- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2008

I adore Valentine’s Day, when I, a bona fide chocoholic, can indulge in my favorite ingredient without guilt. When February rolls around, I start thinking about what special chocolate confection to prepare for the 14th because even though my husband and I dine out on this day, there is always a homemade chocolate dessert waiting at home.

This year I have decided to make one of those luscious dark-chocolate flourless cakes. I recently saw a recipe in a French cookbook for one that had a slightly different twist. What caught my attention was the fact that the sugar was first caramelized, then diced butter and chopped chocolate were stirred into the hot liquid until they melted.

Next, egg yolks and beaten whites were incorporated before the batter was poured into a pan. I had never prepared this type of cake with caramelized sugar, but I loved the results. Although the taste of caramel is not obvious in the finished creation, the “burnt” sugar definitely adds another layer of flavoring.

This cake can be prepared a day ahead, then brought to room temperature before serving. It is delicious offered with a simple dusting of confectioners’ sugar, but if you want some extra embellishment, you can top each slice with a dollop of softly whipped cream.

My spouse could not resist a slice of this chocolate indulgence as I was testing it and offered these words as he downed his last bite. “If chocolate is the way to a man’s heart, then this cake is in the fast lane.”

Valentine dark chocolate cake

12 tablespoons (1½ sticks) unsalted butter plus extra for buttering the baking pan

8 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate, coarsely chopped (see note)

3/4 cup sugar

2 tablespoons water

4 large eggs, at room temperature

Pinch of salt

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

1 cup whipping or heavy cream, whipped until just firm, optional

Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch round, straight-sided cake pan that is 2 inches deep or an 8-inch round springform pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment cut to fit and butter the parchment.

Cut the 12 tablespoons butter into half-inch dice and coarsely chop the chocolate. Set both aside.

Place the sugar and water in a heavy, medium saucepan set over medium heat. Stir with a wooden spoon, scraping the sides and the bottom of the pan well until all of the sugar is dissolved. Then bring mixture to a boil, and boil without stirring until mixture turns a rich amber color and is caramelized, 5 to 6 minutes.

Remove the caramel mixture from the heat and add the butter, stirring until it melts and mixture is smooth. Then add the chocolate and stir until melted and mixture is smooth once again. (If necessary, place the saucepan back on low heat and stir until smooth.) Cool chocolate mixture 6 minutes.

Separate the eggs and whisk the yolks, 1 at a time, until well blended, into the chocolate mixture. With an electric mixer on high speed, beat the whites with a pinch of salt in a medium bowl just until soft peaks form. Fold the whites in 3 additions into the chocolate mixture. Then pour the chocolate batter into the prepared pan and level the top with a spatula.

Bake until the top of the cake is firm and crisp and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Remove cake from the oven and cool in the pan on a rack to room temperature.

To unmold, run a small knife around sides of pan to loosen cake (and remove sides if using a springform pan). Place a serving plate over the top of the pan (or the cake) and invert. Remove and discard parchment paper. You can serve the cake at room temperature or chill it 3 to 4 hours. (Cake can be prepared 1 day ahead; cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 45 minutes before serving.)

To serve, dust the top of the cake with confectioners’ sugar. If you like, cut out a paper heart and center it on the top of the cake before dusting with sugar. If desired, serve each slice with some whipped cream. Makes 8 servings.

Note: Bittersweet chocolate and dark chocolate that is 70 percent cacao work well in this recipe.

Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author of “The Big Book of Backyard Cooking” (Chronicle Books).


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