Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chocolate Armagnac Cake

Posted By on Thu, Feb 3, 2011 at 8:10 AM

Ar-men-yak.

... In case you were wondering how to pronounce "Armagnac," like I was. Think along the lines of cognac. According to Wikipedia, Armagnac is the oldest brandy distilled in France.

This rich, sophisticated Chocolate Armagnac Cake comes from my favorite baker Dorie Greenspan. The cake contains 10 ounces of bittersweet chocolate, cognac, and surprisingly, prunes. It is so good – perhaps the best chocolate cake I've ever made.

The texture of the cake is like a hybrid of a flourless chocolate cake and a fudgy brownie. The chocolate and dried fruit flavor combination reminds me of those Cadbury Fruit & Nut chocolate bars that come wrapped in purple packaging. Tart fruit enrobed in creamy bittersweet chocolate. Ground pecans aren't a prominently featured ingredient in the cake, but its presence adds to the complex flavors of the cake.

At one point in the recipe, you'll need to set the cognac-soaked prunes aflame. Don't be scared. It's really easy, so don't let that stop you from making this cake. Since chocolate is the star ingredient, make sure you use high-quality bittersweet chocolate (I used Scharffen Berger).

I can't wait to serve this cake at my next dinner party.

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Chocolate Armagnac Cake

Printer-Friendly Recipe

From Baking from my Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

For the Cake:

2/3 cup finely ground pecans (or walnuts)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

12 plump, moist prunes, pitted if necessary and cut into bits

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons water

1/4 cup Armagnac (or cognac, brandy or Scotch whisky)

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

3 large eggs, separated

2/3 cup sugar

For the glaze:

3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Getting ready: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch springform pan, fit the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment or wax paper and butter the paper. Dust the inside of the pan with flour and tap out the excess. Put the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat.

To make the cake: Whisk together the nuts, flour and salt.

Put the prunes and 1/4 cup of the water in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, being careful not to scorch the fruit, until the water almost evaporates. Pull the pan from the heat and pour in the Armagnac, stand back and set it aflame. When the flame dies out, transfer the fruit and any remaining liquid to a bowl and let cool. (If it’s more convenient, you can flame and steep the prunes up to 1 day ahead. Pack the prunes and their liquid in a covered jar and keep at room temperature.)

Combine the chocolate, butter and the remaining 3 tablespoons water in a heatproof bowl, set it over a pan of simmering water and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are melted; or do this in a microwave oven. Remove the chocolate from the heat just as soon as it is melted and not very hot—you don’t want the chocolate and butter to separate.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until thick and pale, about 2 minutes. Switch to a rubber spatula and, one by one, stir in the chocolate and butter mixture, the nut mixture, and the prunes with any liquid.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold firm, glossy peaks. Stir about one quarter of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites. Turn the batter into the pan.

Bake the cake for 28 to 32 minutes, or until it is puffed, firm on top and starting to come ever so slightly away from the sides of the pan; a thin knife inserted into the center will come out streaky—the cake should not be wet, but you don’t want it to be completely dry. Transfer the cake to a rack and let it cool for about 10 minutes, then carefully remove the sides of the pan. Invert the cake, pull off the paper and turn right side up to cool to room temperature. The cake should be absolutely cool before you glaze it.

Getting ready to glaze: If the cake has crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even the top. Turn the cake over onto a cooling rack—you want the very flat bottom of the cake to be the top. Put a piece of wax paper or foil under the cooling rack to serve as a drip catcher.

To make the glaze: Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water, or in a microwave oven. Remove it from the heat and, using a small spatula, stir in the sugar, then the butter, a bit at a time, stirring until you have a smooth glaze.

Have a long metal icing spatula at hand. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake, allowing the excess to rundown the sides, and use the spatula to smooth the top of the cake if necessary—usually the glaze is a self-spreader—and to even it around the sides of the cake. Let the glaze set at room temperature or, if you want to speed it up, slide the cake into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. If you’d like the glaze to be more like a frosting, let it cool until it is thick enough to spread, then swirl it over the cake.

Serving: The cake should be served at room temperature—chill it, and you’ll diminish its flavor and compact its texture. That said, there are lots of people who like the cake cold, because then it becomes more fudgy. Cream, whipped or ice, is a welcome accompaniment.

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