Though there were many happy distractions on our recent visit to Concord, we remained single-minded in purpose: to celebrate Serious Turtle’s 30th birthday. It was an occasion that demanded not only our attendance, but also our most earnest culinary efforts.
The week before, K. devised the birthday menu—a retrospective of Turtle's most-requested dishes: Daniel Boulud smoked salmon (with accoutrements), Suzanne Goin’s ragout of morels with crème fraîche and toasted brioche; Jeremiah Tower’s pork tenderloin with caramel and crystallized ginger sauce; Molly Stevens’s cream-braised brussels sprouts; roasted carrots with garlic, and… ?
The cake—to my mind, a birthday’s raison d'être—was a lingering question mark.
It wasn’t until the birthday morning (after the requisite round of ebelskivers) that K. and I sat down to narrow our options. In a nod to nostalgia, we looked into recreating Turtle’s childhood favorite (a semi-homemade vanilla layer cake + chocolate frosting), but agreed that something chocolate, and sans cake mix, was more appropriate. We considered multiple layers, but limited time and oven space suggested it was wiser not to.
So, to review: we wanted something chocolate and homemade, with the festivity of a layer cake, but no layers. (Oh, and it had to be relatively low maintenance.) It seemed like an impossible wish list—or at least it did until, flipping through the pages of Desserts by The Yard, we discovered a recipe that seemed to check every box:
Flourless chocolate cake. I know what you’re thinking: That’s the solution? Where’s the panache? The architectural flourish?
And fair enough. Unadorned as you see here, the cake is nothing special—a standard variation on a stale concept. But this was only the beginning. A substratum. A confectionery bedrock. On top of which we spooned a veritable Matterhorn of whipped meringue.
The final product was not just beautiful, it was a study in topography—one part dark chocolate and four parts wispy meringue. (The golden meringue crackles, then dissolves on your tongue, leaving you with a spoonful of warm fudge.) It was gooey chocolate tar pit meets cumulus sugar cloud.
It was a cake worthy of the occasion.
Flourless Chocolate Cake with Meringue Topping
Adapted from Desserts by the Yard, by Sherry Yard
For the cake:
8½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
For the meringue:
8 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1½ cups sugar
Make the cake: Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter a 9- or 10-inch fluted tart pan or 9-inch springform pan. The pan must be at least 1 inch deep or the batter will overflow.
Melt the butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl or in the bowl of a double boiler, stirring together until smooth.
Beat together the eggs and sugar on medium speed until pale and the mixture forms a ribbon when lifted from the bowl with a spatula, about 2 minutes. On low speed, slowly add the cocoa powder and the chocolate mixture and combine well. Pour into the prepared pan.
Bake for 15 minutes, rotate the pan and continue to bake for another 8 minutes, or until the cake is slightly firm to the touch. Remove and slow to cool on a rack to room temperature.
Prior to serving, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on low speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and increase the speed to medium. Continue beating while you gradually add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Beat the mixture to stiff, satiny peaks.
Spoon the meringue over the chocolate cake, creating decorative swirls. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the meringue is golden brown. Serve from the pan. Refrigerate leftovers.