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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
tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter, cut into 16 pieces, plus more for the pan
ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
large navel orange
grams (¾ cup) plus 70 grams (⅓ cup) white sugar
tablespoons black peppercorns
tablespoons Angostura bitters
large eggs, beaten
Whole-milk Greek yogurt, to serve
01Heat the oven to 275°F with a rack in the middle position. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with butter. Line the bottom of the pan with kitchen parchment, then butter the parchment. Set a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. In a large bowl, combine the bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolates and the butter; set a fine mesh strainer across the bowl, then set aside.
02Using a vegetable peeler, remove just the outer zest of the orange, not the white pith just beneath, in long strips; set the strips aside. Halve the orange and juice into a liquid measuring cup. Measure 3 tablespoons of the juice into a medium saucepan. Add the bourbon to the remaining juice in the measuring cup, then add enough water to equal 1 cup total liquid; set aside.
03Add the 160 grams (¾ cup) sugar to the juice in the saucepan, then add the zest strips and peppercorns. Set over medium-high and cook, without stirring but occasionally swirling the pan, until the sugar dissolves, 1 to 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling the pan often, until the sugar caramelizes to deep mahogany brown and the peppercorns begin to pop, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully pour in the orange juice–bourbon mixture; the caramel will bubble up and harden. Set the pan over medium, bring to a simmer and cook, stirring, until the caramel has dissolved and the peppercorns no longer stick together, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the bitters.
04Immediately pour the hot sugar syrup through the strainer into the chocolate-butter mixture; reserve the strained solids. Jostle the bowl to ensure the chocolate and butter are fully covered with syrup, then let stand for 2 to 3 minutes. Using a silicone spatula, gently stir until the mixture is well combined and completely smooth; it should be barely warm.
05Add the beaten eggs to the chocolate mixture and stir with the spatula until homogenous and glossy, 2 to 3 minutes. Pour into the prepared springform pan. Gently tap the sides of the pan to remove any air bubbles, then use the back of a spoon to smooth the surface. Set the pan on the prepared baking sheet and bake until the cake barely jiggles when the pan is gently shaken, about 45 minutes.
06Remove from the oven and immediately run a thin, sharp knife around the edges to loosen the sides of the cake from the pan. Cool to room temperature in the pan, then refrigerate uncovered for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.
07While the cake cools transfer the zest strips from the strainer to a small, shallow bowl, removing and discarding any peppercorns stuck to them. Sprinkle the strips with the 70 grams (⅓ cup) sugar, then toss until the strips are completely coated. Cover loosely and store at room temperature until ready to serve.
08About 2 hours before serving, remove the cake from the refrigerator. Remove the zest strips from the sugar and shake off excess sugar; reserve the sugar for another use. Cut the strips lengthwise into thin strips. Remove the sides of the springform pan. Arrange the zest slivers on the cake around the edges. Slice the cake and serve with small spoonfuls of yogurt.
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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=u3WLS8xkhPA&feature=emb_logo
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?
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?
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
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.
When baking with bourbon, should I just use the cheap one? Kentucky straight? I'm curious about your thoughts. Would rye ever be appropriate?