Le 400 … THE Chocolate Cake

This cake is so super it should have a big fat S insignia on its chest.  If it had a chest.  Which is doesn’t.  Maybe a cape?  It’s not just super.  It’s also serious.  Seriously ALL.  ABOUT.  THE.  CHOCOLATE.

Why Le 400? It packs around 400 calories per serve, and that’s when the servings are on the small side.  Stingy you might say.  Ungenerous portions.  It’s not for the faint of heart or anyone who is arterially challenged.  Keep your medications close by if it makes you skittish.

I’ve been making this cake for … at least a decade … more accurately, around two of them.  Naming this cake has always been difficult.  It has had so many names over the years.  It’s invariably been known as Viviane’s Chocolate Cake, The Chocolate Cake, My Dad’s Birthday Cake (I make it every year for his birthday), La Stupenda (i.e. the cake of the century), and the list goes on …

One thing is for certain.  It’s my ultimate all time favourite chocolate cake, a rich flourless chocolate mousse-ganache wonder.  I love many chocolate cakes .. but this is the only one I need.

I make it when something special is called for, or when I want to impress but don’t have time to make layered extravaganzas.   It’s always my father’s birthday cake, every year.  I used to make it for a café in Melbourne some years ago and it remained a staple on the menu while other cakes came, went, and were forgotten.  Yes, it’s that good.  No, it’s better than that.  It has greatness written all over it.

If you truly love chocolate, you will love and adore this.  I promise.

Best of all, it is simple to make.  Elaborate decorations are optional.  Gilding is seriously not required.

I’ve been so excited to make it again.  My father’s birthday this weekend.  Yay!  *Jumps up and down and claps hands*

See how much I love this cake?

Stop pfaffing around and get to the recipe?  OK …

Enjoy with abandon.  Swoon in chocolate ecstasy.

I have included ingredients for both sizes as 24cm / 20cm below.

Serves: 16 – 20 (24cm cake) / 10 – 12 (20cm cake)

600 / 400 grams Valrhona couverture* (see note below)
9 / 6  large eggs
165 / 110  grams dark brown sugar
1.5 / 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
450 / 300 millilitres heavy cream (minimum 50% milk fat)
3 / 2 tablespoons flavouring* (refer Variations below)

unsweetened cocoa, for dusting

* I used Triple Sec liqueur and the grated zest of one orange in this instance.  The orange flavour was just strong enough to feel subtle but present.  I also used a 50/50 combination of the Valrhona Araguani and Tropilia Noir.  I found the latter at Ganache Chocolat a couple of weeks ago.  A winning combination!  *Does Happy Dance*

First of all, some important notes about the ingredients:

  1. Couverture: the chocolate is the feature here so use the best you can find.  I’m always going on about using good quality chocolate and couverture (shut up, Viviane, boring …).   Sure, but with a cake like this, you’ll notice if the chocolate isn’t great.  Won’t be so boring then ;-D   I typically use one of the Valrhona varieties, depending on whether I make it plain or one of the variations listed below.  For plain, I think the Valrhona Araguani or Guanaja are superb but so is the Gran Couva.  At a pinch, Lindt Excellence 70% plain or Callebaut 64% or 70% varieties also produce great results.  Anything wonderful between 60% – 72% cacao will do.  More cacao solids than that will affect the texture and flavour, particularly as the amount of sugar in this recipe is quite low.  If I’m wanting to flavour or pair the cake with berries or other tart fruits, I tend to use Valrhona Manjari or another variety that has a similar tart and slightly acidic finish that goes well with berries and most fruit.
  2. Cream: This recipe calls for a heavy double (or triple) cream.  Look for one that has a minimum of 50% milk fat.  Here in Australia, good choices are Meander Valley or King Island cream.  Any less than this and it simply won’t set properly.  It really won’t.  How do I know?  Take a guess …

Double line the base and sides of a spring-form tin. Make sure you line both the base and sides of the tin as this torte is quite delicate.

Preheat the oven to 175°C (160°C fan forced).

Melt the chocolate over a basin of hot (not boiling) water. When melted and smooth, set aside to cool slightly.

Beat the eggs with the sugar until very thick and light. The mixture should have the consistency of lightly whipped cream. A heavy-duty mixer is handy – with a hand-held it could take 15 – 20 minutes.
Fold the chocolate gently into the egg mixture with a metal whisk or spoon, taking care to not deflate the mixture too much.
Gently hand whisk the cream with the vanilla, and other flavourings.  Do not use an electric mixer or it will turn to butter.  Gently fold the cream into the egg and chocolate mixture.  Pour into the prepared cake tin.
Place the tin into a larger tin with hot water that comes halfway up the sides of the cake tin (to make a bain-marie).
Bake in the oven for about 60 – 75 minutes or until set but still soft in the centre. For the smaller cake, it will take about 60 minutes.   For the larger size, it will take a little longer.  The cake will set further as it cools. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely in the tin on a wire rack.  It will not sink in the middle as most flourless cakes do.

Gently remove from the tin to a serving plate, cover, and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight to set completely.

To Serve
This torte is best cut and served at room temperature.  Remove from the fridge several hours before serving.

Dust liberally with sifted cocoa just before ready to serve.  Cut into small slices with a hot knife (dipped in hot water between cuts).
Serve plain or with a dollop of cream, ice cream, or thick vanilla yoghurt.  Berries and cherries macerated in juice or liqueur go well with this cake, as do mangoes, or other poached seasonal fruit (apricots, peaches).  It’s extremely rich but not too sweet and definitely not heavy or cloying.

My tip would be to serve it plain or with some fresh fruit.  If you must serve something creamy with it, vanilla yoghurt is actually the best option as the cake is quite rich on its own.

You can flavour this cake with whatever you like.  Just make sure you keep any liquid additions to the amounts in the recipe.  Here are some of the most successful variations I’ve tried over the years:

  • Orange flower water or rosewater
  • Spices – cinnamon, nutmeg, a mixture
  • Chilli – start with only a small amount. You want it to have a little bite and warmth but not overpowering
  • Fruit preserves, especially berries
  • Coffee – extract, concentrated espresso
  • Orange zest and juice or liqueur or other citrus
  • Any liqueur you like.  The ones that work best, in my experience, include:
  1. Triple Sec or Grand Marnier with the zest of an orange (my personal fave)
  2. Stroh 80 proof rum (seriously good)
  3. Frangelico or Amaretto
  4. Coffee such as Tia Maria or Kahlua
  5. Creme de Cassis or Framboise

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