Sunday, May 29, 2011

Light or Dark: Search for the Perfect Flourless Chocolate Cake

There are two kinds of chocolate people in this world: dark chocolate lovers or milk chocolate lovers.

My daughter is a milk chocolate lover. It started when she was 14 and I took her to New York City where she discovered the Lindt store. Well, when your first introduction to fine milk chocolate is from the most famous purveyor of chocolate in the world, I can understand. But my introduction to milk chocolate came as a Southern California kid who would eat leftover M&Ms out of bowls strewn around the living room the mornings after my parents’ parties and I never cultivated a love for the stuff. Cheap convenience store candy bars like Snickers and Milky Way sealed the deal with my brain that milk chocolate was waxy, mild, and most oftentimes way too sweet to pick up the subtle nuances of mellow milk like the Europeans did it to the pleasure of my daughter’s taste buds. Ruined me for life and I grew up loving the darkest and most bitter bars.

My favorite dark chocolate desserts are ganache, flourless chocolate cake and Mexican spicy hot cocoa. I am forever on the search for the perfect versions of these three.

Flourless chocolate cake, when it’s being touted as organic and healthy, can be bliss. When made with applesauce as the wetness, it can be a downright dense and moist dream.  When made on the sinful side it can pack the same punch as my favorite ganache. 

I recently found a version at Il Sogno that, although had a bit of milk in is as well, sings to me. A perfectly round disk, baked to multiple layer perfection is topped with a fluffy pile of shaved dark chocolate. It is then served with a plain, fresh and thick pile of whipped cream that tastes more like cream than sugar. Bite after bite, I taste mostly a subtle hint of milk, followed by a mellow sweetness that’s not too heavy and not too sweet. And the portion is perfect to coincide with one of their gargantuan cups of cappuccino.

Below is a recipe I found that comes closest to the same taste.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

1 pound bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
1 stick unsalted butter*
9 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
2 cups heavy cream, cold
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch spring form pan.

Put the chocolate and butter into the top of a double boiler (or in a heatproof bowl) and heat over (but not touching) about 1 inch of simmering water until melted. Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar in a mixing bowl until light yellow in color. Whisk a little of the chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture to temper the eggs - this will keep the eggs from scrambling from the heat of the chocolate - then whisk in the rest of the chocolate mixture.

Beat the egg whites in a mixing bowl until stiff peaks form and fold into the chocolate mixture. Pour into the prepared pan and bake until the cake is set, the top starts to crack and a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it, 20 to 25 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes, and then remove sides of pan.

While the cake is cooking, whip the cream until it becomes light and fluffy.

Serve at room temperature dusted with confectioners' sugar and topped with whipped cream. 

* Use a traditional full size stick of butter

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Like the Italians Do It at Acqua Pazza

Today I was invited to lunch by two dashing gentlemen named Robert and Angelo. Robert is a very successful painter in town who I have known for six years, and have written about on more than one occasion, but have never spent a good deal of quality time with as most of our interactions happen in passing out in the art world we both dwell in. Quick hugs and kisses here and there at galleries and museum events were replaced today with a long overdue lunch at Acqua Pazza.

Sitting outside on the shaded patio we all decided to do like the Europeans do and savor a long lunch from the special $19.99 pre-fixe menu that includes a starter, entree and dessert. I have been a fan of Acqua Pazza for years. It's an old stand by for good bistro style food like my favorite duck, brie and pineapple omelet, cute little quesadillas, yummy pizzas and when I am feeling especially decadent - the lobster salad.

Because we were having Cabernet at noon like the Italians, and stepping out of our ordinary boxes to discuss things like atheism, animals and American attitudes towards nudity, I decided to order something entirely new with the sand dabs. First I had a bowl of the grainy and light mushroom soup to whet the palate for the exotic new dish. When it arrived, the four small slivers of soft and light white fish swimming in a worthy cream sauce were comfort food to the stomach. A swirled, pile of mashed potatoes and al dente veggies rounded out the meal. Probably didn't need the flourless chocolate cake that followed or the second glass of wine but what the hell, when "pretending to be in Rome."

I was totally reminded of the time I took my daughter to Italy in 2005. We spent the last leg of our trip in Venice. We quickly discovered our favorite spot, tucked into an alley, where we went every day at noon for lunch. I got the same thing every day, a pint of sweet white wine and a warm salad of julienned mozarella, eggplant and corn. It was always followed by a nap at the hotel after my daughter's stop on the walk back for a new flavor of gelato.

Stuffed on food, hazy with wine and happy with the love received by restaurant managers Willie and Michelle and their perpetual sweet smiles, I had to go home to take a nap, just like the Italians do. I could get used to having my biggest meal at lunch with wine followed by a siesta, only to resume work in the cooler and darker hours of the day when the phone is no longer ringing with the nine to fivers.