Note: This post is dedicated to the lovely Moira, who knows why.
I can hear you now. Eeeeek! Is it supposed to look like that? Not quite. The middle is supposed to sink like that, but the top is not supposed to be all broken and pathetic-like. Granted, it *is* a fragile cake, one that must be decanted from the pan with care, but this is more damage than can be attributed to careless handling. My hunch is that the oven was not quite hot enough, and the middle of the cake did not set properly, while the sides got a bit overbaked.
The cake in question is called a Trianon, and was the specialty of the late, much-lamented Patisserie Colette on 3rd Avenue and 66th Street. Adrianne Marcus, author of The Chocolate Bible (the 1978 survey of chocolatiers across the U.S. and around the world, not the Christian Teubner cookbook), called the Trianon the best chocolate cake in the world. Lora Brody's memoir Growing Up on the Chocolate Diet includes a wonderful chapter on her obsession with the Trianon, from her insistence that her husband pick up the cakes because she was terrified of Colette, to her years of recipe testing, trying to crack the code on the cake, to the dinner party that finally yielded her the recipe.
I can still hear you. So it's not very pretty...how does it taste? I baked this cake on Thursday night. We finished it tonight. It tasted like a dream made real. I keep forgetting that a drab and unassuming package can be a real beauty on the inside. Silly me.
Edit: It was disingenuous of me, was it not, to try to post a chocolate cake picture without divulging the recipe? Sorry about that, dear friends. In response to the lovely bunni, who asked how the cake got its name, I'm afraid that I must take the "must do more research!" plea. I believe that the cake was Colette's own creation and Trianon was the proprietary name she used, but as to why she named the cake as she did, I cannot say. Yet.
Once again, the recipe comes from Growing Up on the Chocolate Diet by Lora Brody, but the words are mine. And yes, that's not a typo: you really do need 10 ounces of butter. Yes, that's 2 1/2 sticks. Just remember that you're not going to eat the whole cake in one sitting -- well, hopefully, you're not -- and that this is a perfect thing to take to a dinner party where you are serving, in Lora Brody's words, "12 normal people or 8 chocomaniacs."
12 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
10 ounces (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup (7 oz.) granulated sugar
5 extra-large eggs, separated
1 cup (4 oz. [sift flour into measuring cup and level off with knife to get 4 oz.]) flour**
** The original recipe calls for 1 cup of cake flour. Cake flour is a soft (low-protein) flour that has been bleached with benzoyl peroxide. The bleaching is meant to help strengthen the gluten against the weakening properties of the butter and chocolate. I hate bleached flours of all stripes, and I am squeamish at the thought of eating something treated with benzoyl peroxide, which is an active ingredient in acne medications, so I substitute pastry flour, which is unbleached and has a comparable protein content (9% vs. 8% for cake flour). If you only have all-purpose flour (11.7% protein content), go ahead and use it. Any Trianon is better than no Trianon.
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F (Gas Mark 3) and place a rack in the center of the oven. Butter an 8-cup loaf pan, line the bottom with parchment and butter the parchment.
In the top of a double boiler, over gently simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate together. When both are melted, add the sugar and stir in with a wire whisk. Cook for 2 minutes. Whisking all the while, add the egg yolks one at a time. Remove from heat.
Beat the egg whites, together with the pinch of salt, in a mixer until they form firm but soft peaks (i.e. you don't want stiffly-beaten whites; they should still be shiny and hold a peak, but not a stiff one. If your whites start to resemble cottage cheese and won't hold a peak, you've overbeaten them and will need to start with 5 new egg whites).
Stir about 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it a bit. Pour the chocolate mixture over the egg whites and fold until everything is almost (but not completely) amalgamated. Sift the flour over the chocolate, a third at a time, and fold in. Try not to knock out too much air, but be sure that all the flour has been amalgamated.
Pour the chocolate into the loaf pan and set the pan in the oven. Bake for 50 minutes (check the cake after 30 to be sure it's not overbrowning; if it is, cover it with a piece of foil.) The cake is done when it has risen over the pan about 1 inch, and is thoroughly baked; it should not wiggle if you shake the pan gently. Turn the oven off and let the cake sit in the oven for one more hour.
Take the pan out of the oven and let the cake cool completely. Decant the cake by placing a cookie sheet over the top of the cake, carefully flipping the pans over and removing the cake pan. You may want to pass a thin knife around the pan before flipping -- this is a good idea. Peel the parchment off the cake bottom and carefully turn the cake over, for it is quite fragile. If you can, wrap it in plastic and foil and let sit for 24 hours. If you are serving right away, just be prepared for a bit of crumbliness when you slice it.