There are some chocolate cake recipes I turn to time and again, but I decided to branch out for a change. Enter Chocolate: cooking with the world's best ingredient, stage left. This book is by the Christines McFadden and France, and begins with introductions to the history and processing of chocolate (interesting the first time round, but ultimately too anecdotal and superficial for a true chocoholic and obsessive), includes explanations of the different types and grades of chocolate (useful for finding out what the equivalent of, for example, bittersweet chocolate is in an English supermarket), and finally moves on to the recipes, of which there are over 200 in total. The Christines cover pretty much all the bases: cakes for afternoon tea; rich gateaux; hot, cold and frozen desserts; biscuits, bars and cookies; sweets and even drinks. In fact, all they are missing is how to use chocolate in savoury cooking - something I am dying to try but probably need a Mexican cook book for.
In the "Tea-time Chocolate Treats" section there is a recipe entitled French Chocolate Cake, after the Chocolate and Beetroot Layer Cake which I absolutely must test sometime, if only for bizarreness value. I don't know how genuinely French this cake is, and since I took it to work, my flatmate didn't get to test it and so I still can't say. I didn't make it quite to the recipe: I replaced the tablespoon of flour with ground hazelnuts and the brandy or orange liqueur specified with Frangelico, a hazelnut liqueur which is practically a syrup and wonderful in affogato*. The result was a very damp, intense chocolate cake with a wonderful perfume and subtle flavour of hazelnuts. It survived the Tube journey exceptionally well (an important consideration) and was a hit with the intended recipient.
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a 23cm springform tin and line the base with baking parchment or greased greaseproof paper (this is a very wet cake, so you must include a liner). Wrap the tin in kitchen foil, to protect the cake whilst it bakes in its waterbath later. Fill and boil the kettle.
Chop the chocolate into smallish pieces, and the butter too, and then place in a saucepan with the sugar. Heat gently, stirring frequently, until the butter and chocolate have melted. Remove from the heat, allow to cool slightly and stir in the liqueur.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl using a fork (you are just breaking them up, this cake is not supposed to incorporate air), then add the ground hazelnuts. Beat until no lumps remain. Stir in the cooled chocolate mixture.
Stand the foil wrapped cake pan in a large roasting tin. Pour the cake batter into the springform. Pour the boiling water from the kettle into the roasting tin to come about 2cm up the sides of the springform.
Bake for 25 - 30 minutes. The edges of the cake should be set (mine rose a little) but the middle should still be quite soft. When done, remove the cake pan from the roasting tin and cool on a wire rack. As soon as you can, remove the foil - be careful at this point as you are quite likely to get wet feet. When completely cool, the middle of the cake will have sunk if it rose at all - this is what makes is so dense and intense. Remove the sides of the springform, then turn over and remove the base and lining paper. At this stage, I turned the cake back up the right way and served as was. If you are more inclined to tinkering though, and your cake doesn't have to travel, follow the instructions of the book and serve upside down and decorated with an icing sugar pattern made by criss-crossing the cake with strips of paper, dusting with icing sugar and then carefully removing the paper strips.
Eat alone, with a cup of coffee (tea just wouldn't work), or serve for dessert with a dollop of cream and some berries.
*Affogato is a a fabulous dessert, made by taking a scoop or two of ice cream and dumping a cup of steaming hot espresso and a shot of liqueur (optional) over the top. Hot/cold, sweet/bitter and self-saucing, I think it's perfect when you want dessert but are really too full for anything more than a cup of coffee.