Monday, September 5, 2011

La Bête Noire

I am very lucky to work with people I really like.  Some of us have worked together for a long time.  And we still like each other!  The Ex-Ex and I were invited to dinner at the home of one such couple this weekend.  Our first date, back in 1981, was actually to this friend's 30th birthday.  We had fun laughing about that.   It was a very nice evening to sit in the backyard, sip rosé from my favorite vigneron, Alain de Welle, and chat.
(Oui, I took my box of rosé, my BIB of Alain's wine, to share with my friends.)

Dinner was delicious.  We started with bruschetta with a tomato-basil salsa, hard-boiled eggs with fresh dill, and olives.  The main course was pasta, sautéed vegetables, and grilled sausages with freshly made basil pesto.
It was simple, but so good.
And I brought dessert.  After pouring through several cookbooks, I decided to make a Flourless Chocolate Cake from Williams-Sonoma's Essentials of French Cooking.  This book was a Christmas gift from college-son.  The recipe comes from the Aquitaine region of southwest France and is called  bête noire or black beast.  That must be because it is so chocolatey.  Not difficult to make and very impressive to look at. 

I served it with Crème Anglaise.  But you could also use whipped cream.  There are two pieces left...  I am going to try to forget they are there and hope that the Ex-Ex beats me to them.

Flourless Chocolate Cake

makes 12-16 servings, depending on how large you cut the slices

1/2 c. (4 oz / 125 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for buttering the pan
1 c. (8 oz / 250 g) granulated sugar
8 oz. (250 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
8 oz. (250 g) semisweet (plain) chocolate, chopped
6 large eggs, at room temperature
Hot water
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Crème Anglaise or freshly whipped cream, optional
Raspberries, optional

Preheat the oven to 350˚F (180˚C).  Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit the bottom of a 9-inch (23-cm) round cake pan.  Generously butter the pan and parchment circle.  Place the parchment in the pan.

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine 1 cup (8 oz / 250 ml) water and 3/4 cup (6 oz / 185 g) of the sugar and cook, stirring, until the sugar dissolves and a light syrup is formed, about 5 minutes.

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the 1/2 c. butter.  Add the bittersweet and semisweet chocolates and whisk until melted, about 4 minutes.  Whisk in the sugar syrup and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs with the remaining 1/4 cup (2 oz / 65 g) sugar and vanilla until pale yellow, about 3 minutes.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until incorporated.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Place the pan inside a larger baking pan.  Pour hot water into the larger pan until it reaches halfway up the side of the cake pan.

Bake until the center jiggles only slightly when the pan is shaken, 45-50 minutes.  Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool completely.

Run a knife around the edge of the pan, place a parchment or aluminum foil covered plate on top of the cake, and invert them together to unmold the cake.  Carefully peel off the parchment from the cake.  Place another cake plate on top of the cake and invert again.  Discard the parchment.  Loosely cover the cake with aluminum foil or plastic wrap until ready to serve.

To serve, cut the cake into wedges.  Spoon a little Crème Anglaise, if using, on each dessert plate and place a piece of cake on top.  Sprinkle with a few raspberries, if using.  Pass the remaining Crème Anglaise at the table.

Crème Anglaise
makes 1 1/2 cups (12 fl oz / 375 ml)

2 large eggs, plus 2 yolks
1/4 c. (2 oz / 60 g) sugar
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. (16 fl oz / 500 ml) milk, heated to just below boiling

In a large bowl, beat together the eggs and yolks.  Stir in the sugar, salt, and vanilla.  Gradually stir in the hot milk.  Pour into the top of a double boiler over hot (not touching) simmering water and heat until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Remove from the heat and let cool to thicken.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  Use at once, or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Bon appétit, bête noire!

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