Sunday, June 19, 2011

French Chocolate Cake

I finally had my Julie Powell moment. Julie Powell, foodies will remember, was the young woman who sought purpose in her life by setting a goal of making all the recipes in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year. Her efforts were reported in the movie Julie and Julia, with Meryl Streep. Ms. Powell was a perfectionist and spent a lot of time making and remaking dishes, throwing out the first batch because something in it did not turn out according to plan. I, on the other hand, am prone to say, what the hell, it will be okay and just blunder on with a curdled sauce or what have you.
To make French Chocolate Cake, I threw out, or more accurately, ate, not one, but two batches of what was supposed to be melted chocolate. Instead, it congealed into something like fudge. After the second batch, I was going crazy. I had melted chocolate zillions of times before, and it had never done this.
Well, this was a clear case of Hewitt not having tested the recipe. The first step in the original recipe, which will not be included in this recipe is, "Melt the chocolate gently with the water (one tablespoon) in the top of a double boiler over hot, not boiling, water." The first time, on Friday night, I melted the chocolate ever so carefully, making sure the water didn't boil. When it was almost melted, I poured in the tablespoon of water. Glunk. Shiny, mostly liquid chocolate instantly transformed into an intractable mass resembling metamorphic rock. It became clear after 10 more minutes that no amount of heat would melt this mess.
Saturday afternoon, after lunch, and after eating nearly a pound of the first attempt at melted chocolate I started again. My husband theorized that the problem was, I had added the water to the mostly melted chocolate. He said I should have put the water into the bowl with the chocolate and then applied heat. So, the second time I carefully put a tablespoon of water into the bowl with the new chocolate and applied heat. Same result. Chocolate piled up in the bowl like a brown iceberg. I was starting to get worried. People were coming to dinner at 7:00 and I still had to make the cake and the main course.
"Call Williams Sonoma," my husband said. "Ask them if they have the chocolate that the book says you should use." I had been using Giradelli Baking Milk Chocolate because Whole Foods didn't have Maillard's Eagle sweet chocolate.
For once, I took his advice. A very nice saleslady informed me that while Williams Sonoma did not have Maillard's Eagle sweet chocolate, the kind prescribed in the recipe, they did have Guittard, which was just as good. "I'll be right over," I promised, and hung up.
When I arrived at Williams Sonoma, I located both the chocolate and the salesperson I had spoken to. I started recounting my chocolate troubles.
"Oh," said the saleslady. "If you add water to chocolate it will seize up. Chocolate should be melted in an absolutely dry bowl. " Oh, I said. But, the recipe said...
She shook her head. "If you are concerned about the moisture content of the cake, you can add a tablespoon of water to the eggs while you beat them. "
"Ohhhh," I said. I trotted gamely back home with my pound of Guittard milk chocolate ($12. the pound) specially formulated in discs for better melting, put it in an absolutely dry bowl at low heat and left it strictly alone for about half an hour while it melted without congealing. Then I made the cake, stirring my tablespoon of water into the eggs, as directed by Williams Sonoma, who clearly knew more about it than the editor of The New York Times Heritage Cookbook, God bless her.
Now this is one of these cases of not exactly knowing how the recipe is supposed to turn out. What turned out was a very dense cake that didn't seem exactly cooked. I am sure that if I had inserted a skewer into the cake, it would not have come out clean. (Traditional recipes for cakes instruct the cook to stick a skewer into the cake to test for doneness. If the skewer comes out clean, it's done.) But, probably it wasn't supposed to. It was very good.

French Chocolate Cake

1 pound Maillard's Eagle sweet chocolate (or Guittard's milk chocolate)
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon sugar
10 tablespoons soft butter
4 eggs, separated
sweetened whipped cream
waxed paper

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
2. Melt the chocolate gently in the top of a double boiler over hot, not boiling water. This is a critical step in the preparation and should be done very slowly.
3. Remove from the heat and stir in the flour, sugar and butter. Beat the egg yoks lightly. Stir the tablespoon of water into the egg yolks. Gradually whisk into the chocolate mixture.
4. Beat the egg whites until they hold a definite shape but are not dry and fold into the chocolate mixture. Overbeating or underbeating will ruin the cake. The beaten egg whites should be folded smoothly, quickly and easily into the chocolate mixture. (This is one of these "Cook until done" instructions. I don't know what to tell you. Just fold the egg whites in and don't worry about it.)
5. Pour into an eight-inch springform pan that has been lined with wax paper. Bake fifteen minutes. Turn off the oven heat. Open the oven door, leaving it ajar and allow the cake to cool completely in the oven.
6. If the center of the cake still feels soft (yes, it did) refrigerate an hour or two but cake is best served at room temperature. Decorate with whipped cream. Serve small pieces. The cake is rich. Makes ten servings.

1 comment:

  1. Yup - seized up chocolate - been there done that. There's no retrieving it once you've done it. Lesson learned?