I was following an auction on Ebay this week for a set of 12 vintage Italian linen napkins. I fell in love with these napkins as I researched prices for a similar set that I have here from my friend L, which she wants to sell and I will probably buy, as they come with a matching tablecloth. The napkins online were 22” and so dinner size, and very pretty, with subtle beige embroidery. They screamed Italy to me, the finest of Italy. I really wanted to feel the fine lace of the border, and see them next to my Limoges plates. Seeing these linens got me in the Italian mood. They reminded me of a Venetian palazzo I had seen in a magazine a long time ago, with a table draped in delicate linens, and topped with Italian porcelain and glasses. Running around in the house I finally found it. Looks like someone has spread meringue on the walls, right? I LOVE this image. I love every single detail. This magazine is now 20 years old, but it still looks timeless.
In the same issue, of a French magazine dedicated to Italy, was an article on Lorenza de Medici. On my bucket list is a visit to Badia al Coltibuono for a cooking class.
20 years ago I made every recipe in this magazine, but my favorite among them is the flourless chocolate cake. I made this cake for many years in NYC; it was always the birthday cake everyone in the office wanted. Here is the pic from the magazine, with the tiny fraises du bois that are minute but pack more flavor than any other berry~
There were a few other recipes given; I bought my first copper after making this ring of peas and rice with a tarragon sauce; it’s was SO delicious. Though not an American taste per se. My family doesn’t like it so I never make it anymore.
But if I have to make a chocolate cake, this is the recipe I use. You will need:
120 grams of butter: 1 stick plus a little more
6 ounces dark chocolate; I use Valrhonna from Trader Joes (1.5 bars)
6 eggs, separate the whites from the yolks
1 cup less 1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup powdered almonds
Preheat the oven to 390 degrees.
Prepare your cake pan now too; lightly butter a 6” round cake pan and then sprinkle a little bit of the powdered almonds on the butter. I swear by the Magic Line brand, and that’s what I use for this cake. Chill the cake pan.
The almonds I am using are the powdered almonds from France. You see them here center-left; they are from raw almonds and bake to perfection; you will notice Lorenza’s version above has a chunkier almond. I am sorry I can not give you a better source for these almonds in the U.S.; use what you can find, and if you have any friends going to France, this is always on my To Buy list.
Set the butter in a bowl and place the chocolate on top of it, in a double-boiler, that is, in a bowl set over very hot water. The water should not be boiling. Melting the butter on the bottom will prevent a grainy chocolate melt. Stir constantly and until smooth, set aside to cool.
In a bowl, mix the egg yolks with the sugar. A whisk works best; whisk until thoroughly combined: about three minutes.
Using a mixer, beat the egg whites until they are stiff.
When the chocolate mix has mostly cooled, add it to the egg yolks and sugar. It’s fine if it’s a little warm as it will also melt the sugar in the egg yolks, but you don’t want it to be too hot, otherwise it will cook the egg yolks and deflate your egg whites. Add the powdered almonds and mix to combine. Your batter will look like this:
Remove your whisk and use a spatula to add the beaten egg whites. Fold the egg whites in, do not stir vigorously, or you will deflate the batter; just keep turning it over with the spatula. Fill your cake pan; you can leave just a little headroom, here about an inch.
The trick to flourless chocolate cake is the cooking. If it’s underdone, the center will taste gooey. Non. If you cook it too long or too hot, the top will burn. Non. I never set the timer for a cake, I know by looking and testing if it’s done, but this is about 40 minutes. The top will crack a little like this. As the cake starts to look done, touching the top will feel like the center is not cooked enough. Be patient and watch it for another ten minutes. The top of the cake should feel firm to the touch, and a toothpick should come out clean. And after the cake comes out of the oven, be warned that it will fall in the center. Don’t panic, it’s ok. Here it is out of the oven about five minutes.
Invert the cake on a plate when it’s cooled. This will give you a nice flat top.
Top with fresh berries, raspberry sauce and whipped cream.
The taste and texture of this cake are heavenly; it has a hint of the almonds, which are not included on many flourless cake recipes. There is no mistaking it for a brownie or any other chocolate dessert; this cake is in a class by itself. After you have made it once or twice, you will think it’s also very easy to make. This cake is as timeless as the Ventian palazzo above; though I love the French chocolate tarte I make, this cake is special. I hope you will try it.