Pink Peppercorn Encrusted Flourless Chocolate Cake
Dave and I spent an entire weekend trying to make this cake, and we utterly failed at life at least twice during that time. On our first attempt, we undercooked it, and then we tried to remove it from the pan before giving it a chance to fully cool. Unsurprisingly, it oozed all over the plate and we had to scrape it into a bowl to rescue what we could. It made for a fantastic mousse, though.
On our second attempt, the cake hit the floor on its way to the fridge. Simple as that. The stress of apartment hunting must really be getting to us, because we’re usually ept enough in the kitchen.
The third time, we slightly overcooked the cake out of sheer anxiety, so it came out a bit too dense and dry. Still, the concept is sound and the flavor was right. As one taste-tester described it, eating this cake is like eating loam, but in a good way. The pink peppercorns add a mustiness that tempers the sweetness of the chocolate. It is the rich earthiness of lush garden dirt in the form of a schnazzy-looking, seriously chocolate-laden cake.
Pink Peppercorn Encrusted Flourless Chocolate Cake
1/2 C water
1 C sugar
1 tbsp instant coffee (optional)
12 oz chocolate, chopped
1 C butter, chopped
6 large eggs
1/3 C granulated sugar
Ganache (1 C heavy cream plus 5 oz. chocolate)
1/2 C crushed pink peppercorns
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Take your eggs out of the refrigerator so that they will be at room temperature once you are ready for them.
Butter the sides of a 9″ springform pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Cover the outside of the pan (underneath and along the sides) with foil and set it in a larger roasting pan. Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil.
Cook the water and 1 C sugar until boiling and fully combined, then remove from heat. Add the coffee, if you’re using it, and the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is smooth, then add the butter and stir until it is melted.
While the chocolate mixture is cooling, beat the eggs together with 1/3 C sugar for fifteen minutes or so. The egg froth should double or triple in size, and just about fill your mixer bowl completely. Carefully fold the chocolate mixture into the eggs, and pour the batter into the springform pan you prepared earlier.
Pour boiling water into the roasting pan in which you have the foil-covered springform pan filled with batter. You want the water to reach about halfway up the sides of the springform pan.
Bake for 35 minutes. Feel free to test for doneness, but given how prone this cake is to overcooking, I wouldn’t leave it in for much longer than that, clean toothpick or no clean toothpick. Take the springform pan out of the water, foil and all, and place it on a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Once it has cooled down that much, remove the foil, cover the pan, and leave it in the fridge to continue chilling overnight (or at least for a few hours, until it seems to have solidified).
In the meantime, crush your peppercorns. I am very emotionally attached to my mortar and pestle, which I inherited from my great-aunt, a chiropracter who always reminded me a bit of Dorothy Parker. Unfortunately, they’re just too small and light to really be of any use. Your mortar and pestle may work fine for this, but I crushed my peppercorns by spilling them out over the marble countertop and pressing the heavy handle of my ice cream scoop against them. This way, they ended up flattened but mostly whole, and looked as if they were blooming. Once your peppercorns are crushed, set them aside.
Shortly before you remove the cake from the fridge, prepare your ganache. Cut the chocolate into small pieces and place them in a bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan until it is steaming hot, then pour it over the chocolate and stir until all the chocolate has melted is fully blended with the cream. Let it cool until it is just barely thick enough to spread.
Once the cake is cooled and solid, invert it onto a cake platter and carefully peel off the parchment paper. In order to keep the cake platter clean while you decorate the cake, cut short, wide strips of parchment paper and line the platter around the cake, sliding them partially under the cake to catch any drippings. Coat the cake in a thin layer of ganache. (You will have plenty of spare ganache to play with once you’re done. I recommend flavoring it and using it to fill molded truffles. Nothing beats of a good collection of cassis and chai ganache truffle, after all.)
Now is the time to add the peppercorns, while the ganache is still warm and sticky. Sprinkle them on, throw them at the sides, do whatever it takes. When you’re done, carefully slide the parchment paper strips out from under the cake and off the platter. Try to ignore people who suggest that the real conundrum here is the way the peppercorns make them want to sneeze, while the thought of losing the chocolate makes them have to resist the urge. I’ll be honest, this is not to everyone’s taste. But it is to mine.