Sunday, May 11, 2014

The experiment was a failure, but the cake was a success

Butter and chocolate
Butter and chocolate
I decided to make a torta caprese for Mother's Day; my mother-in-law likes chocolate. I've been making this for a number of years, but today decided to try something slightly different. Since it is a cake based on beaten egg whites, I thought I'd vary the recipe I've been using to see if I could get a bit more loft. This is not a lofty cake.

The recipe I've been using calls for chopping up chocolate and almonds in a food processor. Ground together, they form a sort of dark, sandy mix. This is added to egg yolks beaten with sugar, to which melted butter has been added. This is not a lo-cal dessert.

Lately, instead of grinding the almonds, I've been using almond meal. It's a lot easier, and the stuff that comes in a bag is a lot more finely ground than I can do in the food processor. But that left me grinding the chocolate still. This time, I wanted to see if melting the chocolate with the butter would improve the cake any.

Melted butter and chocolate
I measured out my butter (there's a lot of butter in this cake), and then added the broken up bits of chocolate bar. I used the microwave to melt it all. A few 30-second cycles and the everything was melted. I stirred it together. Mmm. Chocolate butter.

I then made the rest of my cake as usual, beating the egg yolks with sugar, adding the butter/chocolate mixture, and then the almond flour. Finally, I folded in the egg white. It looked pretty good in the pan. The question was, would it bake up any higher?

No. The cake was still a big chocolate cookie. I tasted some of the crumbs after transferring it to a serving platter. It's (as always) a very yummy chocolate cookie. No additional loft for melting the chocolate. On the other hand, on a day with lots of things to do, it was nice to not have to wash the food processor. It cuts out a step, so I'll call this cooking experiment a qualified success.

The one other change I made was how I tested the cake. I recently had a cake that perhaps wasn't quite cooked enough. That sent me to the web looking for some more objective measure of when cakes are done. I mean, some of the descriptions of testing for doneness go beyond subjective to the arcane. Expert after expert said, cakes are done at 195°–205°. And that's going to be my new doneness test. No more scrutinizing a toothpick to see what the portents are.

Torta caprese
Torta caprese
Since I've decided to broaden my cooking repertoire (although a torta caprese does not accomplish that), I've been noticing that Julia Child was often hampered by the times. In 1963, she's encouraging people to get shallots, if they can. What? They're not in every supermarket? Many of these recipes were written in the days before the instant-read thermometer, and so you're sliding a knife or a toothpick into something to get a read on its internal temperature. Or you can just measure it.

Torta caprese
(adapted from Gourmet magazine)

1 3/4 sticks (7/8 cup) unsalted butter
6 ounces fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
7 ounces almond meal
4 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar

Garnish: confectioners' sugar, whipped cream

Preheat oven to 350° F. and butter a 10-inch cake pan. Line bottom of pan with a round of wax paper or parchment paper and butter paper.

Melt butter and chocolate. Let cool. Separate eggs.

In a bowl with an electric mixer beat yolks with granulated sugar until very thick and pale and beat in butter mixture and almonds.

In another bowl with cleaned beaters beat whites with a pinch salt until they just hold stiff peaks and whisk one fourth into the batter. Fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly and spread batter evenly in pan.

Bake torte in middle of oven 50 minutes, or until it begins to pull away from side of pan and a tester comes out with moist crumbs adhering, or cake reaches 200°. Cool torte on a rack 5 minutes and invert onto another rack. Discard paper and cool torte completely. Invert torte onto a plate. Torte may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.

Dust torte with confectioners' sugar and serve with whipped cream.

Update:  She loved it and will be taking a piece home.

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