Just Maybe the World’s Best Chocolate Cake
Courtesy of Maida Heatter’s New Book of Great Desserts, this is a special, rich chocolate cake. This flourless cake should be dense and moist. Make sure your oven is accurate. Also, don’t substitute. In baking, exact measurements are more important than anything else. The secret for making it successfully is to follow the directions exactly, and absolutely do not over bake. Don’t be discouraged by this recipe–it is worth every second of your effort.
¾ cup sifted cornstarch (sift before measuring and do not pack down when measuring)
8 ounces high-quality dark chocolate (55-60% bittersweet)
1 tablespoon espresso powder
¼ cup boiling water
3 ounces (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
½ cup white sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1/8 teaspoon salt
Adjust a rack one-third up from the bottom of the oven and preheat oven to 350°. You will need a loaf pan with a 6-cup capacity (approximately 8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ¾).
Line loaf pan with foil (one strip to fit the length of the pan—bottom and sides; one strip to fit the width of the pan—bottom and sides). There will be two thicknesses on the bottom. If the foil extends above the pan it may be folded down over the rim. Handle the foil carefully and do not wrinkle it—the wrinkles will show up on the finished cake.
Generously spray the foil with vegetable cooking spray.
After sifting and measuring the cornstarch, resift it three more times and set it aside.
Coarsely chop the chocolate if necessary, and place it in a heavy 4-cup saucepan. Dissolve the espresso powder in the water and pour it over the chocolate. Cover, place over low heat, and let stand for a few minutes until the chocolate starts to melt. Do not overcook. Stir (preferably with a small wire whisk) until smooth, and then transfer to a small bowl to stop the cooking and cool slightly.
Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, beat the butter until soft. Gradually add the sugar and beat for 2 or 3 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula. Add the yolks one at a time, scraping the bowl and beating after each addition until incorporated. Then continue to beat for a few minutes until the mixture is pale and creamy.
On low-speed add the chocolate, which may still be slightly warm. Scrape the bowl and beat only until smooth. Add the cornstarch, scrape the bowl and beat only until smooth. Remove the mixer and set aside.
In a small bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites and the salt only until the whites just stand up straight when the beaters are raised—do not overbeat.
Add 1 rounded tablespoon of the whites to the chocolate mixture and stir to mix. Repeat with a second spoonful and then with a third. Fold in about half of the remaining whites without being too thorough, and then fold in the balance of the whites, folding gently but completely.
Pour the batter in the pan. Move it gently from left to right and front to back in order to smooth the top of the batter.
Place the cake in a larger pan (which must not be deeper than the cake pan). Pour boiling water into the large pan until it is about an inch deep. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes until a cake tester gently inserted into the middle, all the way to the bottom, comes out just barely clean and dry. Test very carefully several times to be sure. There will be a thin crust on top; the middle of the cake will be soft. DO NOT OVERBAKE.
Turn the heat off and open the oven door a few inches; let cool that way for 20 minutes. Then open the oven door all the way and let the cake stand for about an hour until cooled to room temperature. Remove the cake pan from the water and dry the pan. Cover the cake with a flat serving plate or board. Turn over the plate and the cake pan; remove the pan and the foil. Serve the cake upside down.
The cake may be served as it is, but is best with a spoonful of spoonful of softly whipped cream (sweetened with a touch of powdered sugar and vanilla). Add with a spoonful of fresh raspberries or strawberries.