Hail to the Queen

Torte1

One of the difficulties when you are taking pictures of food with an eager horde waiting to eat the preparation is that you are under pressure to take the picture and get it over with. So notice in the shot above, the torte was slightly imprinted with my brother-in-law’s fingerprint since we needed to put streaks of chocolate cream at the bottom of a plate and he just lifted it with his finger (he ate the same piece after the shoot). The shot looked good on the camera’s LCD display but upon looking at it on the computer I was aghast to see the imprint.

            Anyway, on about the Queen! I cannot seem to stop baking from Alice Medrich book, “Bittersweet”. Her recipes are easy and always unfailingly scrumptious. This recipe is actually called “The Queen of Sheba”. Whenever you need a prescription chocolate fix, this is it. It is extremely rich and definitely full strength chocolate. The almonds give it a nice texture and the brandy gives it a nice bite that cuts through the decadence of the chocolate to give it a more complex finish.

Torte2

The torte, unadorned, is delicious by itself. I did not get to try sifting some powdered sugar on it since everyone wanted their dessert pronto and they all wanted the whipped cream and raspberries. My one rant of the day was accidentally overcooking it a little in that I failed the skewer test in the center because it came out dry. The time between moist and gooey and completely dry with the toothpick test is a very thin line and it could be a matter of 2 minutes. So I was all out sorts all day thinking I will be serving a dry torte, but it turns out that this chocolate dessert is very forgiving and we still ended up with a very moist fudgy torte.

So as I say, Hail to the Queen!

6 ounces bittersweet 66% to 70% chocolate, coarsely chopped

10 tbsp. butter (1 ¼ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

3 tbsp. brandy

1/8 tsp. pure almond extract

1/8 tsp. salt

½ cup unbalanced whole almonds

2 tbsp. all purpose flour

4 large eggs, separated at room temperature

¾ cup sugar

1/8 tsp. cream of tartar

Powdered sugar for dusting

Lightly sweetened whipped cream

Position rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 °F. Unless you are planning to serve the cake on the pan bottom, line the cake pan with a circle of parchment paper.

Place the chocolate and butter in a medium heatproof bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir occasionally until nearly melted. Remove from the heat and stir until melted and smooth. Stir in brandy, almond extract, if using, and salt. Set aside.

Meanwhile, pulse the nuts and flour in a food processor until well blended. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with ½ cup of sugar until well blended. Stir in the chocolate mixture. Set aside.

In a clean dry bowl, with an electric mixer, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until soft peaks form when the beaters are lifted. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining ¼ cup sugar and beat at high speed (or medium-high speed in a heavy duty mixer) until the peaks are stiff but not dry. Scoop one-quarter of the egg whites and all of the nut mixture on top of the chocolate batter, and, using a large rubber spatula, fold them in. Scrape the remaining egg whites onto the batter and fold together. Turn the batter in the prepared pan, spreading it level if necessary.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted about 1 ½ inches from the edge emerges almost clean but a toothpick inserted in the center is still moist and gooey. Set the pan on a rack to cool. (The cooled torte can be covered tightly with plastic wrap, or removed from the pan and wrapped well, and stored at room temperature up to 3 days or frozen for up to 3 months.

To serve, slide a slim knife around the inside of the pan to loosen the cake. Remove the pan sides and transfer the cake, on the pan bottom, to a platter, or invert the cake onto a rack or tray, remove the paper liner, and invert onto a platter. Using a fine-mesh sieve, sift a little powdered sugar over the top of the cake before serving if desired. Serve each slice with a little whipped cream.

My Test Kitchen Homework:

            I’ll admit that since I started baking I have never established a confident marker on beating egg whites to its various peak levels. I realized this when I was making the soufflé, I kept on asking myself if this was enough or should I beat it some more. I guess I’ve never really beaten an egg white till it was dry and ruined. So, like the roux I will make several sacrificial beaten egg whites so I can visually ascertain with confidence, what foamy, soft peaks, stiff peaks not dry and over beaten egg whites look like. A good reference of this actually is in “Baking Illustrated”. Also “Cookwise” by Shirley Corriher has an excellent topic for discerning the chemistry on beating egg whites.