08 March 2010

River Cafe's Chocolate Almond Cake

Torta Caprese
Chocolate, Almond Cake
When I was in first-year high school, we had an English assignment that had us writing an essay about who we consider our hero and why. I wrote a fairly insipid essay (I don't know if you've heard, but I am a crap writer) about a noble, intelligent guy (identity doesn't matter). I received a dismal score for it, and it was so predictable and forgettable I don't even remember any of the details. Our English teacher was a real motivator, so he had the writers of the highest-scoring essays read them aloud in front of class. My Math seatmate and Science lab partner was one of them, so he was called in front.

Chocolate, Almond Cake
To my surprise, the essay was about me. First year of high school (and being a nerd and a transferee from another school at that) is never easy for any of us. I struggled amidst a sea of strong, assertive personalities and I always felt like I was slipping away, my profile ever lower to avoid ridicule. The boy who wrote my essay -- my friend -- went on to eloquently enumerate every little thing I did: giving him a handmade Christmas present, having the ever-unpopular role of truancy officer, helping people out with Math, and, most notably, always giving people my attention and respect even when they didn't do anything to deserve it.

It's stupefying to think that there's someone out there who notices all the seemingly inconsequential things you do for others, and not only thinks you're great, but actually thinks well enough of you to call you a hero (I cast aside my cynicism for a bit and hope that he didn't write about an unlikely subject just to get a high grade in the essay). But we never made a big deal about it. I was just being his friend. I hope that somehow I haven't let him down, even if most of the time I think I let myself down. The thought that there's even just one person who believes you can do great things and believes in you even when you don't yourself -- it can empower you to do things that you thought you couldn't.


Before anything else, check out:
1. My review for The Dumpling: A Seasonal Guide over at The Gastronomer's Bookshelf.
2. My new tutorial for both Photoshop and Elements users: Making your life easier by automatic processing of multiple files, something all PS/PSE blog users should know. (If you like my new site, consider subscribing to the feed too.)

This is the "Chocolate, Almond Cake" from River Cafe Two Easy. I'm not sure if the ingredients make it a Torta Caprese but it satisfies all the necessary elements. I was a little frightened at the extremely short cooking time and low temperature at first, but my fears were quickly vanquished when I took a bite (though "bite" is too harsh for this meltingly divine dessert) and the voluptuous bittersweetness of the chocolate flooded my mouth. I'd be happy to eat this at any restaurant. And the bonus is, it is extremely easy to make.

I made this when I had heard that one of the heroes of the British restaurant scene, Rose Gray of the River Cafe, had passed away. Whether related to food or not, who is your hero?

Chocolate, Almond Cake from River Cafe Two Easy
This recipe is really forgiving. Don't fret if not all the chocolate/butter is melted or if it's not cold or whatnot. It will come together just fine.
  • 180g (6.3 ounces) 70% Chocolate
  • 180g (13 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 200g (2 cups or 7 ounces) almond meal or blanched almonds, finely ground in a food processor
  • 2 whole eggs, at room temperature
  • 6 egg yolks, at room temperature
  • 4 egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 vanilla pod, split
  • 200g (1 cup) caster sugar
  • 15g (1 tablespoon) caster sugar
  • 60g (11 tablespoons) dutch-processed (alkalized) cocoa powder
  • pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 150°C (300°F or gas mark 2). Spray, line the bottom with parchment, and spray again a 23cm (9-inch) springform pan (they use a plain pan, but I like the extra insurance). Break the chocolate into pieces and cut the butter into cubes. Put both of these into a heatproof bowl and set it over a pot of simmering water (don't let the bottom of the bowl touch the water). Stir until nearly completely melted, then take off the hot water, stir until completely melted, and leave to cool.

In a large bowl, beat together the 2 eggs, 6 egg yolks, and the 200g sugar until combined. Add the ground almonds and cocoa and stir until combined. Scrape the vanilla seeds from the pod, add them to this mixture and stir together. Finally, add the melted chocolate mixture and stir until combined.

In another large bowl, beat the egg whites until frothy. Add the salt and beat until soft peaks are formed. Add the 15g sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed. Fold it in gently into the chocolate mixture (this won't be easy as the latter is so heavy, but don't worry, it won't affect the final product). Pour into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes. Let cool completely then chill overnight covered with cling film. Undo the clip on the springform and just before serving, dust with extra cocoa powder.

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