This is one of my go-to dinner party desserts because I almost always have the ingredients on hand: eggs, sugar, chocolate, and butter (plus a shot of flavored liqueur if it suits the mood). It’s a good dessert to make ahead so you don’t have to worry about baking and entertaining guests at the same time. A 9-inch cake will serve a large dinner group (16), or you can make 24 miniature cakes in a cupcake tin for a party or buffet.
Without flour, this cake is gluten-free, but nobody would guess it. The whipped egg whites add a surprising lightness to this decadent dessert, especially in lieu of leavening traditionally found in cake (baking soda, baking powder, etc.). If whipping egg whites or folding them into batter makes you nervous, this is a good cake to practice on. If the eggs aren’t whipped quite right or you totally deflate them while stirring them in, you’ll just have a fudgier cake (which no one will complain about!). The top of the cake gets a nice crust on it that usually cracks in the oven, which I think lends itself to a lovely, rustic presentation.
This one is filed away with my “any season” recipes, but it’s a blank canvas for seasonal garnishes: berries in late spring and summer, cherries or figs in late summer, pumpkin seed brittle or sugared cranberries in the fall, and grapefruit or candied orange peel in the winter. A dollop of freshly whipped cream is always a good way to go, too.
6 large eggs
1 cup sugar
12 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons (3 oz) butter + more for greasing pan
2 tablespoons flavored liqueur or espresso (optional, see note)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9” springform pan or 2 dozen cupcake tins with butter.
In a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt butter and chocolate with flavored liqueur, removing from heat just before all chocolate is melted to avoid overcooking.
Separate egg yolks and whites. With an electric mixer, mix egg yolks and sugar on medium speed until they’re pale yellow and fall off the beater in a ribbon, 2-3 minutes. In a separate, perfectly clean bowl, whip egg whites with a pinch of salt just to soft peaks.
Mix a spoonful of melted chocolate with the egg yolks to temper them (keep them from scrambling), then stir in the rest of the chocolate. Mix in ¼ of the whipped egg whites to loosen up the mixture. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites, careful to retain as much volume as possible and not overmix.
Pour batter into greased pan(s) and gently level with a spatula; cupcake tins should be filled about halfway with batter. Bake full sized cake for 45-50 minutes or until a cake tester comes out with moist crumbs. Bake miniature cakes for 15-18 minutes or until the middles are just set. Cool slightly, then run a knife around the edge of the pan(s) to release the sides. Remove from pan(s) and cool to room temperature on a wire rack.
Serve cake room temperature or chilled with ice cream, whipped cream, a sprinkle of powdered sugar, and/or seasonal fruit.
For the flavored liqueur, I like to use ones like Kahlua, Grand Marnier, Frangelico, or raspberry liqueur. Strong coffee or espresso works as well (I keep instant espresso on hand for recipes like this). You can skip it altogether, too. It doesn’t add a strong flavor, just some added depth to the chocolate. If you want more of the flavor to shine through, consider topping the cake with whipped cream spiked with the same liqueur.
Be sure that the bowl and mixer used to whip the egg whites are perfectly clean because any speck of grease can keep them from whipping properly. Also be sure that no yolks get into the whites; I typically crack eggs into a small bowl in case any yolks break.
The cake can be made a day ahead and stored at room temperature or chilled.