You can get a mix for a yellow cake (which is vanilla cake + food coloring, by the way). You can get a mix for brownies. Cakey brownies. And you can get mixes for beignets, boxes of puff pastry, tubes of croissant dough, and even pre-cut cookie bags for those of you who have not yet mastered the art of cookie portioning. But have you ever seen a box mix for flourless chocolate cake? No. Why? Because the magic in an FCC happens in the wet ingredients, not the dry. It’s really not that hard to do, provided you have some arm strength (or a hand mixer) and know what an egg is. If you don’t have that second part down, I’m afraid this recipe is not for you.
Now, flourless chocolate cakes are tricky only in that they are somewhat time-consuming. Friends don’t get together on a Friday night and say “Hey! Let’s make a flourless chocolate cake and watch re-runs of Sex in the City!” They don’t do this because, not only are they clueless about how to make a flourless chocolate cake, they don’t have a television.
But I’m going to uncover the mystery behind the FCC. It’s really not daunting, once you understand a bit of the science behind it. So grab a pen, a piece of paper, and a graphing calculator and let’s get started.
First, find, steal, buy, or make the following ingredients:
1) 8 ounces of good quality (ex. Ghirardelli, Valrhona, etc.) semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
2) 1 stick of butter (for those needing measurement specifics, that’s 8 Tablespoons or ½ cup)
3) ¾ cup granulated white sugar
4) 2 eggs
5) ¼ cup flour (I know, I know, it’s flourless, but bear with me…)
6) A pinch of salt (or ¼ teaspoon)
7) 1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract (The good stuff, ok? Not the alcohol that’s been infused with vanilla, i.e. genuine imitation vanilla extract)
You’ll need to assemble or build the following utensils and baking equipment:
1) Large metal bowl
2) Saucepan (preferably stainless steel with copper lining—remember that aluminum reacts with acids and turns your food strange colors; just try to avoid it)
3) One smaller metal bowl
5) Wooden mixing spoon
7) Springform pan, buttered and floured
Ok. So, assuming you’ve got all this together (which you should have as part of your kitchen, anyway), you’re ready to get started. Oh! I should mention, you don’t NEED a springform pan, but it will definitely help out on presentation. Without it, you might end up eating your flourless chocolate cake out of the pan instead of off a plate. Depends on how rustic you are, I guess.
Before anything else, preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack placed as closed to the middle as you can get it.
Next, drop the hunk of butter and the chocolate chips into the saucepan. Melt both over low heat, swirling the saucepan every so often to move things around and promote even distribution of heat. Eventually everything will be melty and yummy. Give it a stir with the wooden spatula to mix it all together. Set it aside and let it cool.
Now, you’re going to work on the part of the FCC that is truly magical. The eggs are the wizards in this confection, so pay close attention.
You may have noticed that this cake has no leavening. Eep! How’s that going to work out for us? Well, that’s the idea, really. No leavening = denser cake. But we do have a leavener of sorts—the eggs. Typically, cakes will ask you to beat eggs into a butter and sugar mixture to coat the fat molecules. This helps with tenderness and moisture in the final product. Here, we’re going to separate the yolks from the whites for an interesting twist.
Crack the eggs over one of the small bowls, letting the whites drop down. When you’ve gotten the yolks on their own, drop them into the larger bowl. Eventually (after a few failed attempts, perhaps), you should have two eggs separated: yolks in the large bowl, whites in a small bowl. Set aside the whites. We’ll get to them later.
Now, beat the yolks with the whisk for a minute or two to incorporate some air into them. Slowly drizzle in the melted chocolate and butter mixture into the bowl, whisking to combine both yolks and chocolaty-butterness. Be careful, though. If the chocolate is still hot and you’re not drizzling slowly enough with ample whisking power, the eggs wills scramble. That’s why you melted the chocolate first—to give it a chance to cool down.
Once both have been incorporated, add the vanilla. Then, stir in the sugar with the wooden spoon. Not that hard, is it? Ok, now toss in the salt (with an appropriate “BAM”!) and mix that in too. Last but not least, slowly add the flour, folding it in gently. When I say fold, I really mean: DON’T BEAT IT IN! If you start beating it in like a crazy, you’ll develop gluten that might make the cake tough. Truth be told, there’s not enough flour to do too much damage in that department, but we’re aiming for the best cake possible, so just don’t do it.
Ok. Now you’ve got everything mixed together except the egg whites. You might be asking yourself why you separated them from the mother yolks. Let me explain.
Eggs perform a variety of functions in a cake or baked good. They act as tenderizers, moisturizers, and leaveners. You may have noticed that cookies with a greater number of eggs have a “cakier” consistency. This is because the eggs have added a leavening and moisturizing component that supplements the butter or shortening in the recipe. If you’re like me, I stick to fewer eggs in cookie recipes; this helps retain chewiness. That and a bit of underbaking.
Anyway, I’m getting distracted. In the FCC, the eggs are acting both as moisturizers and leaveners. That’s why we don’t need baking powder or baking soda. The quirk is, the leavening in this case is only temporary. And that’s what we want.
The yolks that you’ve beaten into the rest of the cake mixture are going to give the cake a very moist, dense texture. That’s good—like an intense brownie. The whites, on the other hand, are going to help it rise when it’s baking, but will ultimate fall while the cake is cooling on the counter. Why? It’s got almost no flour to hold onto. Usually, the leavening of an egg can latch onto the glutinous structure of the flour and cause a baked something-or-other to rise. With the help of leavening (that releases bubbles of gas into the confection, causing it to expand), cakes end up taller than they were when they went in the oven. Not only that, but they’re lighter. In the case of an FCC, however, you want the whites to provide some structure (the cake can’t fall apart on us!), but you don’t want the light, airy texture that many cakes have. You want this one to be dense, rich, and moist.
So how do we do that? Simple. We beat the egg whites until they’re at medium-stiff peaks. What does that mean? It means you clean your whisk off (or use a hand-mixer, which is far easier, but frankly just a cop-out) and beat the whites in their own bowl until the foamy, froathy goodness the beating creates makes little peaks when you pull the whisk out of the bowl. If those peaks of foam can stand on their own, you’re good to go! Just be careful not to overbeat them. I’ve done that before, and I’ve ended up with sudsy, broken up pillows of egg whites that don’t incorporate into the batter very well.
Once your egg whites are set, grab a rubber spatula. Heaping about ¼ of the egg whites on the end of it, gently fold them into the chocolate mixture you’ve already put together. Be gentle! The whole idea is that you want to retain the air you’ve incorporated into the egg whites.
When you’ve got that successfully folded in, continue with the rest of the egg whites until they’re all incorporated into the batter. It should be viscous, but not runny.
Now, believe it or not, you’re pretty much done. Pour the batter into the buttered and floured springform pan (getting every last bit of chocolaty goodness out of the bowl). Place in the center of the oven and bake for about 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick stabbed into the center of the cake comes out clean, or with a few moist crumbs attached. You definitely don’t want it dripping with chocolate, though. That’s bad; underbaking is not a good idea here.
Set the cake on a cooling rack. After it’s been cooling about 10 minutes, run a knife around the edges to release the cake from the sides of the pan. That way, when the cake cools and falls, edges once stuck to the pan won’t pull on the center, causing the cake to crack. Let it cool another couple of hours. You can watch the top puff as it’s baking and then fall while the cake sits on the counter. Don’t worry about a little bit of cracking. That’s natural.
Now, let me clear up a couple of questions before you start pelting me with them.
First, why bother to butter and flour the pan? Good question. You see, the cake is so dense that when it bakes, it would have nothing to keep the fat molecules, surrounded by nummy egg goodness, from sticking to the side of the pan. Non-stick baking materials do help, but it’s safer to make sure you provide a way for the cake to separate from its “vessel,” regardless of empty non-stick promises. The flour in the pan sticks to the butter and provides a dry coating to make removal from the springform pan that much easier.
Second, how do you know when the cake is ready to serve? After you’ve cut around the edges, let the cake sit until it is at room temperature. This is the kind of confection that is served after it has completely cooled, or slightly chilled. Why? Because if it were still warm (i.e. fresh out of the oven), it would be closer to spoon bread than cake. The butter needs to coagulate again (harden) and the cake must be allowed to finish its falling. That sounds callous, but it’s true.
Third, what about the cracking on the top? How do I know if it’s too much? Another good question. If you’re a master baker, you can manage this recipe with no flour whatsoever. But, if you’re new to the egg separation technique, you might want to incorporate a little bit of flour so you know there will be a little bit of structure to the final product. If, however, you add too much flour, it can dry out the FCC. That contributes to the dry cracking on the top. More so, however, you know you’ve over beaten your egg whites when the top not only cracks, but separates from the rest of the cake. They were too stiff, I’m afraid. Perhaps you should practice your egg white beating.
Alright! That’s it for now. Consider yourself “tutled” in the fine art of FCC creation. Once you get it down and are comfortable with the role of each ingredient, mix it up a bit! Add some flavorings or alter amounts. It’s up to you. Honestly, though, this is a dense cake made almost entirely of sugar, butter, chocolate, and eggs. Even if it doesn’t bake correctly, it will likely taste good. Dump it in a bowl and add some ice cream. Can that be so bad?