The We Should Cocoa challenge, managed by Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog, is a great excuse to make a chocolate treat and to use our creativity. The idea is to make something with chocolate each month. We can use any sort of chocolate or cocoa substance and use any ingredient that we like, but we must include the special ingredient or theme selected by the host. September’s Challenge is hosted by Choclette and the theme is Chocolate Showstopper Cakes.
This challenge was inspired by a show called the Great British Bakeoff. I haven’t seen this show, but I have seen it’s American counterpart which, like the original, features a segment for showstopping desserts. For this challenge, a showstopper cake is defined to be a chocolate cake that is worthy of being the centerpiece of We Should Cocoa’s third anniversary party.
This challenge was perfect timing for me as I just finished taking a couple of online cake decorating classes via Craftsy. One of the classes happened to be Decadent Cakes, taught by Alice Medrich. This online class features three sophisticated chocolate cakes, each more special than the last and all chocolate. Because it’s been around 90F this week, I went with simplest cake from the class, the Queen of Sheba chocolate torte, as I didn’t think I could adequately handle fancy chocolate work in this weather. This cake can also be found in Alice Medrich’s book Bittersweet but the class includes a lot of tips and information that aren’t included in the written recipe.
The Queen of Sheba is really a single layer (nearly flour-less) chocolate almond cake and it’s covered with a beautiful and very shiny chocolate glaze which is marbled with milk and white chocolate. If you make it right, the glaze stays shiny even after it has set. It was fairly easy to make, but certainly elegant enough for a party. It isn’t strictly necessary to take a class to make this cake, but I highly recommend it as Alice Medrich is a wonderful teacher and the class was filled with all kinds of helpful tips about baking and working with chocolate. In addition to being beautiful, the cake is moist, rich and addictive. It’s dark and fudgy like a brownie, but lighter in texture, and the bittersweet chocolate flavor really comes through with a hint of almond as well.
The cake itself is made by mixing butter, melted chocolate, ground almonds, sugar, a bit of flour and egg yolks together into a batter. The batter is then lightened with whipped egg whites and baked in an ungreased pan. Like a souffle, this cake rises very high and then falls as it cools. If desired, the cake can be cooled and served at this point with a simple dusting of powdered sugar. However, this was to be a showstopper dessert, so I continued on with the glaze. Because the top is very crumbly, the cooled cake is flipped over and the smooth side is coated with a crumb coat. To finish, the cake is covered with a beautiful glaze that stays very shiny even when set. While the glaze is still wet, milk and white chocolate are drizzled over the top and a skewer is used to move through the glaze to create a marbled pattern. For extra decoration, toasted almonds are pressed into the cake around the bottom. The cake is best served the day it’s made and is served at room temperature.
- For the cake:
- 6 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
- 10 Tbsp (5 oz) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 2 or 3 drops almond extract
- ⅛ tsp. salt
- ½ cup (2.5 oz) whole almonds
- 2 Tbsp (.56 ounces) unbleached, all purpose flour
- 4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
- ¾ (5.25 oz) cup granulated sugar, divided
- ⅛ tsp. cream of tartar
- For the Glaze:
- 6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into pieces
- 8 Tbsp. (4 oz) unsalted butter, coarsely chopped
- 1 Tbsp. honey
- 1 ounce white chocolate
- 1 ounce milk chocolate
- ⅓ cup (1 ounce) lightly toasted sliced almonds
- To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 375F. Line an 8 inch spring-form cake pan with parchment paper. Leave the pan ungreased.
- Melt the chocolate and butter together over a water bath or in the microwave using medium power. Stir occasionally until nearly melted. Remove from the heat and stir gently until smooth. Stir in the almond extract and salt. Set aside.
- Pulse the almonds and flour together in a food processor until the mixture has the texture of cornmeal. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with ½ cup of the sugar until well blended. Set aside.
- In a clean, dry bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tarter at medium until soft peaks form. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, beating on high, until the peaks are stiff but not dry.
- Sprinkle the nut mixture over the chocolate mixture and scoop about ¼ of the egg whites on top. Fold with a large rubber spatula until partially blended.
- Scrape the remaining egg whites into the bowl and fold them in.
- Turn the batter into the cake pan and tilt it to level the batter.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center is moist and gooey and a toothpick 1½ inches from the edge is almost clean.
- Let the cake cool completely in the pan on a rack.
- Level the cake before removing it from the pan by running a spatula around the edges to loosen the cake and then gently pressing down the raised edges until they are flat on the top of the cake. Place a cardboard circle the size of the cake down on top of it. Release the sides of the pan and invert the cake so that the top becomes the bottom. Press gently to level the cake if necessary.
- Wrap well and store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
- To make the glaze, melt the chocolate, butter and honey together over a water bath. Stir frequently but not vigorously.
- Remove the glaze from the water bath and set it aside to cool until it's the consistency of easily spreadable frosting.
- Move ¼ of the cooled glaze to a separate bowl and use this to crumb-coat the cake.
- Put the cake in the fridge for 10 minutes and no more to set the crumb coat.
- Rewarm the glaze until it is fluid. Gently melt the milk chocolate and the white chocolate in small bowls in a water bath over very low heat until they are fluid.
- Gently stir the glaze and check the temperature. When the glaze is 90F, pour all of the glaze onto the center of the cake. With a long spatula, use just 2 or 3 strokes to spread the glaze over the top of the cake so that it runs down over the sides. If there are any bare spots on the sides, use the spatula to scoop up extra glaze and touch it to the sides to cover it.
- Immediately, while the glaze is still fluid, drizzle white and milk chocolate over the top in a scribble. With a skewer, gently drag through the glaze to create a marbled pattern.
- Using a wide spatula, slide it under the cake and move it to a rack to dry, at room temperature, for about 10 minutes, until the glaze is slightly set.
- Press toasted nuts against the sides before the glaze is completely set. Move the cake to a serving platter and let it set up completely.
- Store and serve at room temperature.