Gâteux au Chocolat // French chocolate cake
On Wednesdays most kids don’t have school here in France. This is, obviously, really nice for the kids—it means they get to stay up an extra hour later on Tuesday nights because they get to sleep in Wednesday mornings. And after working with kids for the past couple months, I think I can assure you that their only goal in life is to postpone their bedtime to as late a time as possible. (Why, I will never, never understand. Sleep is so nice.) But that means for me it’s my big work day of the week, as I’m with the kids from 8:45 in the morning until 7:30 or so at night. Suffice it to say that Wednesdays here have taken “hump day” to a whole level.
One really nice thing about it, though, is that sometimes I will make a petit gateux or cake of some sort with the kids to be eaten around 4 pm for le goûter. My host mom bought us a little French cooking-with-kids book that has waterproof pages and cartoons to accompany every step of the baking process. The first time we baked together, a couple weeks ago, the kids both immediately jumped to the chocolate cake. It’s similar to the one here in that it’s basic ingredients are chocolate, butter, eggs and sugar, but it had a few slight differences and I think it turned out less than ideal. I’m sure overbaking it didn’t help matters.
It still kind of amazes me though that a recipe for a moelleux au chocolat (basically another name for what you see here—a dense yet soft chocolate cake that is leavened by whipped egg whites) was in a “cook with kids” book. I mean, I don’t know too many American adults that would feel comfortable with beating egg whites until they form stiff peaks and then folding them into another mixture. But I guess when things like chocolate mousse are a common household staple, whether that house has really good cooks or not, people are much more familiar with these types of procedures. That’s not to say everyone here is a better cook than Americans, of course—I just find it amusing the things that are very ordinary and common here, as opposed to back home.
(And I really, really don’t want to appear as though I am continually beating the proverbial dead horse with the whole if-it’s-French-it-must-be-better thing, but can I just quickly say that why are the slimmer, longer loaf pans so much more appealing? And why are they really only a European thing?)
Anyway, fast forward to this last Wednesday: this time around, the kids still asked for a gateux au chocolat, so that’s what we went with—but I decided to follow the recipe of David Lebovitz’s Gâteux Thérèse. I was initially going to go with this recipe for French chocolate cake because are those photos of that cake stunning or what? But it seemed a bit fussier, and when it comes to things this classic, I am highly suscpicious of anything that messes with traditional and straightforward processes. Plus, Talley reviewed this cake of Lebovitz’s, and her taste is pretty spot on.
With not too much effort, and even fewer ingredients, the simple cake was poured into the pan and in the oven. It rose beautifully, but then just as surely sunk down in no time at all once removed from the oven. But as Talley says—that’s part of it’s charm. By the time it cooled, it was time for le goûter. My kids are friends with the kids of an au pair friend of mine (um, did that make any sense at all), and they came over to the apartment to join us for the snack. We sat around the table eating big slices of the cake—two in the case of my friend and I. I’d like to say I think the kids liked it, but in what felt like approximately 30 seconds into the calm that the snacking and munching brought, they were up and playing (aka screaming throwing fighting) once again. So who knows.
When my host father came home that evening, he noticed the treat and immediately said that it was a beau gâteux. Which is funny, because it looks pretty much as ugly as ugly can be to me, what with it’s sunken middle and dark brown color. But I guess when you’ve grown up in France and are used to this sort of cake, all you need is one good look to know if it’s a good one, a beau one—with a soft but dense mallow-like texture and deep and dark chocolate flavor. Or at least I hope that’s how it works. For what it’s worth, when I came to the apartment the next morning only one slice was left in the tin.
Last Sunday I went to le musée de l’orangerie with a couple of my friends. It’s located right at the beginning of the Jardin Tuileries and rests next to the Seine. Instead of taking the métro there, I decided to walk and took a long stroll through the Champs-Elysées. Though I’ve mentioned that Paris doesn’t really “do” Fall, I did feel a little tinge of Autumn throughout the walk, as I passed under dusty orange trees with dry leaves under my feet. Yesterday was the first truly cold day we’ve had—about 7 degrees celcius, or 45 degrees F. I’ve actually enjoyed waking up with the sun rising later and later—everything seems much sleepier and slower to start, but it makes you enjoy and savor the espressos and warm butter and honey tartines all the much more. Oh, and the museum? It was beautiful. Yet another reason to embrace the coming cold season of Paris—here’s to more Sundays spent looking at art.
250 grams bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
115 grams (8 tablespoons) butter
65 grams (1/3 cup) sugar
4 eggs, separated
15 grams (2 tablespoons) flour (T45)
Preheat then oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F). Line a 23-centimeter or 9-inch loaf pan with parchment paper, and butter any parts that are exposed.
In a double boiler or a glass bowl set over a pot of simmering water, melt the butter and chopped chocolate, stirring occasionally, until all the chocolate melts and it’s all glossy and smooth. Remove from heat and stir in half the sugar, the egg yolks, and the flour. Set aside.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks begin to form. With the mixture still running, add in the rest of the sugar and continue to beat until the whites are smooth and stiffly hold their shape.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in 1/3 of the egg whites into the chocolate mix. Once incorporated, fold in the remaining egg whites just until the mixture is smooth and no white streaks are visible.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 35 minutes (most likely no more, or no less), until the cake has risen to a pretty dome (which will fall, oh yes it will), and feels just firm in the center. Do not overbake. Let cool completly before serving.