dsc04143from Bakewise, pp. 237-38; 97; 141-42.

Even more enjoyable than cooking for friends is cooking with friends for friends. I supplied the dessert at a friend’s dinner party. Sherry made short ribs and polenta that had everyone at the table swooning. My chocolate pecan torte served as a robust coda to a rich, wintery meal.

To put together this deceptively light flourless cake, Shirley Corriher had me jumping from back to front and back again in her book. But I followed her directions closely — except at the points where she calls for the use of a microwave. I gave mine up over a year ago and haven’t missed it. Dorrie Greenspan’s chocolate recipes gave me the experience necessary to work around the microwave. The ganache turned out well, although I wondered whether Shirley would have considered the surface of the cake (as seen in the image above) not sufficiently smooth.

It takes three recipes in the book to make the torte: one for the cake, one for the ganache, and one that explains how to ice the cake with the ganache. A few of the ingredients were new to me. I had my doubts about the nonstick cooking spray, but felt reassured about it when I found an aerosol can of it at Williams-Sonoma. One of the saleswomen at W-S kindly suggested I look in a craft store for cardboard circles. That turned out to be a great suggestion. I bought a package of 8 circles for less than $4.  Luckily, Sherry had some potato starch (why, I have no idea), so that saved me having to search for it at my local co-op.  As usual, I bought Valrhona chocolate at Trader Joe’s. My last bit of advice is don’t make this cake at the last minute, because the instructions to let the ingredients completely cool at various stages bears following assiduously.

So, we start with the cake…

What This Recipe Shows:

  • Both finely ground nuts and cocoa particles in chocolate can act as flour in flourless cakes.
  • Melting the chocolate with butter avoids the danger of having the chocolate sieze.
  • A small amount of cream of tartar ensures that the batter will be acidic.

1 cup (3.5 oz/99 g) pecans

Nonstick cooking spray

6 oz (170 g) semisweet chocolate

3/4 cup (170 g) unsalted butter

4 large egg yolks (2.6 oz/ 74 g)

1 1/4 cups (8.8 oz/ 248 g) sugar, divided

2 Tblsp (0.8 oz/22 g) potato starch

1 Tblsp (15 ml) bourbon

4 large egg whites (4 oz/ 113 g)

1/4 tsp (0.5 g) cream of tartar

1 recipe Shiny Ganache Glaze (to follow)

1. Arrange a shelf in the lower third of the oven with a baking stone on it and preheat the oven to 350 F/177 C.

2. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet. Place the sheet on the hot baking stone. Bake until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.

3. When nuts are completely cool, place them in a food processor with a steel blade and process with quick on/offs until finely chopped. Stop before the nuts get oily and the mixture starts to clump.

4. Increase oven temperature to 375 F/191 C.

5. Spray a 9 x 2-inch (23 x 5-cm) round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray and line with a parchment circle. (I very lightly spray the top of the parchment, too)

6. Place the chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Melt chocolate and butter for 2 minutes in the microwave on 50% power. Allow to cool.

7. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and 3/4 cup (5.3 oz/150 g) of the sugar until pale. Stir in the chocolate, roasted pecans, potato starch, and bourbon.

8. Place the egg whites and cream of tartar in a mixing bowl. Beat slowly at first, increasing speed until almost on high. Beat until soft peaks form when the beater is lifted. Beat in the remaining 1/2 cup (3.5 oz/99 g) sugar. fold one-quarter of the whites into the chocolate mixture. Now fold the lightened chocolate mixture into the remaining whites.

9. Pour the batter into the pan; smooth the top if necessary. Bake until a toothpick in the center comes out with moist crumbs, about 40 to 45 minutes.

10. Cool the cake completely in the pan on a rack. The center will sink a little. Gently press down the outside edge to level. Jar the edge of the pan on the counter to loosen or run a thin knife around the edge, and invert onto an 8-inch (20-cm) cardboard cake circle. Cool completely before icing with Shiny Ganache Glaze.

When I made the cake…

Instead of melting the chocolate and butter in the microwave, I put chopped the chocolate with my chef’s knife, put it with butter in a  pyrex bowl, and place it over simmering water on the stove. It melted quickly. I let it cool for a few minutes before proceeding.

I used my Kitchen-Aid mixer to blend the cake batter and my hand mixer for the egg whites.

I dumped the quarter teaspooon of cream of tartar at once into the egg whites. I noticed it clumped initially. Next time, I’ll sprinkle it over the egg whites.

Conscious that my oven tends to be a little cool, I was surprised that the cake was clearly ready to come out of the oven after 35 to 40 minutes. In the oven, the top puffed up and cracked like a soufflé, but sank once it was cooling on the rack. When I inverted the cake on to the cardboard circle, the bottom showed signs that another couple of minutes and it would have burned. So, remember that the cake can burn easily.

Now, the ganache…

What This Recipe Shows:

  • Corn syrup gives this glaze its deep glossy sheen.
  • Add the grated chocolate to the cream helps prevent “seizing.”
  • This is not as thin as a medium ganache or as thick as a firm ganache. The texture makes the glaze not as runny and a little easier to work with than a medium ganache.

16 oz (454 g) semisweet chocolate, cut into pieces

1 1/2 cups (355 ml) heavy cream

1/2 cup (3.5 oz/99 g) sugar

2 Tblsp (30 ml) corn syrup

1. Place the chocolate in a food processor with the steel blade and finely chop.

2. In a large heavy saucepan, carefully bring the cream and sugar to a boil. Watch constantly. Let simmer for 1 minute. Pour the hot cream into a medium mixing bowl that has a wide surface. Stir in the corn syrup. Let cool about 30 seconds. All at once, pour the chopped chocolate over the entire surface. Jar or barely shake the bowl to get the chocolate to settle. Allow to stand about 30 seconds. Start stirring in the middle, blending the melted chocolate and cream together. Try not to incorporate air. Stir slowly until all the chocolate is melted and blended. Use immediately, or refrigerate and reheat to thin.

My turn…

Don’t over stir, but gently stir the chocolate and cream together until it is dark. It won’t start out dark, remember. Keep slowly stirring and folding with a rubber spatula. You’ll see it come together. Mysterious process, but it works.

Finally, the Double-Icing Technique…

1. Place the cooled cake on a cardboard circle that is slightly smaller than the cake. This allows you to hold the cake with the sturdy cardboard bottom and tilt it as necessary. Next, place the cake on a cooling rack that is sitting on a large piece of parchment paper or a nonstick baking sheet. You want something that catches icing drips and allows you to scrape them up if you need to.

2. Pour slightly less than half of the ganache into a 2-cup (473-ml) glass measuring cup with a spout. You want the glaze almost cool enough to set, about 90 F/32 C. Pour a puddle of icing in the center of the cake and continue pouring until the icing starts to overflow and run down the edges. Lift the cake and tilt to encourage the glaze to run where there isn’t any. With a metal spatula, smooth the icing around the edge. Do what you can to cover the top and all around the edges. Allow the cake to cool for about 30 minutes.

3. No spatula from here on! Heat the remaining half of the ganache or glaze just until it flows easily. So that it will be perfectly smooth, strain it into a warm 2 cup (473 ml) glass measuring cup with a spout. If you are right-handed, hold the cake up with your left hand, keep it over the parchment. With your right hand, pour the glaze into the center of the cake. Allow the glaze to run down the edges and tilt to get it to run where it is needed. Pour more glaze on as needed, but do NOT touch it with the spatula. You want this coating untouched, as smooth as a lake at dawn — a perfect, shiny, dark surface. Place the cake on a the cooling rack and allow to cool.

Making a mess…

I realize now why the surface of the cake looked rippled. I overlooked the step Shirley calls for involving straining the ganache before pouring the second coat.

Having trained myself in the Dorrie School of Chocolate, I prefer to chop/shave bars of chocolate with my big chef’s knife.

Be prepared to acquiring a bracelet of chocolate on the hand that hold the cake. Even if you’re careful, it’s a messy. But worth it.

The ganache is actually quite thick and doesn’t run as easily as I expected. You have to be patient.

Last Thoughts:

The surprise element in this torte is the slight crunch of the meringue on the bottom (which began as the puffed, hard top of the cake as it baked). It is a luscious cake. I served it as Shirley recommended, in a  puddle of cream whipped to the consistency of sauce. Divine.

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