In which Claire, who doesn’t speak french, bakes her way through the cake section of a 1962 French cookbook.
As a teenager my mother worked as an au pair in Belgium. She brought home a cookbook called Cuisine Moderne et Vielles Recettes. Despite having studied the language in High school and college, I don’t really speak French, so reading this is a fun challenge–Puzzling out the french words to arrive at a revelatory moment when I realize they’re talking about melted chocolate and delicious-sounding liqueur combined in beautiful ways. The pictures in this book are remarkable. Extravagant, stately, with baroque arrangements and funereal lighting. They’re so different from French movies of the same decade, which are suave and cool, understated and bathed in elegant sage green and chrome.
The book is entirely in French, and the recipes are charmingly spare. Because I don’t speak much French, and because the book doesn’t really spell out how to make the recipe in a step by step way cooking anything from this book is like solving a puzzle. One autumn I decided to bake my way through the dessert section.
One of my favorites was this Gateau Chipolata. “L’intérieur du gateau doit rester moelleux.” Says my cook book. Oh yes, say I, the interior of the cake should stay soft! Moelleux is a nice word, isn’t it? A soft word. A melty word. I love melty things! I love when the snow melts in the springtime, ice dripping from branch tips and releasing the buds from their frosty casing. I love ice cream mostly because it melts. It’s such a pleasant anxiety to eat it before it’s a puddle – to savor each spoonful or lick of the cone when it’s just the right creamy softness, before it’s just cream. It’s about time passing! Add hot fudge and you have the frisson of warm and cold, you have the changing of seasons. I like butter melting on toast, cheese melting into warm bread, secret melted cheese or chocolate hidden inside of things, a chocolate-covered cookie melting in tea. I love the melty feeling you get inside when you’re happy, when you feel love for something.
This cake is delicious! It’s crispy on the outside, soft in the middle (as it should be), chocolatey, a little crunchy because of the almonds. It’s flourless. The recipe didn’t specify an amount of butter – I think it must be a misprint. This being a french cake, I decided to add a whole stick (1/2 cup 8 oz). And I decided to add salted butter, because the recipe doesn’t call for salt, and I like a pinch of salt in my baked goods.
1 1/3 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup milk
1/2 cup sugar
1 stick softened salted butter
1 cup crushed almonds (I used sliced almonds, and briefly processed them so they were crumbly, but not finely ground. You want some crunch)
1/3 cup corn starch
3 eggs – separated
1 t vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350
Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler. (Or in a small saucepan over a bigger saucepan with boiling water in it, if you don’t have a proper double boiler.) Stir in the milk as it’s melting. Add the butter and stir that till it’s melted, too.
When it’s all nicely melted, pour it into a big bowl. Beat in the sugar, and leave it to cool for a few moments while you prepare the cake pan. Butter and flour an 8 or 9 inch cake pan. I put a square of tinfoil in the bottom and butter and flour that, too, to make it easier to get the cake out at the end.
Beat the egg whites till they’re stiff. By this time, the melted chocolate mixture should be somewhat cooled. Stir in the vanilla, and then stir in the egg yolks. Add the almonds and corn starch, and beat until everything is very smooth. Fold in the egg whites. Pour the batter into your prepared pan, and bake for about 35 minutes. The top will be lightly crusted, and the edges will be firm, but the center will still be a bit soft.
Let the cake cool before you take it from the pan.