I have a confession to make. You may find it shocking, but here it is:
I don’t crave chocolate.
I know. Unthinkable. Some of you probably just closed this window, never to return. At least allow me to explain the genetics that gave rise to this deficiency.
Growing up, my father was surrounded by chocolate fanatics: his siblings, his parents, every relative within a 50-mile radius. When it came to dessert, my grandmother’s attitude was, “If it’s not chocolate, why bother?” It could be chocolate-flavored dust and she wouldn’t care; it was chocolate.
And yet when presented with the choice of, say, chocolate or vanilla ice cream, my father would unfailingly choose vanilla.
My grandparents were baffled. How could this be? What kind of strange creature had they brought into the world? Sure, he was a straight-A student and destined to become a doctor, but then there was…this. My father, the vanilla sheep of the family.
And then one day he met my mother, who inexplicably also favored vanilla over chocolate.
“Imagine that,” my grandmother would tell her friends. “He found someone out there just like him!”
So I’m working with a stacked deck here. Don’t get me wrong: I love chocolaty things. Nothing beats a thick, moist slice of chocolate cake or warm, gooey brownies. And clearly I have a thing for chocolate pudding.
But sit me in a restaurant and throw a dessert menu in front of me, and nine times out of 10 I will make a non-chocolate choice. I really, really like chocolate; I just don’t crave it.
I do realize, however, that I’m in the minority on this one and that some people hold fast to my grandmother’s “if-it’s-not-chocolate-why-bother” mantra. So when my boyfriend and I had friends over this Friday, I decided to succumb to popular demand and make a chocolate dessert — a notable concession, since I had just made chocolate pudding the week before, which would do me on the chocolate front for a while.
I decided to go with the Kate Zuckerman’s Chocolate Bête Noire, a flourless chocolate cake that is one of the most intense chocolate desserts out there (they don’t call it the “black beast” for nothing). I guess I figure go big or go home.
This recipe is perfect for a dinner party because the batter can be made up to three days in advance and thrown into the oven just before your guests come. The result is a slightly warm, dense and creamy explosion of chocolate flavor, made more complex by the addition of a vanilla bean (adding stock to my belief that the addition of a vanilla bean will make anything taste better).
The chocolate lovers groaned with delight. I must admit, although I tend to find flourless chocolate cakes overwhelmingly rich, this one went down easy — maybe a little too easy, given the second slice I cut for myself and a few others…
My grandmother would unquestionably give this dessert her stamp of approval — and possibly a standing ovation. But always my father’s daughter, I couldn’t help myself: I served it with a fat scoop of homemade vanilla ice cream. Genetics be damned.
Chocolate Bête Noir
Adapted from Kate Zuckerman’s The Sweet Life
½ vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup sugar
9 oz. dark bittersweet chocolate (65-70% cocoa solids – the best you can afford)
3 eggs, at room temperature
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease an 8-inch springform pan and coat it with sugar, tapping out the excess.
Cut down the center of the vanilla bean and scrap the seeds into a saucepan. Toss the pod into the pan and add ½ cup of water and the sugar. Bring to a boil over medium- high heat. Once the mixture has come to a boil, remove the pan from the heat (do not let it color). Let the syrup rest for 10 minutes, then remove the vanilla bean (if you’re using vanilla extract, just boil the water and sugar; you will add the vanilla extract later).
Chop the chocolate into ½-inch pieces and place in a medium bowl. Pour about half of the hot syrup over the chocolate and begin whisking the mixture gently. Add the remaining vanilla syrup and whisk until you have a shiny, thick chocolate sauce, about 2 minutes.
(Kate notes that the chocolate will seize a bit when you first add the syrup, but as you add more of the syrup the cocoa particles and sugar will dissolve, making the mixture smooth again.)
Add the eggs and yolk one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in the salt – and the vanilla extract, if you didn’t use a vanilla bean. Add the butter, one tablespoon at a time, whisking until all the butter is incorporated and the batter is shiny and somewhat viscous.
At this point, you can proceed with baking the cake, or you can refrigerate the batter for up to 3 days. If you refrigerate the batter, you will need to let it sit out until it comes to room temperature (this will take anywhere from 1-2 hours).
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and even out the surface with a spatula. Bake until the center of the cake is set and the top has cracked and developed a glossy, thin crust, 45-60 minutes. If the center seems jiggly, bake for another 10 minutes or so.
Remove from the oven and cool for 1 hour before serving. Serve with whipped cream, crème fraiche or – my choice – Dorie Greenspan’s homemade vanilla ice cream.
Yield: ~8 servings