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flaky chocolate cake – smitten kitchen

I know we’re in the midst of the nth heatwave of the summer and the idea of eating anything but a bowl of cold cherries or, worse, something that requires you turn your oven on sounds about as unappealing as that curiously empty subway car [that definitely has no a/c or worse] but trust me when I say that someone in your friend group, family, or life has a birthday coming up and they’re hoping that you make them this.

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This is the lightweight, semi-collapsed disc of cognac-kissed dark chocolate I nominate to be your backpocket, arsenal-worthy decadent cake for small but fancy times. It’s been in my rotation for well over a decade — I’ve shared riffs on it in these cupcakes and in the tiny but intense chocolate cake in this book — because while I could never get into those dense, nap-inducing bittersweet chocolate cakes of the early aughts, a few adjustments led me to this dream. Here’s what sets it apart:

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Smaller: I know most normal people don’t have 6-inch cake pans in their cookware larder but I’m going to forever make the argument that you need one. In it, you can halve almost any standard round cake and have exactly the right amount for 4, 6, or even 8 people with a cake this rich. Cakes this size also bake up quickly, essential in summer months. If you’re only buying one, get a springform because its higher sides work for every recipe, including cheesecake.

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Fluffier: Separating eggs and whipping the whites until fluffy only to fold them back into the batter is a drag of an extra step, so please believe me that I wouldn’t recommend it unless it made all the difference. It makes all the difference here, it turns a cake that would otherwise have the density of a truffle into one that lifts off the plate. The souffle-like dome deflates as it cools, leaving a tousle of chocolate flakes that are even more inviting when dusted with powdered sugar.

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Less Chocolate: Hear me out. My biggest a-ha moment when making flourless chocolate cakes was that the more common formula of, say 3 eggs to 3 to 4 ounces of butter and 6 to 8 ounces of chocolate didn’t work for me. This formula uses less so you can keep the dreamy crumb but not the borderline-excessive intensity. It’s going to convert you too.



6 months ago: Cauliflower Salad with Dates and Pistachios
1 year ago: Plum and Cream Scone Cobbler
2 years ago: Deviled Eggs
3 years ago: Pasta with Pesto Genovese
4 years ago: Frozen Watermelon Mojitos
5 years ago: Corn Fritters and Bourbon Peach Smash
6 years ago: Hummus Heaped with Tomatoes and Cucumbers
7 years ago: Corn, Bacon and Parmesan Pasta
8 years ago: Tomato and Fried Provolone Sandwich
9 years ago: Easiest Fridge Dill Pickles and Grilled Peach Splits
10 years ago: One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes and Hot Fudge Sundae Cake
11 years ago: Bacon Corn Hash
12 years ago: Whole Wheat Raspberry Ricotta Scones
13 years ago: Mango Slaw with Cashews and Mint, Thai-Style Chicken Legs, Peach Blueberry Cobbler, and Scalloped Tomatoes with Croutons
14 years ago: Light Brioche Burger Buns, Blueberry Boy Bait, and Lemony Zucchini Goat Cheese Pizza
15 years ago: Chocolate Sorbet
16 years ago: Double Chocolate Layer Cake


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Flaky Chocolate Cake

  • 4 ounces (115 grams) semi or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped or chips
  • 4 tablespoons (55 grams) unsalted butter, diced
  • 1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons cognac or brandy or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • Powdered sugar for dusting
    Prepare your pan: Heat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Line the bottom of a 6-inch springform pan with 2 1/2-to-3-inch sides [I’m using this] with parchment paper and coat the sides lightly with butter or nonstick spray. If you’re worried the springform may be leaky, wrap the outside of the pan tightly with a piece of foil. Place on a baking sheet.

    Make the batter: Melt the chocolate and butter together in a large bowl in a microwave in 30-second bursts, stirring between each, or with the bowl set above a pot of barely simmering water on the stove. Remove from heat and whisk in half the sugar (1/4 cup or 50 grams), the salt, and the cognac. Whisk in the yolks one at a time until smooth.

    In a medium-large bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until thickened like loose whipped cream then gradually add remaining 1/4 cup (50 grams) sugar, beating the whole time, until soft peaks form. Spoon about 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and whisk them in; this lightens the batter. Add remaining egg whites to chocolate mixture, gently folding them in until there are no egg white streaks remaining.

    Bake the cake: Pour into prepared pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the center is domed, only moves slightly when the pan is wiggled, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out batter-free (some gooey crumbs are fine). Transfer to a cooling rack and while you can cool it completely in the pan, I’m convinced you get better flakes on top if you loosen the springform sides when it’s halfway cooled. First run a knife around the sides to loosen the cake anywhere it’s stuck. The cake deflates as it cools and the center will sink slightly.

    To serve and/or make ahead: I prefer this cake fully cold so I transfer it to the fridge to cool the rest of the way, about an hour or two. Dust with powdered sugar and serve in small wedges with cream and berries, if you wish. Cake keeps for a week in the fridge, although this is inconceivable to us, and longer in the freezer.

    Notes / anticipated questions:

  • Can I use a non-springform 6-inch cake pan with shorter (i.e. 2-inch) sides? Yes-and-no. Yes, you can. I tested it several times. But the cake mushrooms over the top of the pan, meaning that while it hasn’t spilled over for me, it still could. But mostly what happens is that the edges of this muffin top become more dry and want to break off the cake, and you don’t get the same nice flaky-topped texture you see here.
  • Is bittersweet (72%-ish) or semisweet (60%-ish) better here? Both work. While I’m not a big fan of super-bitter chocolate cakes, since there’s less chocolate here than most flourless cakes, it can definitely handle more bitter chocolate without making a bitter cake.
  • Can I beat the egg whites by hand? You could! It’s definitely a big arm workout but I believe in you. (Not me, you.)
  • Can I double this? Absolutely. For a bigger cake for bigger celebrations, you can bake it in a 9-inch springform. It should take 35 to 40 minutes.
  • Source note: While it’s not where I started with this recipe [I took a flourless chocolate cake I liked, reduced the chocolate and separated the eggs, as I do here], this cake turns out to share a lower-chocolate, high-lift camaraderie with Richard Sax’s wonderful Chocolate Cloud Cake — consider this a hat tip of appreciation!

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