On July 5th, I went to a workshop with the incredibly lovely and talented Aran of Cannelle et Vanille. Have you seen this woman’s photos? I mean, come on. She is in a league unto herself (along with Helène of course). The workshop was less about photography and more about food styling. While Aran is a terrific food photographer, her real passion lies in how the food looks in the photo. She has an amazing eye and a clear picture in her mind of how she wants things arranged just so. She has amassed a collection of linens, plates, silver and other props to make her already beautiful food look spectacular.
I learned a lot from our few hours together. Here were the two big takeaways for me specifically. I am not, nor will I ever be, a food stylist. I make food that I want to eat and then take pictures of it, usually moments before I eat it. Yes there are things I could do to make it look better, but usually I have impatient dinner guests who are waiting to dig in while I get my shot. Even if that was not the case, I don’t have the artistic eye that some of those incredibly talented people do. And (big takeaway #2) I really need to learn how to use my camera. Aran made some reference to her old photos and how she (shudder) had her camera on auto-everything. I have my camera on auto-everything. I know the terms aperture, shutter speed, and depth of field, but I don’t exactly know what they mean. Someone in the workshop suggested a book for me and I ordered it as soon as I got home.
Aran gave us some general pointers and then demonstrated them with example after example of her gorgeous photos. One of her “rules” that stood out is to make the food look organic. “Like it just fell there.” I believe those were the exact words and I know there were quotation marks around them. I’m pretty sure the above photo was not what she meant.
Yes, this cake did more or less just fall there. I turned it out of its pan onto my lovely white square platter and it did a bit of a skid. Then it decided it was too fragile to be moved into the center of the platter without shattering into a million cake pieces. So there it stayed.
So let’s talk about this cake. If I say “flourless chocolate cake”, do you think one of those gooey centered things that are just about everywhere on restaurant menus? When those things are good, they are pretty awesome. Not so good and not so much. This cake is actually not much like that at all. It is indeed flourless but there is nothing gooey about it. It’s just light but not too airy and tastes purely of chocolate. While I like my chocolate a bit denser, I really liked this as an option – especially after a particularly heavy meal. Lebovitz says this tastes best the day it is made but I froze half of it, thawed it wrapped at room temperature, and it suffered no loss of texture or taste.
In the original recipe, Lebovitz says to decorate the cake by sifting powdered sugar over it and then drizzling melted chocolate over that. Yum. But I knew I was going to try the freezing thing and powdered sugar starts to melt into cakes and look slimy after an hour or so. Trust me. So I skipped that step.
Cocoa powder, for preparing the pan
1 cup salted or unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
½ cup plus ½ cup granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch square cake pan, dust it with a bit of cocoa powder, then tap out any excess. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
In a large heatproof bowl, combine the butter and both chocolates. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until the mixture is melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat.
In a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, whisk together the egg yolks and ½ cup of granulated sugar on high speed until the mixture leaves a defined ribbon on the surface when you lift the beater, about 5 minutes. Fold in the melted chocolate mixture until fully incorporated.
In a clean, dry bowl and with a clean whip attachment, whisk the egg whites and salt on low speed until they form soft, wet peaks. Gradually beat in the remaining ½ cup granulated sugar and continue whisking at high speed until the whites hold stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture just until there are no visible streaks of egg whites. Don’t overfold.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and gently smooth the top. Bake until just barely set in the center (it should still feel jiggly), about 35 minutes. The cake will rise as it bakes and form a slightly crackly top. Let cool about 15 minutes.
Run a knife around the sides of the cake to help loosen it from the pan. Invert the cake onto a plate, peel off the parchment paper, and re-invert it onto a large platter or cutting board. Let cool completely.
(DT: I served this with the Caramel Ice Cream from The Perfect Scoop. I don’t think I need to tell you that it was the perfect combination.)