If you’ve got some great chocolate in the pantry and some eggs in the fridge, get your whisk ready, because this flourless chocolate cake recipe does it all. Rich and indulgent, it’s been a classic way to end many a restaurant dinner for generations.
But this air-lightened, egg-whitened flourless chocolate cake is also a deceptively easy dessert that solves dinner conundrums and suits nearly everyone.
What Makes the Best Flourless Chocolate Cake?
Designed without even a pinch of flour, this cake serves two purposes (aside from being swoon-worthy), and the first is in the service of chocolate.
The Chocolate Can Sing!
Sans flour, the chocolate flavor is expansive and has room to sing. The intense flavor of chocolate unencumbered by flour makes this cake paradoxically lighter and richer than most chocolate cakes.
It’s Truly Flourless (and Gluten-Free)
More impressive is this cake’s versatility. It is the answer for entertaining folks with different food lifestyles and needs. Believe it or not, not all “flourless” chocolate cakes are truly flour-free; some include a tablespoon or two of flour. Not this one. Need a dessert for Passover? Something gluten-free? Something without white flour? Here’s the recipe for you.
What You Need for Absolutely Successful FCC
Flourless chocolate cake (aka FCC) needs intense chocolate flavor and a balance of dense and light textures; and of course, you have to actually be able to make the darn thing work.
Here are the tricks you need in your toolbox for cake success: Top-of-the-line ingredients, a mad amount of egg whites, and a few techniques to get maximum volume and lift.
3 Tips on Choosing the Best Cocoa Powder
Cocoa powder is a rather mysterious baking ingredient for something used so often. Yes, it’s a dry ingredient, but it’s not quite flour, not quite starch, and not quite chocolate. It is what it is: dried roasted cocoa bean powder. Even in this recipe it is not a flour substitute. It does absorb some moisture, but it’s mostly here for the flavor. It adds an underlying bitterness that defines the ferociously addictive taste of chocolate and highlights the sweetness of sugar.
Here are three pieces of advice for choosing the best cocoa powder for your cake.
- Spring for the good stuff: There are a few recipes that absolutely require the very best ingredients. This is one of them. It’s pretty simple. There really aren’t too many other ingredients, so it’s all about the chocolate. Go best or go home.
- Dutch vs. natural: Cocoa powder is primarily available in two options: natural cocoa powder or Dutch process (alkalized). Alkalized means that it has been processed to neutralize the natural acidity of the cocoa. There are variations by brand as well, but that is usually a matter of taste and the fineness of the powder. Make sure to read which kind the recipe calls for. Substituting one for the other will change what happens. Maybe not a lot, but enough to drive you crazy if the recipe doesn’t work exactly as you expected.
- Bitter-edged or mild-mannered? The cocoa powder personality test: In this recipe, if you want to drive home the bitterness, use natural cocoa powder; if you want a mellow flavor, use Dutch process. Given that this recipe uses no chemical leavener like baking powder or baking soda, both cocoas work, but choose wisely.
Tips for a Lighter Cake: Master Those Egg Whites
Whipping egg whites gives baked goods lightness. You can quickly and easily whip eggs in a stand mixer. And yes, you can also do it with a handheld electric mixer or by hand using a wire whisk with some zumpf. As you whip the egg whites, they will go through several stages; this recipe calls for whipping until you form “stiff peaks” to take advantage of every inch of height and lift those egg whites can offer. It keeps the cake airy.
- The sugar and egg white pro-tip: For recipes that call for adding sugar to whipped egg whites, the pastry chef trick is to add it very gradually, starting just before the soft peaks form. If you do it after they hit the soft peak stage, you simply won’t get as much height and fluffiness. If you really wait and blow past soft peaks, the mixture will be gritty.
- The importance of folding: There are a few recipes that absolutely require knowing how to fold. This recipe is one of them. Folding is a method of adding whipped egg whites to your batter that allows the air you’ve just whipped into them to fully benefit the cake. My rules? Use a big bowl and a wide-faced flexible spatula, be gentle, and a let few highlights of egg white shine through.
Although it looks like there are lots of rules about egg white whipping and folding (and there are), take comfort in knowing that the worst thing that can happen if you don’t do the egg whites exactly right in this recipe is that the cake will be a little less light. Dense chocolate? Rename it fudge cake and serve it with pride. In fact, I can’t think of a better recipe to learn on.
How to Get the Perfect Slice
A chilled cake is easier to cut but room temperature lets the aromas and texture loose. If it’s a picture-perfect slice you’re after, slice the cake while it’s lightly chilled. Regardless of temperature, cut the cake with a thin long knife that is dipped into warm water before each slice and wiped down before slicing again.
How To Make Flourless Chocolate Cake
Makes a 9-inch cake, about 10 servings
What You Need
10 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus 1 tablespoon for dusting
10 1/2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (50 to 64 percent cacao), finely chopped
5 large eggs, separated (see Recipe Notes)
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup granulated sugar
9-inch springform pan
Microwave-safe bowl and mixing bowl
Stand mixer with whisk attachment or handheld electric mixer
- Preheat the oven: Preheat the oven to 350°F and position a rack in the center of the oven.
- Prepare the pan: Using a pastry brush, spread 1 tablespoon of the softened butter over the bottom and side of a 9-inch springform pan and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon cocoa powder to lightly coat it. Holding the pan over the sink, move it in a circular motion to distribute the cocoa evenly over the buttered surfaces, discarding any excess into the sink. Set aside.
- Melt the chocolate: Place the remaining butter and the chocolate in a large microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 15 seconds. Stir the mixture. Repeat the process, heating the mixture 2 or 3 more times for 15 seconds at a time, stopping to stir each time, for a total of 45 to 60 seconds, until the butter is completely melted. Let cool for 2 to 3 minutes until the chocolate is warm, but not hot.
- Combine the chocolate and other ingredients: Whisk the egg yolks into the cooled chocolate mixture. Sift in the remaining cocoa powder, the espresso powder, and salt. Add the vanilla extract and whisk until completely combined.
- Begin to beat the egg whites: In the perfectly clean bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a perfectly clean whisk attachment (or if you are using a handheld electric mixer or a wire whisk — use a large, perfectly clean mixing bowl), beat the egg whites at low to medium speed for about 15 to 20 seconds (or a little more for a handheld mixer or whisk), until they are broken up and foamy.
- Add the cream of tartar: Add the cream of tartar (see Recipe Notes) and beat at medium speed, for 45 to 90 seconds (or if you are using a handheld mixer, at medium-high for a little longer) until the whites form fluffy, droopy peaks when the beater is lifted.
- Beat to form stiff peaks: With the mixer still at medium speed, gradually add the sugar and beat until you’ve created glossy, stiff peaks that stand by themselves when you lift the beaters slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. The exact timing will depend on the size and shape of the bowl, the power of your mixer, and other factors, so you will need to rely on your eye to be sure they have reached the right texture. This is not a time to walk away from the mixer.
- Fold the whites into the batter: Whisk about a quarter of the whipped egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Then, with a silicone spatula, gently scoop the remaining egg whites into the batter. With the same spatula, scoop them from underneath, along with some of the batter, and very gently turn the whole thing over; repeat until just incorporated.
- Bake the cake: Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a silicone spatula. Bake for 34 to 37 minutes, until the cake has risen ever-so-slightly in the center and is set enough in the center that it will not jiggle when the pan moves; a cake tester will not come out clean. The top will have formed an extremely thin, but discernible, crust. The cake will pull away from the side of the pan while it cools; don’t let it bake until it pulls away from the side of the pan while in the oven or it will be overdone. Cool completely on a wire rack for at least 1 1/2 hours. Remove the side of the pan and serve.
- Eggs separate better when they are cold, rather than at room temperature, so separate them right after removing them from the fridge. This is key in any recipe that involves whipping egg whites (like this one) because if you get any yolk mixed in with your whites, they won’t whip as well as they might.
- In case you are wondering, the cream of tartar stabilizes the egg whites.