My French teacher once told me that I could exempt myself from les devoirs by making treats for the class. I did not really take her seriously and, anyway, it is in my best interest to do the homework. But as of Monday morning I had not even looked at chapter 6 of Les Poisons de la Couronne. What I had been reading was David Lebovitz’s new book, which enthusiastically advocates the practice of of bribery-by-sweets.
What better moment to test my dear prof’s offer? And what better reason to try one of the 50 recipes David included in the book?
Something with chocolate seemed like the obvious choice. Chocolate has the ability to create a sort of temporary insanity in people, myself included. I don’t need a lot of the stuff, but there is nothing like the snap of high quality chocolate, the silky flood of ganache released by the best truffles, barely coated.
There is no question that chocolate holds more weight as currency than rhubarb ever could.
This cake is barely a cake. It’s almost a mousse, and the chocolate flavor is pure and unadulterated. It is important, then to use the best chocolate you can find, and to use one that tastes good to you in its plain state, since this recipe doesn’t have enough sugar or other ingredients to drastically change the flavor of the chocolate. The cake will taste like the chocolate, so choose a chocolate that you really like.
My love of créme fraîche is well documented on this site, and this recipe offers further evidence to support my belief that a little bit of this fermented dairy product makes everything better.
David makes this cake with espresso and calls it Mocha-Créme Fraîche Cake. It is impossible to go wrong with the classic chocolate-coffee combination, but as I was about to fire up my little cafetière I spied my box of Kusmi’s Anastasia tea, an Earl Grey with citrus. I love the combination of chocolate and black tea, so I brewed a strong batch and substituted it for the espresso. It worked.
It worked so well that I was forgiven for shirking my devoirs.
David Lebovitz’s Chocolate Cake with Crème Fraîche
adapted from The Sweet Life in Paris (Broadway)
12 oz (340 g) high-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2/3 c (160 ml) strong coffee, black tea, or water
1/4 c (60 g) crème fraîche
1/4 t vanilla extract
5 large eggs at room temperature
1/2 c (100 g) sugar
pinch of salt
1. Preheat the oven to 325°. Lightly butter a 9 or 10″ springform pan and wrap the outside of it with foil to make it watertight. Place the pan into a roasting pan big enough to hold the springform pan and deep enough to create a water bath.
2. Put the chocolate and coffee/tea/water in a large heatproof bowl and put the bowl over a pot of barely simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water. Stir the chocolate mix until it has melted, then remove the bowl from the heat and set aside to cool. Stir in the crème fraîche and vanilla.
3. Put the eggs in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the sugar and salt and whip on high speed until the mixture is thick and pale and holds its shape when dropped from the whisk, about 5 minutes. (You can use a handheld mixer but it will take significantly longer for the eggs to reach optimal volume.)
4. With a large rubber spatula, fold about half of the egg mixture into the chocolate, then gently fold in the rest.
5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Pour enough warm water into the roasting pan to come half way up the side of the springform pan. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the cake seems set but is still soft in the center.
6. Carefully remove the springform pan from the water bath, take off the foil, and cool the cake, still in its pan, on a rack. When it has cooled to room temperature, run a knife along the edge of the cake to separate it from the pan and remove the outside of the springform.
To serve the cake, use a thin knife dipped in hot water to make thin slices (it’s very rich!), and wipe the blade between every cut. You can also use dental floss to cut it. This cake is very delicate, so don’t be sad if you cannot achieve perfect slices. Refrigerating the cake will make it easier to slice, but it does change the texture a bit, though not at all in a bad way! The cake will keep, well covered, at room temperature or in the fridge for up to 5 days, or frozen (well wrapped) for one month.