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Bête Noire

12 Servings

1 hour 40 minutes plus cooling and chilling

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The creation of cookbook author Lora Brody, bête noire is a flourless chocolate cake that gets its silky, ultrasmooth, almost custard-like texture from the sugar syrup in the base, as well as from gentle baking. We bring a uniquely complex flavor to our version by caramelizing sugar with black peppercorns before dissolving the caramel with orange juice and bourbon. A combination of bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolate yields a rounder, richer finish than just one type of chocolate, while Angostura bitters lends a spiciness and depth that balances the sweetness of the dessert. We’ve forgone the classic ganache coating and opted to use quickly candied orange zest for a garnish that adds contrasting color and texture. Though the cake requires at least 4 hours of chilling to fully set, it’s best served at room temperature, so don’t forget to remove the cake from the refrigerator at least two hours before serving. For neat slices, dip the knife in hot water, then wipe it dry before each cut.




Don’t use a whisk to combine the ingredients for the batter; a large silicone spatula is better. A whisk incorporates air, which leads to bubbles rising to the surface during baking and marring the smooth, shiny surface. Also, don’t forget to run a knife around the edges of the cake the moment it comes out of the oven; loosening the edges from the sides of the pan prevents the cake from cracking as it cools. Finally, don’t cover the cake before refrigerating, as a cover may trap condensation that can drip onto the cake.

1 hour 40 minutes

plus cooling and chilling


  • 8

    tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, cut into 16 pieces, plus more for the pan

  • 12

    ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped


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Ingrid W.
October 1, 2023
Quite the crowd-pleaser cake
Overall a delicious and relatively easy cake to make after narrowly avoiding a few wrecks, ha! The peppercorns did not 'pop', and the color of the sugar was changing too fast; perhaps I had too much heat on the pan? The chocolate did not completely melt after adding the syrup, so had to place it over a double boiler to do the trick. Can the cake be made with the water volume substituted with more bourbon instead without changing the texture?
Gene B.
August 7, 2023
Question about % cacao content - bittersweet bar
I made this recipe long enough ago I'm unsure if I used a 100% baking chocolate bar or a 72% for the 12 oz bittersweet component. It was phenominal and I want to make it again this week. Online search indicates bittersweet s/b 72% but I'm pretty sure I used 100% before. Which is best in this recipe? Thanks for your help!
Susanna K.
December 5, 2022
Can I make this without alcohol?
I am planning to make this for a gluten-free friend's birthday, by special request. However, everyone at the party will be sober and I don't want to upset anyone by baking with alcohol. Can I replace it with the same amount of water, or something else?
Karen L.
September 25, 2022
I made this for a birthday party - 10 guests - an EVERYONE raved. They thought it was store bought! A keeper for sure. Decadent, pretty and fairly easy. Use quality chocolate and do NOT skip the candied orange.
Bill O.
May 30, 2022
Great cake
I've got gluten-free family, so I make flourless chocolate cake often when they're over. My old recipe is very good and simpler than this, but this was delicious and more complex, and I'll certainly make it again
Cathleen M.

When baking with bourbon, should I just use the cheap one? Kentucky straight? I'm curious about your thoughts. Would rye ever be appropriate?

Michele R.

I am fearless in cooking but more cautious in baking and had I not seen the incomparable Bianca Borges demo this in a youtube video I may have been "too afraid" to try it. But watching her instilled confidence in me. Nolo timere, cooks! This is more cook's dessert than baker's. (I'll link video at the end of my comments. )
I reduced the recipe by one-half given we needed to feed only four people. A 9" springform (as specified originally) which is roughly 63.6 in area and a 6.25" - which I also have - is roughly 30.6 in area so I cut the recipe in half, used the smaller pan and away we went. It took 8 -10 minutes more to bake (as expected given the just a tad deeper volume when using the half recipe in a 6.25" pan) and outcome was just right. Made per recipe for ingredients and technique, it went together in a finger snap and was "ahhh..."some at presentation. (Refrigerated this overnight before serving.) Really delicious - although I was hoping for the peppercorns to be more present in the flavors. Leftovers were great day two. Keeper! Bianca Borges demo on youtube.

Michele R.

The bete noire is in the fridge awaiting service at dinner tonight. The orange peel was finished in sugar per recipe and it now looks lovely finely cut and awaiting its' role as garnish for the edge of the dessert per photo. But I'm not sure how I'll get this to adhere to the edge - as the photo shows, without just falling off. Is there a technique for this I need to know about? The bete noire surface will be firm and without something between the candied / sugared orange peel and the cake, won't the peel just slide off?

Janelle C.

Hi Michele,

The cake should be just firm enough that a simple tap with your finger should do the trick.

The Milk Street Team

Caitlin D.

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Anne W.

wow this was amazing! it looked beautiful and the taste was complex and the flavors worked well together. will make again as a relatively simple showstopper. I served with greek yogurt this time around and it was a bit too rich. I think it was better without when I had leftovers.


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William R.

The texture didn’t turn out for my first try- I didn’t use room temperature butter and eggs (and am making it in a cooler kitchen due to the sub zero temperature in my state). The bourbon/orange juice wasn’t hot enough to fully melt the butter and chocolate mixture.

Marilyn W.

This was one of the best desserts I have ever eaten. It will be on next Christmas's menu. I added one step. I don't like getting the chalazae in a bite of food, so after beating the eggs I strained them into the batter. Sublime! Thank you for this wonderful recipe.

Ted K.

After adding the bourbon to the orange juice, could additional orange juice be used instead of water to bring the total to one cup, or would there be some sort of negative effect?

Lynn C.

Hi Ted -

No. Since we are making a sugar syrup here we need the balance of sugar to water to be exact to produce the right texture of syrup. Since orange juice contains sugar, adding more orange juice would throw off the ratio of sugar to water and create a too-thick syrup.

The Milk Street Team

Chris S.

I love the flavor and texture of this, especially when I don't forget the bitters. It is a really strong chocolate and complex flavor. It seems to bake quite a bit faster in my oven. I like adding a little espresso powder, and using the orange version of Angostura bitters (rather than the original Angostura) since my navel oranges don't seem to have much flavor.