Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cupboard Cleanout: simple chocolate almond cake

This is one of a series of Cupboard Cleanout posts dedicated to using up those odds and ends we all have laying about the pantry. It's a pantry liquidation sale— everything must go!

This is my season for chocolate. Not around Valentine's Day, when chocolate feels so cliché and overdone that I turn to other alternatives. Not in December, when the sight of another sweet makes me cringe and swear to myself that I will definitely, absolutely, hit the gym this week, seriously. And certainly not in summer, when anything chocolately seems impossibly dense and heavy and no way am I turning on my oven to bake in this heat.

Ergo: this cake, in late March.

The beauty of this chocolate almond cake is in it's simplicity. It bakes in 25 minutes. It doesn't leave you with a countertop full of dishes. It allows you to use those cake-baking components that have lived in your pantry for so long, they better start paying rent (I'm talking about you, squares of baking chocolate from 2009).

And my favorite bit of simplicity it's so good, it doesn't even require icing. Eat it with just the faintest dusting of powdered sugar, or plain like a brownie, warm and gooey from the oven.

Simple Chocolate Almond Cake (adapted, mostly just simplified, from the revered Ms. Julia Child)
Serves 6-8

4 ounces or squares semisweet chocolate, chopped into smallish and more-or-less uniform pieces
3 tablespoons rum or coffee
1/4 pound or 1 stick softened butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup finely ground blanched almonds
1/2 teaspoons almond extract
1/2 cup cake flour, sifted (if you don't have cake flour, try adding 1 tablespoon cornstarch to regular all-purpose flour)

1. Set oven rack to middle and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Carefully butter and flour a 8 x 2 round cake pan or other 4-cup cake pan; tap out the excess flour.

2. Set the chocolate and rum or coffee in the top part of a double boiler (if you don't have a double boiler, use a metal or glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water). Turn the heat to low and let melt while you proceed with the recipe.

3. Cream the butter and sugar for several minutes until they are yellow and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks until well blended; reserve egg whites in a small bowl.

4. With a rubber spatula, blend the melted chocolate into the butter and sugar mixture, then stir in the almonds and almond extract. Gently stir in a third of the whites and when partially blended, sift on one third of the flour; alternate rapidly with more egg whites and more flour until all egg whites and flour are incorporated.

5. Turn the batter into the cake pan, smoothing to ensure a level surface. Bake for about 25 minutes. The middle of the cake should remain slightly underdone for a creamy, almost fudge-like consistency. A toothpick inserted an inch from the edge of the cake pan should come out clean; a toothpick inserted into the center of the pan should come out The center may move slightly if the pan is shaken.

6. Allow cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and reverse cake on the rack. If you plan to ice the cake, allow it to cool for an hour or two; otherwise, dust the top with confectioner's sugar if you like, or just enjoy plain.


  1. Nothing makes me happier than a pantry recipe. And this one looks scrumptious.

  2. I love that this cake had an "undercooked" center! Doesn't everyone just love eating cake batter!

  3. This looks wonderful. Just to clarify step 4 - do you add the egg whites without whipping them?

  4. Hi Faye,
    Yes, I cut out the whipping of the egg whites because not only do I find egg whites to be quite, ahem, difficult when being coaxed into submission, but I was hoping for a slightly denser, brownie-like texture. Do you have any thoughts you'd like to share on that?

  5. Hi Cristin,
    Did the cake have the denser texture that you hoped for? If so, and if the egg whites blended in easily, I would leave the recipe as is, since it's much easier to skip beating the egg whites.

    In the interest of simplifying, you might have been able to add the whole eggs at the point that you added the egg yolks. But it's hard to know how this would work unless you try it. Maybe the cake comes out denser the way you made it, as adding whole eggs might give the batter more air when you beat them in.

    When you said you find egg whites difficult, do you mean they get too dry when you whip them? A trick I learned from the pastry chef at La Varenne in Paris is to always set aside a little of the sugar in a recipe to whip into the whites when they hold soft peaks, and then continue until they are stiff.

  6. Hi Faye,
    Thanks for the suggestion. Next time I make this I'll leave the eggs whole and see if that makes a difference. As is, this cake does come out thick like a fudgy brownie.

    I think my main problem with whipping egg whites is that they often don't form peaks of any sort, soft or hard. In my kitchen, they just get a sort top layer of an irritated-looking foam. Thanks for the trick with the sugar, though! I'll try it if I ever manage to get any soft peaks!

  7. They should get to soft peaks even with a hand mixer, as long as the beater reaches the bottom of the bowl of egg whites. Maybe somehow it's only reaching the top? Or are you trying to whip them with a whisk? Otherwise, it's hard to imagine what would be causing this?

  8. Hm. I do use a hand mixer, but perhaps it's not effective enough. I think some experiments with meringue are in order for my kitchen. I have a stand mixer, too, so maybe that would work better than my little hand mixer.

  9. A stand mixer might work better but for small amounts of egg whites I actually prefer a hand mixer because I can use a small bowl and make sure the beater goes through all of the egg whites.

    Meringue used alone is a big subject. Baking meringues is difficult if the weather is humid. Also, you need lots of sugar to give them a nice crunchy texture and then (for my taste) they often come out too sweet. Meringue toppings on pies are also not easy because they can weep and don't hold up long. When I want a meringue topping, I prefer Italian meringue, the kind that has hot syrup beaten into the egg whites.

    I'm looking forward to reading about your future experiments.

    Actually, I am making a chocolate almond cake that is somewhat similar to yours soon at a Passover cooking class I am teaching next week, with potato starch instead of flour. I'm doing it the traditional way; it gives me an opportunity to teach the students about beating egg whites. I'd love to hear how the cake turns out if you use whole eggs, and I hope to try it too. Actually, doing it that way would be a brownie mixing method.