Sunday, February 27, 2011

What I Did on Saturday

Every now and then Karel tells me that the nurses are demanding cookies asks me to bake something for the nurses in his ICU. Most of the time--that is, if I remember to pick up ingredients while grocery shopping--I'm happy to oblige him, especially if I'm planning to bake something for my lab as well.

This is what I call the "Death by Chocolate" cake. It's the kind of cake which is served in disappointingly thin slices, until you take a bite and are overwhelmed by TEH CHOCOLATE. And Armagnac. And prunes. And chocolate.

It's also a tad bit more tricky to make than most of the cookies and cakes that I typically do: the base isn't flour, but ground pecans, which you have to do yourself. You also have to flame the prunes in Armagnac (I used Southern Comfort this time--a bit less flavorful, but we didn't have Armagnac and I felt guilty opening a new bottle of cognac) before you start. And the puff of the cake comes entirely from beaten egg whites, and not any sort of baking powder. The original recipe is by Simone Beck, but the recipe I follow is from Dorie Greenspan.

The first thing you want to do is separate 3 eggs. Cold eggs are easier to separate than warm eggs, but warm egg white are easier to beat into stiff peaks. If you separate them now, the whites will have time to come to room temperature by the time you need them.

The second thing you'll want to do is preheat your oven. 375° F is a little hotter than 175° C, but because I use a larger cake pan (27 cm) than specified in the recipe, the baking time is about the same (28 minutes). If you have an 8" cake pan, then the temperature to use is 190° C.

I didn't get any pictures of the pecans before I ground them (send through a food processor and/or coffee griner), but anyway, you mix together 2/3 cup of ground nuts with 1/4 cup flour, and 1/4 tsp of salt. One package of nuts from the Albert Heijn exactly makes a 2/3 cup of ground nuts.

Then you slice-and-dice 12 prunes to the size of large raisins, and put them in a pot with 1/4 cup of water. Cook over a medium heat, stirring almost constantly, until most of the liquid is evaporated (more evaporated than in the picture).

Remove it from the heat. Take 1/4 cup of the liquor of your choice (I really do recommend Armagnac if you can get it) and pour it onto the prunes. Then set the alcohol on fire. You can do this with a long match, a special lighter, or just hold a normal match in a pair of tongs. It took a bit more coordination than I thought it would just to do that, so I didn't get a picture (plus the flames are blue, and wouldn't have shown up).

Prunes aflamed, you then melt your 200 g of chocolate and 250 g of butter and 3 Tbsp of water all together. Breaking up the chocolate and cutting up the butter wil help it melt evenly. It's always recommended that you do this in an au bain Marie, but if you know your microwave, you can just nuke it (2-3 minutes on not-full-power). You don't want it to get too hot, or else the chocolate and butter separate, but you also want it hot enough to stay warm and melty while you take care of the next step.

The next step is to add 2/3 cup of sugar to the 3 egg yolks and whisk it together. At first this seems unlikely, but with a little perseverence and elbow grease (you might also consider using a fork) it becomes a thick, pale, creamy concoction.

Then you mix the chocolate, the nuts, and the prunes into the egg yolks, and mix it all together into a nice velvety chocolate mix.

Now, beat the egg whites into stiff peaks, and then fold them into the chocolate mix. You'll hear a lot of "snap-crackle-pop" as the bubbles of air in the whites explode upon immersion into the chocolate. Just be as gentle as possible while being thorough about mixing them (oxymoron, I know). Pour everything into the cake pan, and bake for 28-32 minutes. The cake will puff and pull away from the sides of the cake pan. A knife blade should come out slightly streaky.

Take the cake out of the oven and let the cake rest for 10 minutes before unmolding it from the pan. Our cooling rack has unfortunately wide spaces between the wires, which makes my cake look funny:

Once it's cooled completely, you can make up the glaze and glaze the cake. Melt 3 oz of chocolate (~90 g) with 3 Tbsp of butter (a little less than 1/4 of a package), and mix it together with 3 Tbsp of powdered sugar. Pour this over the cake, and spread it so that it makes an even glaze. Personally, I always screw this step up. But The nice thing about this is that after about 30-40 minutes, the glaze cools to a frosting-ish consistency, so you can "frost" the cake with cool designs and nobody will be the wiser.

Then you go back and clean the kitchen so that your boyfriend doesn't kill you :-) And also so that you have room to make dinner for three hungry cats and yourself.


  1. Inspiring - nice presentation and it looks like it tastes great. I'm headed back to the kitchen!

  2. @ Dave: Be careful, though. Definitely have friends over to spread out the anguish ;-)