This is the cake I posted about on the Facebook page. The recipe is based off of the chocolate cake recipe in David Lebovitz’ book The Sweet Life in Paris (the one I gushed about in my travelogues, etc). Actually, based on my Food Network watching and reading other cake recipes, this is the cake recipe that many restaurants sell to you as a “warm chocolate cake” or, depending on how you bake it, a “molten lava cake”.
Basically, this is the cake you pay 10 bucks for in fancy restaurants, and it is absurdly easy, once you understand a few basic cooking concepts. They are: separating eggs, folding, and whisking egg whites. When I first started cooking, I had no idea what separating eggs meant, and consequently – at least once – just added the eggs whole and missed the entire point of the exercise (I separated them from their shells, didn’t I?). And beating egg whites is hard when you don’t know what soft or stiff peaks are. Trust me, though, it’s easy when you see it being done. Or, hopefully, easy when you read about it being done (I’ll dig up some videos of people doing it, too)
Here, I am substituting pure Nutella in place of 70% dark baking chocolate, and cocoa powder for the flour in David’s original recipe (so you can try that and make an insanely chocolate-rich cake if you’d like)
Notes on Technique:
Separating Eggs – This means to get the egg yolks into one bowl, and the egg yolks into another. You can watch this French guy doing it. Basically, you crack an egg in the middle, break it open into two shell halves, and let the whites fall into one bowl while holding the yolk inside the shells. Then, over the bowl, pass the yolk back and forth allowing the remaining whites to fall out. Then slide the yolk into the other bowl. That egg is now separated. Eh, watch the video. It makes more sense when you see it!
Folding – Here is a video first. You generally “fold” beaten egg whites into batter. You do this because simply stirring (like with a fork) egg whites into batter would lose a bunch of the air bubbles that are inside the whites, which is the entire point of beating them in the first place. You fold with a spatula by sliding the flat edge along the inside of the bowl then turn the spatula and cut into the middle of the batter – you use the edge of the spatula to move through the batter at all times, as this will avoid destroying those hard-earned bubbles. This is a method of slowly incorporating the egg whites into a thicker batter. It will take, in this recipe, possibly a few minutes of folding to get a smooth, even-coloured final batter.
Whisking Egg Whites Into Stiff Peaks – The first time I succeeded at this, it felt a bit like I was an apprentice wizard learning my first spell. Whoever figured out egg whites could do this is a genius. Here’s a video of it being done with a stand mixer. I don’t have a stand mixer, so I did this with a handheld whisk. It’s obviously way harder (takes me about 5-10 minutes of hard whisking to get to stiff peaks, instead of 20 seconds or whatever of button holding-down – those bastards) but it’s not impossible. It just takes a bit of patience and understanding that those stiff peaks will come, eventually. When I first tried this years ago, I gave up, convinced that I could not do this with a whisk alone, and had no idea what stiff peaks were anyway – but now I can do it. Another important point is that bringing your eggs to room temperature is key. I’m not sure why, but it is – helps the whites stabilize. In France, they just sell large skids of eggs at room temperature, so it’s not a problem – but back home we keep them chilled. Who knows?
- 250g Nutella (or 70-80% dark chocolate)
- 120g / 0.5 cup / 8 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into half-inch cubes
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder (or white flour)
- pinch of salt
What you will need: small pot for boiling water, a medium-large-sized stove-top-safe glass or metal mixing bowl, another large mixing bowl for the egg whites, a whisk or mixer, spatula, measuring cups and spoons, an oven (duh), maybe a knife and spoon for cutting and spooning butter and Nutella, oven mitts, 8-9 inch circular cake pan, deep-sided baking dish or springform pan (you could bake this in anything, if you really want, but keep in mind different shapes produce different results)
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- Jury rig a double-boiler. Oh, I didn’t warn you about this part, did I? WTF is a double-boiler you ask? This is a double-boiler. Basically it’s a way to melt delicate things without burning them. The science part mentioned on Wikipedia is what I love – because you’re using steam to heat up the chocolate (for eg.) and water turns to steam at exactly 100 C, the steam will always be 100 C unless you pressurize it (which we won’t do) and even heat is key to melting chocolate without burning it (since certain chocolates begin burning above 115 C). Anyway, we’ll make one of these using a small pot, half filled with water, and a stove-safe mixing bowl placed on top of it (leave a crack for steam to vent as the bowl will probably form a seal around the lip of the pot – if your bowl won’t allow you to do this on its own, stick a wooden or metal utensil (like a large wooden spoon) between the bowl and pot. Turn the heat on the burner to medium-high (around 7 maybe)
- While the water is heating up, add the Nutella and butter to the bowl on the double-boiler. When the water starts approaching boiling temperature, this stuff will start melting, but since you don’t have to worry about it burning, you can pretty much leave it alone to take care of itself. So we’ll come back to this later.
- Separate the eggs. See above for notes.
- Pour the egg whites into a large mixing bowl, and add the pinch of salt. Start whisking.
- Beat the egg whites, and while you’re doing so, add (in small increments) half of the sugar.
- Stop beating the egg whites when you’ve got half the sugar into them, and they can form stiff peaks. See above for notes.
- Hey, check your butter and Nutella. Don’t touch the bowl with your bare hand! It may be as hot as steam, which will burn you, fool. Put a mitt on. Then stir (with a fork, sure) the butter and Nutella until it’s completely melted and mixed into an even consistency. Once it’s mixed perfectly, remove the bowl (carefully!) from the double-boiler and put it on your counter top with the rest of your ingredients.
- Add the cocoa powder and the rest of the sugar to the Nutella mix. Stir them in.
- Add the egg yolks to the Nutella mix, but stir the mixture while you pour them in (you need two hands and coordination to do this – or a friend if you are an amputee or using a cellphone, etc) to get the yolks worked into the batter before they start cooking on their own.
- There, now we have a Nutella batter in one bowl, and stiff egg whites in another. Take a small spoonful of egg white and stir it into the Nutella. This will thin the batter a bit.
- Then, with a spatula, take about 1/3 of the egg white mixture and slide it onto the Nutella batter, then fold it together. See above for notes.
- Repeat with the remaining egg whites. Continue folding gently until the batter just barely becomes a uniform colour (brown). We don’t want to over-fold and lose any air bubbles unnecessarily.
- Now we’ve got cake batter. Get your baking dish greased (with butter or non-stick spray) and pour the batter into it.
- Put the dish into the oven, and bake for about 35 minutes, until the center is stiff and just barely dry. Let it cool for about 20 minutes in the dish. During this time, the cake will also sink and get denser. This is a good thing, don’t worry. Oh, it’s so good.
Nutella cake! Now, I have seen, on TV, someone prepare this recipe with exactly the same ingredients (the chocolate version) and instead of baking a full cake, poured smaller amounts of batter into individual mini-cake pans, then baked them for 10-15 minutes at 450 F. This will cook the outside very quickly and leave the inside liquid. This is how molten chocolate cakes are made – by essentially under-baking the cake. They make it look like magic, but it’s not! It’s science! Just be careful when you try to remove a molten cake from the cake pan, so you don’t crack it open prematurely. Enjoy!