Flourless chocolate torte.
Just the sound of it struck fear into my heart. How could I ever make something so daunting, so mythical in my mind, so…sophisticated? After all, I’m a girl who started off her baking career by ripping open the inside lining of a Duncan Hines brownie box and feeling proud for adding the right number of eggs and amount of oil.
But those days are long gone. All summer long, I’ve been making dishes that once would have daunted me: homemade ravioli; potato chips from scratch; red beans and rice. I’ll never, ever eat packaged hummus again, because the homemade is infinitely better and takes about twelve minutes to prepare. (And the other day, in the bulk section of the grocery store, I saw powdered hummus mix. Just add water! Blech. Why would anyone ever eat that?) With every recipe I make, I’m eager to make the next one.
But still—flourless chocolate torte. When I walked into Macrina Bakery on a daily basis, long before the celiac diagnosis, I’d look at the large molasses cookies and know I could make those at home if I had the time. But the tortes sat in the middle of the gleaming display cases, calling me, and taunting me. I could never make them. Just too hard.
But the days of gazing at baked goods in Macrina Bakery are gone. And eating gluten-free has taught me, every day, every meal, how lucky I am to be forced to make my own food from scratch, instead of relying on packages and chemicals and salesmanship. Convenience is overrated. These days, I’d rather spend two hours in the kitchen, concocting something, than doing almost anything else.
And I didn’t want a torte to taunt me any longer.
So I kept saying to my friends, all summer: “Some day, I’m going to figure out how to make a flourless chocolate torte. That will be when I know I’m an accomplished gluten-free cook.” But someday seemed a long way away. And I didn’t even own a springform pan.
But thanks to Clotilde, I have now made a flourless chocolate torte.
Dear Clotilde, of Chocolate and Zucchini, put out a call for another food blog event. Find the best wine to accompany good dark chocolate. It could be any kind we want, but it had to mix well with that bittersweet, decadent, ineffable taste. Having written about chocolate the other day, I knew this would be hard. Why?
First of all, I don’t know much of anything about wine. Oh, I can recognize bad wines: thin, slightly bitter, or forgettable. And I have started to develop a sense of what I like: full-bodied, with a slight spiciness, and a smooth finish. I like a wine with a personality, but not too boisterous. And red. I only really like red wine.
So yesterday, when I sat down to figure out what wine I wanted, I tried to do some research online. (I heart google.) But quickly, I felt overwhelmed. There are a thousand sites, and they all disagree, and they write in elliptical terms, and I don’t know what the heck they’re talking about. Jammy? Oaky? Does it have legs? I mean, that one I have figured out, via an ex-wine-snot boyfriend. (He’s probably still a wine snot, but he’s definitely an ex for me.) But it still all sounds silly to me. Like those guys from Sideways, who are screaming outside of restaurants that no one will be drinking merlots or relying on pretension to prop up their shambles of lives. Um, no thanks. And I don’t care what they say: I still don’t like pinot noirs.
I guess I’m just not sophisticated enough to pick a wine.
So I turned to flourless chocolate torte recipes to distract myself instead. Heidi at 101 Cookbooks had a fabulous one a few weeks ago, in a post about her tour of the Scharffenberger plant in San Francisco. (Lucky girl!) But she had just made it, and it called for warming eggs over a steaming bath of water, and I grew a little intimidated. So I called my friend Tita, who said I would need almond flour for her recipe. I’m sure it’s scrumptious, and I’m sure I’ll make it in the future, but I wanted something pure chocolate, not cut by anything else. So I turned to The Best Recipe again. When I’m making something for the first time, I go back to this book, and through the exhaustive work they do, I teach myself how to make something new. And later, I’ll experiment, wildly, with a dexterity other people will envy. But for now, I admit it–I’m a total beginner.
Well, not anymore, now.
The recipe (reprinted below) has only three ingredients: eggs, butter, and dark chocolate. What it does involve is patience, strong biceps, and a bit of futzing. First, I cut out a piece of parchment paper just the right size for the bottom of the springform pan I had sprung for the day before. Then greased the sides with butter. (Warning: this is in no way a low-fat recipe.)
I had also splurged (my last one of this month, or perhaps more) on a good roasting pan at Sur La Table the day before. I’ve been meaning to buy one for months, because every roast chicken I make in a baking pan turns out a little soggy, not the way I dream of one. But again, I’ve been a little overwhelmed by all the choices. (Do you ever feel like we’re just offered too many choices in this culture?) And that made me put off the purchase. But this recipe calls for a roasting pan filled with boiling water, as a base for the springform pan. Well, if I need it for a food blog event.….
Fortunately, a kind woman at Sur La Table walked me through all the different options, and even talked me out of spending too much money. I love that place. And I left with a shiny new roasting pan.
So gingerly, I pulled it out and prepared it for the bath. (Oh, and took a picture of it.) I set the eggs spinning in the Kitchen Aid for five minutes (bless that machine, which I’ve had since 1995, and I hope I have it all my life). And then I started to melt the chocolate.
I don’t have a double boiler. Another one on the wish list, but I wasn’t about to buy that too, on top of the roasting pan and springform pan. So I chopped up the chocolate (an organic one I found in bulk at PCC, 63% cocoa) and tossed in the butter, set the microwave at 50% and stopped it every minute to stir and stir. Within a few moments, it was smooth, melty chocolate. I had to resist the urge to just dip my fingers in it and eat it up there.
Bu there was work to do. The eggs were foamy, doubled in volume, and ready to go. Now this is the part that requires patience. I poured 1/3 of the foamy eggs into the melted chocolate and stirred, thoroughly, hard, fast, faster, more thoroughly, sweeping the spatula around the bowl, in hopes that it would all blend together. But it took forever, and my arms started to ache. I’m not kidding. And I kayak every other day. I didn’t need to go yesterday, though. Making this torte was a workout. Finally, I saw flecks of chocolate through the foam, and then streaks, and then giant swaths. And eventually, it was homogenous, one chocolate egg mix. And then I had 2/3 of the egg foam left, to do it again.
I sighed with satisfaction when the eggs, chocolate, and butter were finally one. I poured it into the springform, took the kettle bubbling over from the stove, and filled the roasting pan with water. And away we go.
Twenty-three minutes later, it looked like this.
While it cooled, I knew I had only one thing to do: I had to find that wine. Luckily, it was only six blocks away. I’m blessed with one of the best wine stores in Seattle in my neighborhood. Friendly, smart, and not at all pretentious, the employees know their wine. And they’re filled with passionate responses. I told the woman behind the counter that I needed a great wine to go with dark chocolate. “I’d like a wine from Washington State,” I told her, feeling the desire to show off my home. But she scrunched up her face, as though she had just swallowed sour vinegar.
“Um, no?” I said.
“Really, there’s nothing from Washington State I’d recommend for this,” she said. (I know she’d like me to inform you, however, that there are dozens of great wines for other purposes from Washington State.)
I gave up and asked her what she would buy. There was only one. She led me to it. I started to laugh.
It was from France. Just like Clotilde. I swear, I’m not trying to sweeten up the judge here. It really was the one.
The woman at McCarthy and Schiering told me that the wine is a bit sweet, but not too much. A slight bit tart. Like a port, but not. “People always talk about cabs with chocolate, but.…” And she made that face again. I couldn’t help but laugh at her physical honesty. I bought the wine, the Cuvee Leon Parce 2003, made by the Domaine de la Rectorie winery in Banyuls. This vineyard, on only 54 acres, is owned by brothers Marc and Thierry Parce. And they make a damned fine wine.
Finally, it was time to stop researching and stopping, time to start eating. I had three dear friends over for dinner, to eat the leftover red beans and rice from the night before. (And oh my, that dish was a thousand times better the second day.) We ate and talked and stretched out on the floor. And when I brought out the flourless chocolate torte, everyone oohed and aahed. I told them about the wine and chocolate event, showed them the bottle of wine, and opened it up to breathe. Soon, we had our first smells: a little plum, a little sweet grape, and even (voila!) a little chocolate. And then sips. Here is some of what they said:
“There’s a lot in the bouquet.”
“Ah, it’s sweet.”
“But it’s not as sugary as port.”
“There’s something in there that’s just a little smoky. Like an old cabin in the woods.” (This friend is from Alaska, where that would be a real sesnory memory.)
“There’s not as much afterburn as there is with port.”
And another friend said, “Hey, stop talking about the taste. I’m still just smelling it.”
They were impressed. So was I. It was a complex, lovely wine, with twenty layers of taste. I don’t know how to write about it properly. It just felt right. And then, when we ate the torte.….
Ah. Gorgeous. Dense with chocolate, with nothing in between the ineffable taste of dark chocolate and my tongue. Perfectly blended, not an ounce of air in it. Slightly bitter, smooth and even, sweet but not too much so, a surprise in every bite. And we only needed several bites, because it was so wonderfully rich that we only needed a few forkfuls. Great food is like that for me now. I never overeat anymore. I just leave the table sighing with happiness.
So there it is: my wine for chocolate. I’d definitely do it again, if I were to splurge again. And I will. But for now, I’ll bask in the memory of that taste on my tongue. And the happiness at finally having made a flourless chocolate torte.
FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE TORTE, from The Best Recipe, p. 461
8 large eggs, cold
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 pound of butter (two sticks), cut into 1/2-inch chunks
°Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Grease pan sides. Cover the pan underneath and along the sides of the springform pan with sheet of heavy-duty foil and set it in a large roasting pan.
°Beat the eggs with an electric mixer (preferably a KitchenAid, if you have one), with the wire whisk attachment, for about five minutes. Turn off the mixer when the eggs have doubled in volume and grown foamy.
°Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. OR, set a large, heatproof bowl, set over a pan of almost simmering water, until the chocolate and butter mixture is smooth. OR, melt the chocolate in the microwave at 50% power for two minutes. Stir. Add the butter. Continue heating at 50%, stirring every minute, until the chocolate and butter have melted and are smooth.
°Set a kettle of water on to boil.
°Fold 1/3 of the egg foam into the chocolate mixture, using a large rubber spatula, until only a few streaks of eggs are visible. Fold in half of the remaining foam, then do the same with the remaining foam, until the mixture is nearly homogenous.
°Scrape the batter into a prepared springform pan and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. Set the roasting pan on the oven rack and pour in enough boiling water to come about halfway up the side of the springform pan. Bake until the cake has risen slightly, the edges are just beginning to set, and a thin glazed crust has formed on the surface. (Think brownie.) If you wish, you can use an instant-read thermometer to determine when the cake has reached 140°. This should be about 22 to 25 minutes.
°Remove the cake pan from the roasting pan and set it on a wire rack. Cool it to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight. [I didn’t do this, because we just couldn’t wait. It tasted just fine!]
°About 30 minutes before serving, remove the springform pan sides, invert the cake on a sheet of waxed paper, peel off the parchment pan liner, and turn the cake right side upon serving platter.
°If you want, you can sieve a light sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar or unsweetened cocoa powder over the cake to decorate it further. But really, don’t bother. Everyone’s going to gobble it up immediately, anyway!