There are rainy, dreary, energy depleted days when the best thing you can do at 3 p.m. is to stop pretending that anything short of chocolate cake is going to improve your outlook. Tuesday was that kind of day and, just my luck, this happened to be a rainy Tuesday kind of chocolate cake.
But before that, I really tried to tell you about soup, soup with whole grains and seasonal onions and floating croutons of pungent cheese. I really tried. But I found that the same conditions that led to the need for a hearty soup on a Monday night in May — a gray day in which my brain a little fried from a week at the beach and maladjustment back to real life — also made it impossible to discuss soup in any kind of articulate manner on Tuesday. And so, I made chocolate cake instead. If this site had a subtitle, that would be it.
The cake is from the exact kind of book you want to pull down from your bookshelf on a damp, dimly lit day. I’d have bought it for the cover alone, but it didn’t hurt that it came from the chef/photographer/writer behind one of the most gorgeous sites out there. Gluten-free and market fresh, but not beating you over the head with either, page after page is filled with bits and pieces of a life full of great food, with photos so gorgeous they’re nothing short of lit from within.
The cake itself filled several unspoken Tuesday afternoon requirements: It wasn’t too sweet or too intense (it’s not molten or knife-sticking in a way that requires washing it down with a chug of milk) but excellently chocolaty, it went well with a much-needed 4 p.m. black coffee, and it was interesting, with a trace of nuttiness from the smallest amount of buckwheat flour and ground almonds. I know “interesting” sounds like a cop-out of a description, but really, it’s nice to have something to consider, something to mull over sometimes aside from the endless to-do list, clutter, tantrums and urgencies of daily life. In fact, it might even be the whole reason cake exists.
One year ago: Vermontucky Lemonade
Two years ago: Spring Asparagus Pancetta Hash, Pecan Cornmeal Butter Cake, Mushroom Crepe Cake and Braided Lemon Bread
Three years ago: Almond Raspberry Layer Cake
Four years ago: Cherry Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake
Five years ago: Raspberry-Topped Lemon Muffins, Baked Eggs + Chive Biscuits + Bloody Marys
Chocolate Buckwheat Cake
Adapted from La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life
Because I’m obsessed with cooking formulas, I realized that this cake works out to an approximation of a fondant au chocolat, a classic French cake with a compact, fudgy crumb and little chocolate hesitation — think of it as an mostly flourless chocolate cake — that trust me, we all need more of in our lives. Ones scaled accordingly usually use 1/3 cup of all-purpose flour (nixing the buckwheat and almond) and a bit more sugar, up to double, in fact, but I wouldn’t go over 3/4 cup. I hesitate to tell you to swap regular flour if you wish given that I haven’t outright tested this cake with that formula, but I feel 98% confident that it will work just fine.
Nevertheless, the buckwheat is delightful here. I promise, it won’t taste whole wheat or earnest or like an apology for a run-in with French fries the day before. Buckwheat flour, with its fine, silky crumb and utter lack of gluten (yes, this cake is gluten-free), adds structure but not density and that structure has the mildest, faintest nutty earthy flavor which contrasts all the other wonders (chocolate, butter, sugar, vanilla) fantastically. Trust me.
If you don’t have almond flour, you can grind blanched slivered or sliced almonds in a food processor or coffee grinder. I find it easier to get a finer grind without it turning to almond butter by grinding it with a flour, such as the buckwheat here.
Yield: One thin 9-inch round cake
7 tablespoons (100 grams or 3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering pan
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) bittersweet dark chocolate (70 to 72 percent is ideal)
4 large eggs at room temperature
1/2 cup (100 grams or 3 1/2 ounces) granulated or blond cane sugar
A good pinch of sea salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup (35 grams or 1 1/4 ounces) buckwheat flour
1/4 cup (30 grams or 1 ounce) almond meal
Confectioners’ sugar, lightly whipped cream and/or berries to serve (optional)
Preheat your oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a 9-inch cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Melt the butter and chocolate together in a double-boiler (a heatproof bowl resting on a pot of lightly simmering water) or in short bursts in the microwave, stirring frequently. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mix, beat the eggs and sugar with salt until light and pale and doubled in volume. This will take anywhere from 5 to even 9 minutes and I encourage you not to skimp on this because this thickened plume of eggs is an important part of this cake’s dreamy crumb. Plus, the mixer is doing all of the work for you, isn’t it?
Gently fold in the vanilla and melted chocolate mixture. Sprinkle the buckwheat and almond flours over the batter and fold gently to combine. Pour into prepared pan and bake for… well, mine was done in 20, but Bea suggests 30, which means that the truth is somewhere in-between. A tester inserted into the center of the cake should come out dry.
Let cool for five minutes on a rack then invert onto the rack, remove the parchment paper, and return upright on a serving plate. Serve in wedges, dusted with powdered sugar, dolloped with lightly whipped cream and/or scattered with berries.