Flourless Chocolate And Roasted Pecan Cake
This really is a glorious, sophisticated sort of a cake and perfect as a no-holds barred dessert for a special dinner. It’s dense, rich and very chocolate-y, yet at the same time dissolves on your tongue as you eat it, leaving a tantalising hint of dark, bitter-sweet warmth – all in all, what I think of as a ‘grown-up’ cake. I don’t always ice it, however, if you want to, just pour some ganache over the top, leave it to set and decorate it with toasted pecan halves, or swathe the top in softly whipped cream and sprinkle it with splinters of roasted pecan or chocolate.
- 250g unsalted butter
- 250g good-quality dark chocolate
- 85g sifted # Dutch-processed cocoa powder
- 200g roasted pecans
- 6 free-range eggs
- 1 1/2 cups (330g) castor sugar
- 1/3 cup (80ml) brandy or cognac
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- Icing sugar, (optional) for dusting or Ganache (see recipe below)
- lightly sweetened double thick cream, to serve
Ganache (shiny chocolate icing)
- 250g good-quality dark chocolate, broken into small chunks
- 125g unsalted butter
- 50ml water
Preheat your oven to 180C. Butter a 23cm springform tin and line the base with buttered baking paper. Dust the tin with flour (or rice flour if you’re avoiding wheat completely), and tap out the excess. Set it aside.
Melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan over low heat. Add the chocolate and whisk it in until it’s melted too. Take the pan off the heat, then add the cocoa, stirring it in until the mixture is thick and smooth. Set it aside to cool a little.
Meanwhile, whiz the pecans in a food processor to chop them as finely as possible. Keep an eye on them as you do this, stopping the machine every so often to check them so they don’t become oily and form a paste. Set them aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar with a balloon whisk until they’re just blended together, then whisk in the warm chocolate mixture until it’s well combined. Mix in the brandy and vanilla extract. Finally, stir in the ground pecans – at this stage the batter looks very loose and sloppy but that’s just how it should be.
Pour the batter into the prepared tin. Pop it in the oven and bake the cake for 40-45 minutes or until the sides are set but the middle 15cm or so of the cake is still a bit wobbly when you gently shake the tin.
Remove it to a wire rack and leave the cake to cool completely in the tin. Once cool, release the sides of the tin and carefully invert the cake onto a plate lined with baking paper. Cover the cake with plastic wrap, and chill it in the fridge, where it keeps well for at least a week.
When you’re ready to eat it, slide the cake off the baking paper onto a serving dish then dust it with icing sugar. Serve it with cream.
# Dutch-processed cocoa. There are a few types of cocoa powder on the market but I nearly always use brands that have been ‘dutch-processed’. This means that the cocoa has gone through a process that removes some of its acidity. It gives the cocoa a softer, smoother flavour, richer colour and it tends to dissolve more easily. This style of ‘dutched’ cocoa is usually available in good delicatessens and specialty food shops.
Ganache (shiny chocolate icing)
Makes about 1 3/4 cups – enough to ice 2 medium-sized cakes
Ganache is lovely stuff and terribly easy to make. There are lots of different versions of it (many use cream rather than butter), but basically whatever recipe you use, you end up with a silky, chocolate glaze that forms a glossy icing when it’s poured over a cake.
Put the chocolate, butter and water into a medium-sized, heavy-based saucepan over low heat. Let the chocolate and butter melt, stirring the mixture frequently, until the ganache is smooth. (I use a small, flat sauce whisk for this, as it gets right into the corners of the pan where the chocolate tends to clump a bit.) The most important thing to keep in mind when you’re making ganache is that it mustn’t get too hot and boil – if it does, it becomes oily and grainy and there’s not much chance of salvaging it, I’m afraid. Once it’s silky smooth, take it off the heat and let it cool until it’s barely warm and of a thick pouring consistency. Pour as much as you need evenly over the cake so it trickles down the sides. Leave the ganache to set
Scrape any leftover ganache into an airtight container, seal it tightly and store it in the fridge. When you’re ready to use it, gently warm it over very low heat, then let it cool to the right consistency. It’s wonderful to have on hand when you want to dress up a cake in a hurry, as all you need do is swoosh some ganache over it and it immediately looks chic and special.
Just a word of advice about setting: ganache sets beautifully most of the time, however, like all chocolate, it’s a bit temperamental in hot, humid weather. This is the norm where I live, so I’ve come up with a few strategies to deal with it.
If it just won’t set and is still sticky I put the ganache-coated cake, uncovered, in the fridge for a short time, so the quick burst of chilled air sets it (it can also dull the sheen if it’s in too long so you need to keep an eye on it.)
I also find I have to store such cakes in the fridge, otherwise the ganache is just too soft and awkward to handle and ends up with my finger prints all over it when I try to move it about. To store it like this, just put the cake, uncovered, in the fridge until the ganache has set, then cover it in plastic wrap. But before serving it, remove the wrap and return the cake to cool room temperature so the ganache regains its sheen.