Claire Saffitz’s Flourless Chocolate Meringue Cake
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Dessert queen Claire Saffitz may be known for her elaborate pastry creations, but lucky for all of us novice bakers, she has a way of explaining tricky techniques to set you up for success. This flourless chocolate meringue cake (from her new cookbook, What’s for Dessert) will expertly teach you how to make a glossy meringue, with the added benefit of a decadent treat at the end.
“Meringue is a magical mixture of egg whites and sugar that can be used in many ways,” Saffitz writes, “but the first time I learned it could be baked directly on top of a cake was when I saw pastry chef Liz Prueitt’s recipe for Sweet Potato Tea Cake with Meringue. It struck me as an exceptionally smart technique that I wanted to try, and it made sense to employ it in a cake where meringue is already a part of the recipe, like flourless chocolate cake. Not only does it look appealing on top of the cake, it bakes into a light and crispy shell that yields to the rich crumb.”
What’s For Dessert? Copyright © 2022 by Claire Saffitz. Photographs copyright © 2022 by Jenny Huang. Published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Random House.
Neutral oil, for the pan
10 ounces (283g) semisweet chocolate (64 to 70% cacao), coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons (84g) neutral oil, such as grapeseed or avocado
¼ cup (57g) brewed coffee
1½ teaspoons kosher salt, plus a pinch
5 large (250g) eggs, whites and yolks separated, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (200g) sugar, divided
¾ cup (70g) almond flour, sifted if lumpy
1. Arrange an oven rack in the center position and preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with oil, making sure to coat the sides all the way to the rim. Line the bottom with a parchment round and brush with more oil, then set the pan aside.
2. Fill a medium saucepan with about 1 inch of water and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. In a large heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate, oil, coffee and 1½ teaspoons of the salt and set it over the saucepan, taking care that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water (this is called a double boiler). Stir occasionally with a heatproof flexible spatula until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is completely smooth, then remove the bowl from the heat and set aside.
3. Add the egg yolks, vanilla and ¼ cup (50g) of the sugar to the chocolate mixture and vigorously whisk to combine. Whisk in the almond flour until thoroughly combined. It will look broken and separated, which is okay! Add ¼ cup (57g) water and whisk vigorously until the mixture comes back together and looks smooth and glossy. Set the bowl aside.
4. Make the Meringue: In a separate clean, large, non-plastic bowl, with a hand mixer, beat the egg whites and the remaining pinch of salt on medium-low speed until the whites are broken up and frothy, about 20 seconds. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the whites are foamy and opaque, about 30 seconds, then gradually add the remaining ¾ cup (150g) sugar in a slow, steady stream, beating constantly. Once all the sugar is added, increase the speed to high and continue to beat just until you have a dense, glossy meringue that holds a stiff peak on the beaters. Try not to overbeat, or the whites will take on a dry, grainy texture and be difficult to incorporate.
5. Make the Batter: Scoop a heaping cup of the meringue and set it aside for swirling on top of the cake. Scrape about half of the remaining meringue into the bowl with the chocolate mixture and fold gently until just a few streaks remain. Scrape in the rest of the meringue and fold just until you have a light, airy, evenly mixed batter. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, then dollop spoonfuls of the reserved meringue across the entire surface. Use a skewer or toothpick to swirl the meringue into the batter. Swirl a little or a lot; it’s up to you.
6. Bake the cake until the surface is risen and cracked, the meringue is light golden and a skewer or cake tester inserted into the center comes out shiny but clean, 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and place on a wire rack, then immediately run a paring knife or small offset spatula between the very top of the cake and the rim of the pan to loosen any areas that may be stuck (this will help the cake settle evenly as it cools). Cool the cake completely. Cut around the sides again to loosen the cake, then remove the outer ring of the pan.
Make it ahead? Yes. Well wrapped and stored at room temperature, this cake will keep for up to 4 days, but it’s best eaten on the first or second day while the meringue topping is still crispy (it will soften over time).
Make this nut-free? Yes. Although it’s not a common ingredient in most grocery stores, sunflower seed flour is a good nut-free alternative to almond flour.
Use a stand mixer instead of a hand mixer? Yes. Combine the egg whites and salt in a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and proceed with the recipe as written, noting that the meringue will whip faster and be easier to overbeat in the stand mixer.