Monthly Archives: February 2011

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


Filed under All Recipe Posts, Cakes, Chocolate, Special Diet

Kiss Kiss Cake

So Valentine’s Day … it’s an excuse to bake something, isn’t it?    This is something a little different to the usual chocolate cakes, pink icing and such.  I’ve been itching to make something with chestnut purée for a while now.   This wasn’t really what I had in mind but I also have a heart-shaped frame, purchased many years ago, that I have never used.   And Valentine’s Day is fast approaching yet again.  So I made a two tiered heart-shaped cake.  I used the chestnut purée in two ways: to make chestnut cake layers and in a chestnut cream for the top of the cake.  In between the chestnut cake layers I sandwiched an orange bavarois with Grand Marnier and studded with fresh raspberries and a light layer of raspberry preserves.

This recipe calls for unsweetened chestnut purée because that just happens to be what I purchased.  I really like it as it allows you to control the sweetness in anything you make.  However, if you prefer sweetened chestnut purée, you might like to reduce the amount of sugar for the cake and chestnut cream to avoid it becoming sickly sweet.

All up, it turned out really well.  If I sound surprised, well, I am … I’ve not made this cake before and I was a little nervous my great idea might not be so great after all.  Creating a recipe is a lot like composing music.  So I was pretty happy that the final result got some good reviews.  Win!   The flavours are light and fresh and adding the raspberries to the filling looks lovely when the cake is cut and adds an extra zing! to the bavarois.  The chestnut cake layers turned out to be a lot like a chestnut brownie, perfect.  Chestnuts, orange and raspberry with a mix of textures.  Not bad.  I planned to leave out the chestnut cream and just dust the top with cocoa and a few more raspberries.  It definitely would have looked more elegant, more chic.  I would have like it.  In deference to the main recipient of this cake, who has a love of all things made of cream, I piped chestnut cream over the top instead.  Looks a lot more twee to me, but apparently the chestnut cream “looks like kisses” and “really makes the cake”, so what do I know ;-).  The chestnut cream is pretty good though.

For the cake layers, I used:

1 x 16cm x 17cm heart-shaped frame
1 x 6.5cm x 8cm heart-shaped cookie cutter

As a guide, the dimensions are as follows:

You don’t have to make this in a heart-shaped mold.  A round mold of about 18cm would work just as well with a smaller top tier of 6 – 7cm.

Serves 2 – 4

Chestnut Cake
200 grams sugar
100 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or seeds from 1 vanilla bean
300 grams chestnut purée (unsweetened)
3 eggs
15 grams cocoa (for colour)
100 grams plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Orange Bavarois
2 egg yolks
10 grams cornflour or plain flour
30 grams sugar
grated zest of 1 large orange
250 millilitres milk
200 millilitres cream
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier liqueur
4 grams gelatine leaves

Chestnut Cream
140 grams chestnut purée (unsweetened)
30 grams icing sugar
200 millilitres cream
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or seeds from 1 vanilla bean

raspberry preserves
150 grams fresh raspberries
unsweetened cocoa, for dusting

Chestnut Cake
Preheat the oven to 180ºC (conventional) or 175ºC (fan-forced).

Combine the sugar, butter, and vanilla in a large bowl and beat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is light.  Add the chestnut purée and beat until fully incorporated and the mixture is smooth.  Add the eggs and beat again.  Sift together the cocoa,  flour and baking powder.  Add to the mixture and beat on low-speed until the batter is smooth.  Spread the batter on to a silpat sheet, or double-lined baking tray, in a rectangle measuring 36cm x 26 cm.  Smooth the top and sides.

Bake the chestnut cake for about 12 – 15 minutes until cooked through.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool before cutting.  Using the heart-shaped molds, cut out two large hearts and two small hearts.  I found I got an extra two small hearts as well (bonus).  The remaining “off-cuts” are also good to eat as is, or to use for an impromptu dessert (with cream at our house 😦 … but I digress).

Orange Bavarois
Whisk together the egg yolks, flour, sugar, and orange zest in a bowl.  Place the milk into a saucepan and heat until it starts to simmer around the edges.  Add the milk to the egg yolk mixture, whisking as you do so.  Return the pastry cream mixture to the saucepan, over a low heat, and stir until it starts to thicken and coats the back of a spoon.  Do not allow to boil.  Remove from the heat.  Pour into a clean bowl and allow to cool.  You can accelerate the cooling process by placing the bowl over ice and stirring the pastry cream and then placing in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Place the cream and Grand Marnier into a bowl and whisk until thickened.  Fold into the cooled pastry cream.

Soften the gelatine leaves in cold water.  Drain and squeeze the excess water from the gelatine.  Place in a large bowl over hot water to melt the gelatine completely, stirring it.  Once melted, remove from the heat and allow to cool.  When cool add the pastry cream mixture to the gelatine and stir gently until combined.

To make sure that the bavarois holds its shape as it sets, I assembled the cake layers in the original heart-shaped mold, on a lined baking tray.  So that the bavarois didn’t stick to the sides of the mold, I used a strip of acetate to line it.  The acetate strip will peel away easily from the cake, leaving a perfect finish and no drag marks.  Line both the large and small molds with a strip of acetate as shown.  Place a chestnut cake layer into each.

Spread a thin layer of raspberry preserves on the bottom cake layers.  You will need about a tablespoon of preserves.   Divide and pour the bavarois cream into each mold.  Reserve the three best raspberries for decoration and set aside.  Press fresh raspberries into the cream, dotted evenly across the cake, for each tier.  Cover with a second layer of the chestnut cake.  Gently and evenly press the top cake layer to make sure that there are no gaps between it and the bavarois filling.  Cover and refrigerate until set.

Chestnut Cream
Beat the chestnut purée, sugar, and vanilla in a bowl until smooth.  Add the cream and gently whisk until thickened.

When the bavarois is set, remove the cakes tiers from the refrigerator.  Gently remove the metal molds from the cakes, holding the acetate lining in place.  Once removed you can peel away the acetate.

Gently place the large tier on to a serving plate.  Carefully lift and place the second tier on top of the large tier lined up to be in the centre.  Dust the top-tier with sifted cocoa.  You will need about a heaped teaspoon.

Fill a piping bag fitted with a decorative tip with the chestnut cream and pipe the cream on top of the large tier, surrounding the top-tier completely.  Arrange the reserved raspberries on top.

If, like me, you prefer a minimalist approach, you can omit the chestnut cream and simply sift cocoa over the top and decorate with extra raspberries.  Might be worth making the chestnut cream to serve on the side though … it’s actually quite good!

This is what it looks like from the side:

Serve immediately or keep refrigerated until ready to serve.  This cake keeps for a couple of days in the fridge but is best decorated on the day it is to be served.


Filed under All Recipe Posts, Cakes, Chocolate, Fruit, Nuts

Date & Walnut Bliss Bombs

I keep calling healthy snacks “bombs”.  Not sure what that’s about, but these little bliss balls are packed full of yummy fruity nutty chocky goodness.  Guaranteed to give you a burst of energy.  Ahhh … burst of energy, bombs. I get it now 🙂

Best of all, they take almost no time to make, need no baking, and taste sensational.  A great mid-morning or afternoon treat, after a workout, before a workout, whatever.  They’re great for kids too as they pack a lot of energy but don’t contain refined sugars or any nasties.  They’re not too high in calories either.  What a bonus.  That’s what puts the bliss into these little bombs.

Bliss bombs are a good everyday treat, but they also make elegant petit fours to serve with coffee.  Their sweetness comes mainly from the dates, so they are not at all cloying.

You can use orange juice instead of the orange flower water if you prefer but the orange flower water gives them a lovely middle-eastern touch.  If you don’t like coconut, toss them in a little cocoa instead.  If they’re not sweet enough for you, add a tablespoon of orange blossom honey or maple syrup.  I will not be offended, promise. 😀

This time around I used Willie’s Supreme Cacao Peruvian Black, a lovely single origin 100% cacao chocolate with a fruity tang.  It’s getting easier to find 100% cacao, especially in specialty shops, but also in health food stores.  A number of organic varieties are available that would be great.  If you’re not sure, a few that I would recommend include:  Michel Cluizel Noir Infini 99%, Giraudi 100%, Willie’s Supreme Cacao 100%, and Pacari Organic Raw Chocolate 100% Bar.  If you cannot find it, or it’s too daunting, use a good quality 85% bar (Lindt Excellence is OK).

You can add in a little flaxseed or sunflower seeds if you like, for added goodness.  I prefer them simple.

Go ahead. Enjoy and feel virtuous.

Makes 20 – 24 (depends on your idea of sizing)

80 grams walnut meat or dry roasted almonds
10 dates, pitted
20 grams 100% cacao couverture (or raw chocolate)
30 grams protein powder (vanilla)
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste
2 tablespoons orange flower water

heaped 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut, for coating

Grate or chop the chocolate finely.

Place all the ingredients, except the coconut, into the bowl of a food processor and process until it comes together in a ball.  The mixture should not contain large pieces of nuts or dates at this point.

Form the mixture into small-walnut sized balls and toss in the coconut until coated.


They keep for about a week or more if stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.  Allow to come to room temperature before serving.

Nutritional Profile
As usual for my Healthy Zone recipes, I’ve include a nutritional profile.  Values are based on the recipe using walnuts and unsweetened 100% cacao chocolate.  If you use almonds or a sweetened chocolate, the values will vary somewhat.


Filed under All Recipe Posts, Chocolate, Confectionery, Fruit, Nuts, Protein Chocolates, Special Diet