A sophisticated, dark, complex, and almost-flourless chocolate cake. It only has two tablespoons of flour! This “Queen of Sheba” Chocolate Torte has become one of my favorite cakes, and I have requested it on several birthdays. I’m moving to China in a few weeks, and since I won’t have an oven in my kitchen there, I’m reveling in the pleasures of baking right now (quiches, cakes, pizzas, roasted vegetables, etc).
The recipe comes from Alice Medrich’s cookbook called Bittersweet. She is one of the foremost experts on chocolate, and this is a serious and foolproof cake. This is a recipe that she has been honing and improving for about thirty years. Over the years, her recipe has evolved to include darker chocolate, and a little less butter and flour. There are a few extra steps in the process, compared to a regular chocolate cake — like separating your eggs, and grinding some almonds in a food processor — but it is totally worth it. Use whole almonds with the skins still on — when you grind them they will have more flavor than plain blanched almonds. You’ll need an 8-inch spring-form pan.
“Queen of Sheba” Chocolate Torte
6 ounces bittersweet 66% to 70% chocolate, preferable coarsely chopped
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons brandy
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract (optional)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces) unblanched whole almonds
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375F. Unless you are planning to serve the cake on the pan bottom, line the bottom of the springform pan with parchment paper.
Place the chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl, sitting in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until nearly melted. Remove from the heat and stir until melted and smooth. Stir in the brandy and almond extract (if using), and the salt. Set aside.
Meanwhile, pulse the nuts and flour in a food processor until the mixture has the texture of cornmeal. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the sugar until well blended. Stir in the chocolate mixture. Set aside.
In a clean dry bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat at high speed (or medium-high speed in a heavy-duty mixer) until the peaks are stiff but not dry.
Scoop one-quarter of the egg whites, and all of the nut mixture, on top of the chocolate batter, and, using a large rubber spatula, fold them in. Scrape the remaining egg whites onto the batter and fold together. Turn the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it level if necessary.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted about 1 1/2 inches from the edge emerges almost clean, but a toothpick inserted in the center is still moist and gooey. Set the pan on a rack to cool. (The cooled torte can be covered tightly with plastic wrap, or removed from the pan and wrapped well, and stored at room temperature up to 3 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.
To serve, slide a thin knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake. Remove the pan sides and transfer the cake, on the pan bottom, to a platter, or invert the cake onto a rack or tray, remove the paper liner, and invert it back onto a platter. Using a fine-mesh sieve, sift a little powdered sugar over the top of the cake before serving, if desired.