Chocolate cake, universally loved around the world. With so many recipes, which one honestly comes closest to perfection?
Firstly, I had to choose sides. Chocolate cakes fall into two distinct camps. The first – fluffy spongy cakes that are perfect for layering, icing and Birthday parties. Popular, pretty, actually pretty good – but not what I wanted to go for.
I’m referring to the second category. The dense and the dark; the tortes and rich slivers of 70% cocoa, requiring minimal adornment. They’re given seductive names in restaurants, they never lose their place on dessert menus, and I simply wanted to try more.
The recipes all startlingly similar, relies on the heady combination of butter and melted chocolate , with whisked egg whites for airiness. Some add ground almonds, others just a touch of flour. I’ve made and loved Sophie Dahl’s recipe, but was curious to try out some others to find out just how different the results could be. I tested in total five popular recipes, to see how they differed and which one (would I be able to decide?) would be closest to perfection? Most of these recipes are designed to serve at least 8 people, so I halved the ingredients to bake the cakes in a 15cm tin. It worked very well, so if you are baking for smaller numbers I can happily recommend this.
- Sophie Dahl’s Flourless Chocolate Cake
- Chocolate and Zucchini’s Melt-In-Your-Mouth Cake
- David Lebowitz’s Chocolate Cocoa Nib Cake
- River Cafe’s Chocolate Nemesis
Sophie Dahl’s recipe is one that I have made a few times, and I have always been happy with the results. The cake is very, very rich, but delightfully satisfying. The method is very failsafe, and although a food processor or blender is needed, there’s no lengthy use of hundreds of mixing bowls. A deep crater forms in this cake, which forms a great receptacle for cream and fresh fruit, and there is a textural contrast between crisp exterior, and melting, almost mousse-like interior.
David Lebowitz’s recipe was actually adapted from one he found scribbled inside the men’s toilets inside an upmarket Parisian restaurant. You can read the full story here.
This cake doesn’t sink as much as Sophie Dahl’s. The combination of less sugar, and a shorter baking time means you don’t get the development of that very crisp crust, but I quite like it this way, and the cocoa nibs provide textural contrast.
Although this recipe requires 3 bowls, it was remarkably quick and simple. With an electric whisk, you can easily whip this up within an hour. I enjoyed it very much, but I think Sophie Dahl’s cake won this particular contest by a narrow margin.
Next up is this recipe from popular French blog Chocolate and Zucchini. The results are very, very good. It is adapted from another popular recipe by Trish Deseine, but Clotilde Dusoulier has reduced the sugar, and cut out one egg. The method was even easier – no electric appliances needed – and the whole thing could be made in 1 pan, which is always a bonus.
The cake was utterly delicious – unctuously dark and rich, with Clotilde’s genius addition of a sprinkle of salt flakes on top. At first I was sceptical, but the way the salt dissolves against your tongue produces a magnificent burst of chocolatey flavour that I think would be impossible to replicate any other way.
The fourth and final recipe I tried was the most infamous chocolate cake of them all. River Cafe’s Chocolate Nemesis is notorious for its difficulty, and I approached it with considerable apprehension. I opted to use the recipe for the Easy Small Nemesis, which still seemed pretty complex – making syrup, whisking eggs for what felt like hours, and boiling the kettle three times for the deep water-bath that the cake luxuriates in as it bakes. I had a bit of an issue with the water-bath, and my cake tin not being watertight, but all was well in the end. The finished result was full-blown chocolate intensity. It doesn’t get richer than this.
There were a lot of other chocolate cake recipes I wanted to try, but for the sake of my wallet, waistline, and sanity, didn’t get round to baking. In particular I omitted flourless recipes incorporating ground almonds, such as Elizabeth David’s Chocolate Cake, but I have no doubt they are just as good.
So best cake out of them all? I would have to stay that Chocolate and Zucchini’s Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cake is a resounding winner. It’s a combination of two very good things – easy to make, and absolutely flipping delicious. The Chocolate Nemesis is impressive stuff, but oh so complicated. The others? Still delicious but ousted!