Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Decadent Delight (Gateau au chocolat fondant de Nathalie)

Chocolate cake is like the little black dress of dessert. It can be dressed up or down from the homeliest of meals to the pinnacle of haute cuisine and remain equally enticing in either environ. As a culture, we are given to hyperbole (and, as an individual, I am more so), so it would be no surprise to me if, when I say "this is the best chocolate cake in the world," you take it with a grain of salt. It helps that salt and chocolate pair so nicely. Perhaps it would change your mind, however, if I mentioned that a sizeable shard of the fractious and chaotic internet generally agrees this is, indeed, the cake of cakes? 

Truly, you are the cake of cakes
Gateau au chocolat fondant de Nathalie has a name as triumphantly seductive as the cake itself. The best of chocolates have distinctive nuance, character, and depths of flavor akin to cheese or wine; sweeping symphonies of savor that evanesce on the tongue. This gateau allows said flavors to resound to marvelous effect in a luxuriously silky, custard-like cake, resolving to edges embodying the fascinating, chewy-crisp quality that makes the ends of brownies so beloved. Almost like a soufflĂ©, yet even easier to prepare, you can make this snazzy little number when dessert really needs to impress. Use the best-quality stuff: your fanciest single-origin chocolate and European-style cultured butter with extra fat, as the fine-point focus on just a few ingredients really makes their individual characters stand out.

Break out the good stuff
With all that build-up, however, the recipe is astoundingly simple. One could crank these out by the dozen with ease, as my favorite blogger, Molly Wizenberg of Orangette, did for her wedding, or one can tidily prepare a singular sample in half an hour. It plates beautifully, lying with humble dignity beneath a dusting of cocoa or powdered sugar and a handful of rose petals, curls of shaved chocolate, or flecks of orange zest. There is no need of icing for accompaniment, but a drifting cloud of softly-peaked whipped cream provides a simply sophisticated counterpoint to darkest chocolate. 

There can never be too much whipped cream
There is, of course, always room for improvisation. Some of my favorite renditions include spiking the cake with cinnamon and chipotle for intense complexity, or stirring an orange's worth of zest into the batter and plating it with segmented oranges and vanilla ice cream. The last time I made this, however, was for my mother-in-law's birthday and she requested it be served with raspberry sauce. This classic raspberry-chocolate pairing makes it something of an homage to the storied Chocolate Decadence, the glorious dessert of 80s excess from the Berkeley restaurant Narsai. My raspberry sauce recipe isn't authentic, but there's something about the last-minute handiness of needing to stir together only a jar of jam and a splash of booze that makes putting the finishing touches on dessert a pleasure in itself.

Piece de resistance
Gateau au chocolat fondant de Nathalie (flourless chocolate cake), raspberry sauce
Adapted from Molly Wizenberg (Orangette)

This cake definitely tastes even better the next day and sitting overnight (especially in the refrigerator) helps guarantee flawless slices. Make ahead for seemingly effortless victory. Serves about 8-12.

8 oz best-quality dark chocolate, finely slivered

8 oz European-style butter (the high-butterfat kind, such as Plugra or Beurre d’Isigny), diced
1-1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt, finely ground
5 large eggs, at room temperature 1 tablespoon cocoa powder

For the raspberry sauce:

8 ounces seedless raspberry jam
3 tablespoons Chambord, or other raspberry liqueur 

Barely sweetened whipped cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, then butter an 8-inch round cake pan, lining the bottom with buttered parchment.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a double boiler, then add the chocolate, stirring occasionally until satiny and completely melted.

Satiny perfection
Whisk the sugar and salt into the chocolate mixture until fully dissolved, then set aside to cool for about ten minutes.

Add the eggs one by one, stirring well after each addition. The first couple eggs will make it look curdled and horrifying, but after the third egg or so, the batter should become satiny smooth again. Finally, whisk in the tablespoon of cocoa powder.

Pouring on the love
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for approximately 25 minutes, or until the center of the cake looks almost entirely set, with very little little wiggle.

Let the cake cool in its pan on a rack for 20 minutes, then carefully invert a plate over the cake pan and flip to remove. Peel away the parchment. 

Invert a second plate over the cake, keeping a finger between the two plates to ensure the cake isn't crushed, then flip again to plate the cake right-side-up. It will be craggy and crackly. 

To prepare the raspberry sauce, warm a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir the jam vigorously to unset the gel, resulting in a flowing, viscous liquid, and tip this into the warm pan. Whisk in the Chambord, then bring to a boil and simmer, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes.

Serve in slender wedges at room temperature, drizzled with raspberry sauce and topped with loosely whipped cream.


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