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Flourless Chocolate Cake

What is that thing they say about people who do the same thing over and over and expect different results? Right. Well, that would be me when it comes to making chocolate mousse on Valentine’s Day. Or should I say, attempting to make chocolate mousse on Valentine’s Day?

The ritual started the year after we spent some time living in France with our kids. In our village there was a restaurant that must have been famous for its mousse au chocolat. I am no connoisseur, but it was incredible — light and dense at the same time, rich but not obnoxious. Oh, and it was enormous. The first time we ordered it, we expected a ramekin of mousse like you get in most French restaurants around here. Instead, the guy brought out a mixing bowl of the stuff. “Family style,” he said as he thunked it on the table between us. Lauren (age almost three) immediately slid the massive bowl in front of her and dug in. When someone tried to sneak their spoon into the mousse, she would smack them away saying, “Stay away from my pile!” She really was a sweet, darling child — but she would not be messed with when it came to chocolate mousse.

Ever since then, every Valentines’ Day I have tried to recreate the indescribably delicious taste and fluffy texture that comes from whipping — then folding — chocolate and eggs together just so. And every year, I end up with something that tastes great but in texture is much closer to fudge than mousse. I don’t know, it’s something about beating the eggs to “medium-firm-but-not-too-firm” peaks that just throws me every time.

So this morning, as I was corralling my mousse ingredients (I’ve tried several different recipes, by the way, including Julia Child’s “perfect” chocolate mousse and what Dorie Greenspan calls the “French housewife’s secret mousse.”) and feeling my stomach start to tighten from mousse-related anxiety, it suddenly occurred to me that chocolate mousse just might be one of those things — like tamales and Vietnamese eggrolls — that are probably better left to the professionals. And that’s okay.

As a replacement, I remembered a recipe from Joanne Harris’ cookbook, “My French Kitchen” that I’ve been wanting to try. It’s a chocolate cake that uses ground almonds as the “flour.” Hey, I thought, If it’s good enough for the author of Chocolat,” it’s probably gonna pass muster with my Valentines (including my wheat-free spouse).

This cake was surprisingly easy to make (which was a relief to my shaken culinary confidence), and baking it made my house smell like a chocolate factory. With dense, rich, and delicious chocolatey desserts like this, who needs mousse anyway? Guess I’m not crazy after all.

Gateau Lawrence
6 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used 2 bars of Green & Black’s organic 70% cocoa)
12 tbs. unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks) at room temp.
1/2 cup sugar (the recipe called for 2/3 cup)
1 2/3 cups ground raw almonds (use your food processor)
4 large eggs, separated

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a 10-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Break up the chocolate and melt it in a double boiler over simmering water. Remove from heat and let it cool slightly. Cream together the sugar and the butter with an electric mixer.

Add the ground almonds, egg yolks, and chocolate, and beat until evenly blended. Beat the egg whites until stiff, add the the chocolate mixture, and fold in until well mixed. Pour into prepared cake pan and bake for 35 minutes (mine took 40 mins.).

Allow the cake to cool for a few minutes before carefully removing the sides of the pan. Slide a wide knife under the cake to release it from the parchment.

You can also make a chocolate glaze to pour over the top by melting 3 1/2 ounces chocolate and 3 tbs. butter in a double boiler. Or not. This cake is already extremely chocolatey and rich, so I think that might be too much. Well, probably not for Lauren.

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