I don't know when I first came across flourless chocolate cake but I know for certain that I saw it most regularly when I lived in France during culinary school. On menus as moelleux au chocolat or molten chocolate cake, the most common versions I'd find were reminiscent of the style that chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten claimed he invented in New York in the late 1980s (even if famed pastry chef Jaques Torres disputes that!) in that they were dense, melty chocolate.
So, pop culture would have you believe that the French are to credit with the creation of this cake. But, as with so much culinary history, the Italians also claim a stake. According to Florence Fabricant you can find a version of flourless chocolate cake (known as la tenerina) in the Northern Italy's town of Ferrara in Emilia Romagna. While on my travels to Italy's Amalfi Coast, I've come across a similar recipe known as the Torta Caprese (though it's commonly made with almonds or almond flour).
Regardless of its origin, as a major chocolate lover, I'm a huge fan of the concept of a decadent chocolate cake. And this cake works as a great base for when you want to channel some culinary travels right in your own kitchen.
When I want more classic French flavors, I nix the chocolate and coffee from the caramel and let the caramel cook until it is almost burnt then serve it with a large dollop of tangy creme fraiche. For a more Italian take, I make it as is since the final recipe tastes almost like a cake version of a bicerin. And, for a more Mexican version, I add in a a pinch of ground cinnamon and some orange zest to the batter then a cinnamon stick and some orange peel to the final caramel sauce for flavors reminiscent of cafe de olla.
or full-fat coconut milk
divided plus more for coating the pan
separated at room temperature
or whipped cream, for garnish (optional)
for garnish (optional)
To Make The Chocolate Espresso Caramel Sauce: Stir together 1 1/2 cups of the sugar and 1/4 cup of water in a small saucepan until the sugar is completely moistened. Clean the inside of the saucepan of any sugar granules by brushing the interior (above the sugar mixture) with a wet pastry brush.
Place the pan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. At this point do not stir the mixture until is it a proper caramel (is at least amber in color) Instead swirl the pan as needed to help the mixture cook evenly and let the sugar boil until it turns turns amber in color, about 5 minutes.
Once the sugar is thoroughly wet don't stir the mixture with a spoon as it may cause it to caramelize. Instead swirl the pan until the caramel is a dark amber color!
Immediately remove the caramel from the heat and carefully add 1 cup of the cream (it will bubble up so pour it in slowly!), 4 tablespoons of the butter, 2 tablespoons of coffee powder or instant espresso. Swirl the pan until the caramel is smooth and uniform in color.
Return the caramel to the stove and bring to simmer over medium heat, whisking constantly until smooth. Reduce the heat to low then add in 4 ounces of the chopped chocolate. Cook the sauce over low heat, whisking, until the chocolate is melted and the sauce is smooth. Remove from heat stir in the 1 tablespoon of the vanilla and a pinch of flaky sea salt and set aside until ready to use.
The caramel sauce can be made up to 4 days ahead of time. Store refrigerated in an airtight container and warm over low heat before using.
To Make The Flourless Chocolate Cake: Heat oven to 350°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Invert bottom of a 9-inch springform pan (to help the final cake release easily onto a serving plate) and line with a parchment round; then coat the parchment with the extra butter.
Combine the remaining 3 tablespoons butter and remaining 6 ounces of chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water and stir regularly until smooth and melted. Set the chocolate mixture in a warm spot like the top of stove until ready to use (you don't want it to cook anymore but also don't want it to cool down so much it solidifies).
Meanwhile, combine the 6 egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fit with a whisk attachment and mix on medium-high speed until thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of the espresso powder and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt; beat until combined, about 1 minute. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of vanilla and melted-chocolate mixture; beat about 1 minute more then set aside.
In an impeccably clean bowl, beat egg whites on medium-high speed until foamy. Increase speed to high; gradually add remaining 1/2 cup of the sugar, beating until stiff peaks form, about 5 minutes. Fold into the chocolate mixture in three parts.
For the first third of egg whites, go ahead and add them to the bowl and simply stir them into until there are no longer white streaks. For the last two parts, be a bit more careful and add the egg whites and delicately fold them in by turning the bowl in one direction and folding with a rubber spatula in the other direction. Transfer batter to pan and immediately transfer it to the oven. Bake the flour less chocolate cake unti is isl puffed, the top is slightly cracked, and the cake is set, about 40 to 45 minutes.
To Serve The Flourless Chocolate Cake: Let the cake cool completely in pan on a wire rack. Run a butter knife around the inside of the pan to help it release then take off the removable rin. Carefully remove the parchment paper and transfer the cake to a serving plate or cake stand. Serve caramel sauce drizzled on cake along with whipped cream or a drizzle of cream, mascarpone, or crema, or a dollop of creme fraiche (or cream), cacao nibs, and some flaky sea salt, as desired.
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