth in the new year). I baked and brought spiced flourless chocolate cake (see photo and recipe below).
Cooking a curry takes care, but baking requires mindfulness. Baking is more of a discipline, almost meditative in a Zen way. My friend Bharti Kirchner, a cookbook author who specializes in the cuisine of her native India is also a novelist and set one of her intriguing stories in a bakery in Seattle (where she now resides). She says baking is a metaphor for life. In baking, the right ingredients must fuse together at the correct temperature to create the right result. Similarly, in life, right elements must come together at the appropriate time to cause the desired set of events to occur (timing is everything). This flourless chocolate cake may or may not change your life but it is gratifying to make and the results are delicious. I got the basic flourless chocolate cake recipe from my baker friend Milenko Samardzic and lavished it in spices. I added ground cinnamon, crushed cardamom and garam masala (warming spice blend) to the batter made from a mixture of melted butter and chocolate, egg yolks whisked with sugar and stiff beaten egg whites. The egg whites are lightly folded into the chocolate mixture until the texture is like a big bowl of marbled marshmallow. The cake is baked in a spring form pan where it puffs up and then collapses creating a slightly cracked crust. The beauty of this cake lies in its simplicity yet it looks gorgeous on a cake stand with flecks of gold or silver leaf (varak) pressed onto the surface. It also looks gorgeous dusted in a little confectioners’ sugar and crowned with berries and served with ginger ice cream. The only real discipline in making this cake is to keep from eating more than one slice and the only meditation will be on why you never baked this before—and when you will again.

6 large eggs
8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks), plus a tablespoon for brushing the pan
8 ounces fine-quality semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup sugar, divided use
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 whole green cardamom pods, crushed with the back of a spoon, seeds removed (discard the pods) and seeds powdered in a mortar using a pestle
1/4 teaspoon garam masala (store-bought)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (to stabilize the foam and prevent it from collapsing)
Confectioners’ sugar (powdered sugar) for dusting cake
Gold or silver leaf (varak) for decoration, optional

PREPARING THE EGGS. Let the eggs come to room temperature for about an hour (this makes them much easier to separate). Carefully crack and separate the eggs, plopping the whites in a medium-size mixing bowl and the yolks in another larger mixing bowl. Be careful no bits of yolk get into the whites or they will not whip into stiff peaks (if any does, scoop it out using a piece of eggshell).

PREPARING THE PAN. Position a rack on the middle rungs of an oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Melt a tablespoon of butter, in a small skillet and using a pastry brush, lightly coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 3 inch round spring form pan. Place the pan on a piece of parchment paper  (or wax paper). Trace around the bottom with a pencil and cut out the circle.  Line the pan with the paper, and lightly brush with melted butter.

MELTING THE BUTTER AND CHOCOLTE. Place the 2 sticks of butter (cut into chunks) and chocolate in a double boiler (or use a small skillet set over a saucepan filled about half way with simmering water). Stir from time to time until the butter and chocolate are melted and blended together.

BEATING THE EGG YOLKS. Add 1/2 a cup of sugar to the mixing bowl with the yolks. Using a standard electric mixer with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat on medium speed until thick and light lemon yellow, about 5 to 6 minutes (the eggs should have almost tripled in volume and when you lift the beater, the mixture will fall back into the bowl in a slow ribbon). Add the vanilla, cardamom, cinnamon, garam masala (warming spice blend), salt and melted butter-chocolate mixture and beat until well combined with the yolks. Wash and thoroughly clean and dry the beaters (to ensure no yolk gets into the egg whites).

BEATING THE EGG WHITES. Beat the whites on high speed until foamy, about 40 seconds. Add the cream of tartar and continue beating on high until they hold soft peaks, about 1 1/2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form, about 2 to 3 minutes.

COMBINING THE CHOCOLATE-YOLK MIXTURE AND EGG WHITES.  Make sure the chocolate and yolk mixture is in a large enough bowl to hold all the batter. Using a large rubber spatula, stir 3 generous scoops of the egg whites into the chocolate-yolk mixture to lighten the batter. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites until just incorporated (avoid over mixing or the batter will deflate when baked).  The batter will be light milk chocolate, marbled in lighter swirls with the texture of marshmallow.

BAKING THE CAKE. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a rubber spatula. Bake about 1 hour or until a cake tester or toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean ( a few moist crumbs sticking to it are fine). If very moist, bake another 5 minutes, checking again (a crust will form and crack on the cakes surface as it bakes).  Remove the cake from the oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack about 30 minutes (it will collapse slightly as it cools). Remove the sides of the pan, leaving the cake on the bottom of the pan. Transfer to a cake stand or serving platter and dust with confectioner’s sugar rubbed through a fine mesh sieve. Decorate with torn bits of silver leaf (varak), if you wish and serve while still warm. This cake can also be made one day ahead, allowing the spices to mingle for a more pronounced flavor, but if refrigerated, it should be served after bringing to room temperature. If you wish, serve with berries and whipped cream or ice cream. Makes about 10 servings.

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