A Visit to Portugal leads to a craving for Chocolate Cake
When Andrew and I went to Portugal last summer, we went deep into the country near the Spanish border. We were on our Douro River Cruise aboard Viking Helgrim and on offer was a picnic in an olive orchard outside the town of Marialva. It was hosted by Paulo and Carmen Romao. The couple has created an extraordinary resort called “Casas do Coro”. It’s just below the ancient fortress of Marialva, which dates from the 13th century. The Romao’s have restored and rebuilt a collection of granite houses that make up the “Casas”. There’s a beautiful pool, an elaborate spa, and a really first-class restaurant.
A Prize-Winning Recipe from a very young Chef.
Our picnic was superb, served with the Ramao’s house wines. When it came time for dessert, we were particularly taken with the Bolo do Chocolate. It was the most chocolate of chocolate cakes. A pure chocolate lovers’ delight. When we complimented our hostess on this rich, robustly chocolate confection, we were told it was a prize winner. The couple’s young daughter, Ana Rita, had baked the cake when she was a contestant on Portugal’s version of Master Chef Junior. When we got home, I tried, without success, to find any Portuguese Chocolate Cake recipe – never mind Ana Rita’s. So you can imagine how pleased we were when one Andrew’s favorite baking heroines, Dorie Greenspan, published her take on Portuguese chocolate cake. In a recent New York Times Magazine article, she started by describing a disaster on her own trip to Portugal.
Lisbon yields a piece of travel advice for one and all.
Lisbon, the country’s capital, is now a major tourist destination. It’s hard not to taken in by this beautiful city. Colorful buildings, very often featuring facades of ceramic tile, tumble down the eight hills the city occupies next to the River Tagus (Rio Tejo). One of the best ways to see Lisbon is by tram. The old city is crisscrossed with tram lines. The one that is said to cover the most ground is the #28. Unfortunately, as Ms. Greenspan discovered, it’s also the favorite hunting ground for pickpockets. We were warned off it as was Ms. Greenspan. We took the advice. She took the tram. And if I may say so, she unwisely put her wallet in her backpack and her wallet and credit cards disappeared along with her driver’s license and a copy of her passport. (Note: We long ago stopped carrying a wallet when we set out in any tourist destination. We take cash, a single credit card and a Xerox copy of our IDs wrapped up in a rubber band. Not chic but practical). She was devastated and only her husband’s cajoling kept them in Lisbon. She wanted to leave and never come back.
Landeau Chocolate in Lisbon sells only one thing at its Cafe: Lisbon Chocolate Cake.
Dorie Greenspan’s mood of utter depression didn’t lift until she was absolutely famished. She made her way to the LX Factory. Lisbon has turned a cluster of buildings into spaces for artists, craftspeople, cooks and a chocolatier, Landeau Chocolate. Their café in the middle of the space features only one item: Chocolate Cake. To look at it, it could be mistaken for just another (beautiful) chocolate cake. One or two bites in and you discover that this cake is completely about chocolate. There’s the cake part which is almost brownie-like and then a layer chocolate cream that’s somewhere between a mousse and a ganache. And finally, there’s a shower of cocoa that adds even more chocolate flavor. Greenspan writes: “Each forkful is a complete composition: The textures go from firm to feathery, the flavors building in intensity.”
Here’s the recipe for a Chocolate-Lover’s idea of perfection in a cake.
Dorie Greenspan bought a slice for the plane ride home. And, of course, she immediately got to work creating this recipe. She describes it as” a flourless chocolate cake with body, a whipped ganache with a texture like velour…beautiful in its simplicity. Best of all, it achieved…the almost miraculous feat of being rich and bold, but not heavy”. Here is the recipe followed by a few more Dorie Greenspan classics from Chewing The Fat.
Dorie Greenspan's Lisbon Chocolate Cake
This is pure chocolate heaven with amazing chocolate flavor and texture in every bite
- For the cake:
- ½ cup/115 grams unsalted butter (1 stick), cut into chunks, plus more for greasing the pan
- ⅓ cup/30 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
- ¼ teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 5 ounces/140 grams semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
- ½ cup/100 grams granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs, chilled
- For the ganache:
- 1 ¾ cups/420 milliliters heavy cream
- 6 ounces/170 grams semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- For the topping:
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- Step 1 Make the cake: Center a rack in the oven, and heat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-inch cake pan, line with parchment paper and butter the paper.
- Step 2 Sift together the cocoa powder, cornstarch, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk to blend.
- Step 3 Put the 1/2 cup butter in a large heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Scatter the semisweet or bittersweet chocolate on top, and heat, stirring often, until the mixture is smooth and glossy. Remove the bowl from the pan, and stir in the sugar. One by one, energetically stir in the eggs, beating for 1 minute after the last egg is added. The mixture will look like pudding. Stir in the dry ingredients. Scrape the mixture into the cake pan, and give the pan a couple of good raps against the counter to settle the batter.
- Step 4 Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean (or with only a tiny streak of chocolate). Transfer to a rack, cool for 5 minutes, then unmold the cake. Peel off the paper, invert the cake, and cool to room temperature. Wash and dry the cake pan.
- Step 5 Make the ganache: Pour 1 1/4 cups cream into a small saucepan. Refrigerate the rest. Scald the cream over medium heat, turn off the heat and stir in the semisweet or bittersweet chocolate until fully incorporated. Transfer to a heatproof bowl. Refrigerate the ganache for 10 minutes, whisk it, then refrigerate again for 10 minutes. Repeat chilling and whisking steps until the ganache is thick enough to make tracks when you stir, 50 to 60 minutes.
- Step 6 Cut two 3-by-16-inch pieces of parchment or foil, and crisscross them in the cake pan. Carefully return the cake to the pan. (The mousse layer is too soft to stand on its own until it’s chilled. It needs the support of the pan sides.)
- Step 7 Whip the remaining 1/2 cup cream until it holds medium peaks.
- Step 8 Using a whisk, gently beat the ganache until it’s soft and spreadable. With a spatula, fold in the whipped cream. Spread over the cake, and refrigerate for 2 hours (or cover and keep for up to 2 days). The cake is best served cool or at room temperature, so take it out of the fridge about 20 minutes before serving.
- Step 9 To finish, put the cocoa powder in a fine-mesh strainer, and shake it over the top of the cake. Run a table knife along the sides of the pan. Using the parchment or foil handles, carefully lift the cake out of the pan and onto a serving plate. Discard the strips. Cut the cake using a long knife that has been run under hot water and wiped dry between each cut.