For the restaurant on February 16, we had put a flourless chocolate cake on the menu which we first learned from our friend Anna Brevini of the agritourismo farm Bosco del Fracasso, near Reggio-Emilia. I had made it many times and at one point had it memorized. But enough time passed that I had forgotten the exact proportions, and when I realized one morning recently that the recipe had been lost with a crashed computer some months earlier, I momentarily panicked. But a quick internet search turned up a lovely recipe by the great cookery writer Elizabeth David, an authority one can always count on. Her cake called for almonds (Anna’s had not), and I decided to follow David’s recipe, substituting hazelnuts. I was so pleased with this version that I think it will become the standard one I serve. How often a mistake actually leads to an improvement! This version of the cake is my own, but the ratio of ingredients is based upon Emiko Davies’s version, which is in turn based on Elizabeth David’s.
1) Begin by roasting 85 grams hazelnuts at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes. Let cool slightly and then rub off the skins with a wet towel or your hands. Grind the hazelnuts into a powder with a food processor or other grinder (I use an old whizzer coffee grinder).
2) Meanwhile, melt 115 grams bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler and then melt 85 grams of butter with the chocolate. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
3) Beat three egg whites until stiff, and beat three egg yolks with 85 grams sugar until thick.
4) Add a teaspoon of vanilla and two shots espresso or very strong coffee to the chocolate. If you prefer, substitute of shot of liquor (rum or amaretto) in place of one of the coffee shots.
5) Slowly mix the chocolate into the egg yolk/sugar mixture, then fold in egg whites.
6) Pour into a cast iron or cake pan which has been buttered/floured. To be safe, you could use parchment paper or just plan on serving the cake from the pan. Bake at 350 degrees for around 30 minutes or so, until a toothpick comes out clean.
7) It’s best warm, but it’s also good at room temperature.