Devils’ food, German chocolate, molten chocolate — there’s not a style of chocolate cake that I don’t like. I believe that you never need an excuse to make or eat cake! However, I have three reasons to share this deep, dark, flourless chocolate cake wonder with you this particular week. First, there’s the Super Bowl, and you always want to have a great spread on the table to enhance, or sometimes distract from, what’s happening onscreen. This one-layer dessert’s so dense that it will feed a houseful. Valentine’s Day’s the second of my reasons. It’s hard to find a finish for your meal that’s more sensuously silky than this one. Yes, you’ll have leftovers, but the cake stays moist for a few days, and freezes well too. What a fine treat to pull from the freezer when you want a little celebration again.
The third of my reasons for sharing this recipe with you now is that my KTRC radio show, Heating It Up, turns six years old this week. A half-dozen years ago, I was bugging program director and on-air host, Richard Eeds, telling him that the Hutton talk station needed a food-related show. Richard came back with, “When do you want to start?” Thanks to Richard, boss man Scott Hutton, and my supportive audience, here I am, nearly 300 shows later. Surely that calls for cake as well.
I’ve been making versions of this superbly indulgent — and naturally gluten-free — gateau for 40 years. The starting point was a now-forgotten French restaurant’s recipe. Way back then, I was fascinated by a cake without flour, and also by the inclusion of sweetened chestnut purèe, which adds body, richness, and moistness. I made this for my late husband, Bill, just after we started dating, thinking it would dazzle him. Then he told me he didn’t really care much for chocolate. Somehow, we got beyond that stunning admission, especially after I realized it meant more chocolate for me.
I prefer this made with “70% cacao” bittersweet chocolate, but it’s good with semisweet too. Kaune’s Neighborhood Market in Santa Fe carries cans of Hero Chestnut Purée in its baking section. You’ll only need half the can. The remaining purée can be scraped into a covered container or zipper-lock bag and frozen to use for another cake. If you get chestnut purée online or from another source, make sure to get a sweetened variety. A good slug of generic brandy or even French Armagnac balances with the dark chocolate intensity. Enjoy, whether you’re celebrating an occasion or just a random Thursday afternoon.
Cheryl’s Flourless Chocolate Chestnut Cake
Serves 12 or more
1 pound chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
½ cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
½ cup brandy or Armagnac
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, plus additional for greasing the pan
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ 31.7-ounce (900 grams) can sweetened chestnut purée
2 tablespoons cornstarch
¼ cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 large eggs plus 2 large egg yolks
½ pound chopped bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate
3/4 cup whipping cream
2 tablespoons corn syrup
Chopped pistachios or pecan or walnut halves, optional
Softly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, optional
Fresh berries, optional
Preheat the oven to 300 F. Butter a 10-inch springform pan. Cut 1 parchment circle the size of the pan. Line the pan with the parchment and butter the paper.
Prepare the cake. In a heavy saucepan, combine the chocolate, sugar, brandy, butter, and salt. Warm over medium-low heat until the chocolate and butter have mostly melted. Remove from the heat and stir to finish melting. The mixture will be shiny but a touch grainy. Let cool to room temperature.
With an electric mixer, beat the chestnut purée over medium speed to break it into fine pieces. Sprinkle the cornstarch over it and beat until it is incorporated. The mixture will be stiff anemic brown, and unpromising looking. Pour in a few tablespoons of the cream, enough to moisten the mixture and beat again until mixed in. Then add the rest of the cream, vanilla extract, and eggs and yolks, and continue beating about 3 minutes, until fully combined. Stop the mixer as needed to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Stop the mixer again and add the chocolate mixture. Beat again at medium speed until completely smooth. Pour into the prepared pan, smoothing the top.
Bake for 50 minutes. Cover the cake pan with foil and continue baking 25 to 30 minutes until set. The cake may have a few small cracks in the surface, and still be a bit soft. It firms as it cools. Discard foil. Set the pan on a baking rack to cool. Run a knife around the inside of the springform pan and remove the cake from the pan. Peel the parchment layer from bottom, and discard it, and place the cake on a cake stand or serving platter.
Prepare the ganache glaze while the cake cools. Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. In a heavy saucepan, warm the cream and corn syrup just until the mixture simmers. Pour warm cream mixture over the chocolate and whisk lightly to combine. Spoon warm glaze over the cake and spread it evenly with an offset spatula or a knife. Dribble some neatly around the edges, leaving an uneven poured look to the edges, or smoothing it out on the sides, as you prefer. Top with nuts, if you like. Serve in small slices, garnished, if desired, with whipped cream, or berries, or both.
Story and photos by Cheryl Alters Jamison.
Four-time James Beard Foundation Book Award-winning author Cheryl Alters Jamison is the host of Heating It Up on KTRC and is now the “queen of culinary content” for SantaFe.com. Find new stories about the Santa Fe food scene each week on SantaFe.com.