At the end of the day, after long hours of work, I just can’t wait to race home. Not to lie down on the couch and flounder for awhile, like I did this time last year. Lousy time last year — when I was enervated from celiac disease and didn’t even know it. But this year, even though it’s January, and it just won’t stop raining from the Seattle skies, I race home gleefully, excited, once again, to stand in front of the stove and create something I’ve never cooked before.
But even I like to step away from the stove sometimes. When dear friends offer to make me a gluten-free dinner, I happily sit down at the table instead.
Last week, Amy and Paul made dinner for me. And not just any dinner, but a wonderfully satisfying gluten-free dinner. We live twelve blocks from each other, but we’re all so darned busy that finding the time to sit down together more than once a month seems impossible. Somehow, though, arranging a small dinner party feels wonderfully civilized.
It always feels civilized at Amy and Paul’s. Amy, who has been my friend for the past four years, has impeccable taste, with small frames arranged on the living room wall perfectly. She has a penchant for all things cupcake (including a photo of two of the Sex and the City girls in front of Magnolia Bakery, on her refrigerator), and a photograph of herself as a little girl with Beverly Sills. Always kind, a cheerful listener, and an equal fan of silly pratfalls as me, Amy is a wonderful friend. Paul came into her life a couple of years ago, and I knew within weeks that they’d be getting married. He’s unfailingly kind, gentle of spirit, and a real mensch. And lately, he has hip glasses! At parties, Paul is always aware of the awkward spaces and tries to fill them, or break down any tension. He’s wildly enthusiastic about certain things, and when he really starts gesticulating, his voice squeaks a little, adorably.
Of course, they both love food as much as I do. It’s hard for me to imagine being close with anyone who doesn’t love to talk about the joys of Wusthoff knives, different kinds of chocolate, and our favorite produce finds. So we bantered and danced around our favorite topic: food.
On the lovely dining room table, there was the green relish for which Amy gave me the recipe for my birthday, along with blue corn chips. Soon, Paul produced a quinoa risotto, which zinged in the mouth with softness. He found the recipe in a Mayo Clinic cookbook, which doesn’t sound too exciting, granted. But we all agreed it tasted surprisingly good. And there were sea scallops, flash sauteed and wonderfully satisfying.
We ate well. We moved to the living room to sit around on sofas and crack each other up. Good music. Great wine. An entire evening stretching before us, and nothing but happiness in the room.
But still, we were waiting.
About forty minutes after we finished eating dinner, Paul put his hands on his knees, and said, “Okay, who’s ready for chocolate?”
Ah, thank goodness.
Earlier in the day, Amy had called me, to make sure that powdered sugar, which is mixed with cornstarch, didn’t have gluten in it. It doesn’t. We were fine. Still, I always feel really loved when someone I know cooks for me, and wants to make sure I’m not sick. And so, as a decadent gesture, Amy had made Macrina’s flourless chocolate torte.
If you don’t live in Seattle, then you probably don’t know about Macrina. This haven of gourmand pleasures is the best bakery in Seattle. At least, I think so. Little apple tartelettes. Whole wheat cider bread. Demi-baguette sandwiches with thin slices of French ham. Enormous ginger-molasses cookies encrusted with granules of sugar. And for my purposes the first two years I lived here, it was perfect. One of the two branches of Macrina is just down the street from where I live. As you can imagine, I was there nearly every day.
Not anymore, of course.
Now, I can’t really walk into Macrina again. Oh sure, I could have tea there with a friend, but the smell of all those glutened goodies I cannot eat starts to drive me insane. Plus, I’m sensitive enough that simply sitting in a bakery for an hour starts to make me feel a little sick. It’s just too painful. I don’t go anymore.
But when Amy told me she was making the flourless chocolate torte for our dinner, I did a little cheer. This beautiful chocolate bounty sits in the glass case at Macrina, haunting me. There’s not a bit of flour in it, and if you make sure to use a gluten-free chocolate and vanilla extract, you can enjoy an entire evening of chocolate heaven without getting sick.
So here they are, Amy and Paul, behind a slice of the torte they made for my visit. That’s real love, those two. What a joy to know them. And to eat some of that flourless chocolate torte.
Macrina Bakery Flourless Chocolate Torte
Thick with chocolate and decadent to the tongue, this torte is simply heaven. One bite brings sighs. Two bites makes you moan. And after three bites, you can’t imagine ever eating anything again.
If you eat it the same day as you make it — which we did — it will be light and fairly cakey. If you put it in the refrigerator and eat it the next day — which I did with the leftovers — it’s far more fudge-like and dense. No problem. Either way, it’s fairly amazing.
ten ounces bittersweet chocolate (try Dagoba, which is gluten-free)
twelve tablespoons unsalted butter
three-quarter cup granulated sugar
one-quarter cup dark cocoa powder, sifted
two cups fresh raspberries
Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a springform pan with butter.
Roughly chop the chocolate into slivers. Put the chocolate slivers into a stainless-steel bowl, then place the bowl on top of a saucepan filled with two inches of water you have already started to simmer. Make sure that the bottom of the bowl does not come into contact with the water. The chocolate pieces will begin to melt. Stir the melting chocolate gently until the melted mixture is of a uniform consistency. Remove the bowl from the hot water.
Crack the eggs, slithering the egg whites into one bowl, then placing the yolks into another bowl. Set the bowls aside.
Combine the butter and sugar in a stand mixer (or use your hand mixer, if you have that). Mix on low speed for one to two minutes. Mix at medium speed for five more minutes, which will cream the butter. As the butter and sugar cream, the mixture will lighten. Add the egg yolks, two at a time, mixing entirely before adding more eggs. After you have mixed in all the egg yolks, add the cocoa powder and mix it in completely.
Fold in the melted chocolate, at this point. Transfer the chocolate mixture to a large bowl, being sure to scrape down the sides. Whip the egg whites until you have formed medium-stiff peaks. Fold the whipped egg whites into the chocolate batter with a rubber spatula, one third at a time. Stir and stir until there are no visible white streaks. Pour the batter into the springform pan and scatter half the raspberries over the top. Poke the berries down until they have dunked below the surface.
Place the pan in the oven — center rack — and bake for forty-five minutes. Take it out of the oven, then cool it on a wire rack for thirty minutes. Take off the side of the springform pan. Sprinkle powdered sugar on top of the cake and garnish with the raspberries.
And if you wish, you could top each slice with this whipped cream:
two cups heavy cream
two tablespoons granulated sugar
one teaspoon pure vanilla extract (make sure it’s gluten-free)
one-quarter cup powdered sugar
Combine all the ingredients in the bowl of your hand mixer (or a large bowl with a hand mixer). Mix until you have reached whipped cream consistency — slightly thick, but still quite soft. Spoon on top.