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07 September 2005

plummy red wine and a flourless chocolate torte

wine with chocolate, originally uploaded by shaunaforce.

Flourless chocolate torte.

Just the sound of it struck fear into my heart. How could I ever make something so daunting, so mythical in my mind, so...sophisticated? After all, I’m a girl who started off her baking career by ripping open the inside lining of a Duncan Hines brownie box and feeling proud for adding the right number of eggs and amount of oil.

But those days are long gone. All summer long, I’ve been making dishes that once would have daunted me: homemade ravioli; potato chips from scratch; red beans and rice. I’ll never, ever eat packaged hummus again, because the homemade is infinitely better and takes about twelve minutes to prepare. (And the other day, in the bulk section of the grocery store, I saw powdered hummus mix. Just add water! Blech. Why would anyone ever eat that?) With every recipe I make, I’m eager to make the next one.

But still—flourless chocolate torte. When I walked into Macrina Bakery on a daily basis, long before the celiac diagnosis, I’d look at the large molasses cookies and know I could make those at home if I had the time. But the tortes sat in the middle of the gleaming display cases, calling me, and taunting me. I could never make them. Just too hard.

But the days of gazing at baked goods in Macrina Bakery are gone. And eating gluten-free has taught me, every day, every meal, how lucky I am to be forced to make my own food from scratch, instead of relying on packages and chemicals and salesmanship. Convenience is overrated. These days, I’d rather spend two hours in the kitchen, concocting something, than doing almost anything else.

And I didn’t want a torte to taunt me any longer.

So I kept saying to my friends, all summer: “Some day, I’m going to figure out how to make a flourless chocolate torte. That will be when I know I’m an accomplished gluten-free cook.” But someday seemed a long way away. And I didn’t even own a springform pan.

But thanks to Clotilde, I have now made a flourless chocolate torte.

Dear Clotilde, of
Chocolate and Zucchini, put out a call for another food blog event. Find the best wine to accompany good dark chocolate. It could be any kind we want, but it had to mix well with that bittersweet, decadent, ineffable taste. Having written about chocolate the other day, I knew this would be hard. Why?

First of all, I don’t know much of anything about wine. Oh, I can recognize bad wines: thin, slightly bitter, or forgettable. And I have started to develop a sense of what I like: full-bodied, with a slight spiciness, and a smooth finish. I like a wine with a personality, but not too boisterous. And red. I only really like red wine.

So yesterday, when I sat down to figure out what wine I wanted, I tried to do some research online. (I heart google.) But quickly, I felt overwhelmed. There are a thousand sites, and they all disagree, and they write in elliptical terms, and I don’t know what the heck they’re talking about. Jammy? Oaky? Does it have legs? I mean, that one I have figured out, via an ex-wine-snot boyfriend. (He’s probably still a wine snot, but he’s definitely an ex for me.) But it still all sounds silly to me. Like those guys from Sideways, who are screaming outside of restaurants that no one will be drinking merlots or relying on pretension to prop up their shambles of lives. Um, no thanks. And I don’t care what they say: I still don’t like pinot noirs.

I guess I’m just not sophisticated enough to pick a wine.

So I turned to flourless chocolate torte recipes to distract myself instead. Heidi at
101 Cookbooks had a fabulous one a few weeks ago, in a post about her tour of the Scharffenberger plant in San Francisco. (Lucky girl!) But she had just made it, and it called for warming eggs over a steaming bath of water, and I grew a little intimidated. So I called my friend Tita, who said I would need almond flour for her recipe. I’m sure it’s scrumptious, and I’m sure I’ll make it in the future, but I wanted something pure chocolate, not cut by anything else. So I turned to The Best Recipe again. When I’m making something for the first time, I go back to this book, and through the exhaustive work they do, I teach myself how to make something new. And later, I’ll experiment, wildly, with a dexterity other people will envy. But for now, I admit it--I’m a total beginner.

Well, not anymore, now.

The recipe (reprinted below) has only three ingredients: eggs, butter, and dark chocolate. What it does involve is patience, strong biceps, and a bit of futzing. First, I cut out a piece of parchment paper just the right size for the bottom of the springform pan I had sprung for the day before. Then greased the sides with butter. (Warning: this is in no way a low-fat recipe.)

roasting pan

I had also splurged (my last one of this month, or perhaps more) on a good roasting pan at
Sur La Table the day before. I’ve been meaning to buy one for months, because every roast chicken I make in a baking pan turns out a little soggy, not the way I dream of one. But again, I’ve been a little overwhelmed by all the choices. (Do you ever feel like we’re just offered too many choices in this culture?) And that made me put off the purchase. But this recipe calls for a roasting pan filled with boiling water, as a base for the springform pan. Well, if I need it for a food blog event.....

Fortunately, a kind woman at Sur La Table walked me through all the different options, and even talked me out of spending too much money. I love that place. And I left with a shiny new roasting pan.

So gingerly, I pulled it out and prepared it for the bath. (Oh, and took a picture of it.) I set the eggs spinning in the Kitchen Aid for five minutes (bless that machine, which I’ve had since 1995, and I hope I have it all my life). And then I started to melt the chocolate.

melting chocolate

I don’t have a double boiler. Another one on the wish list, but I wasn’t about to buy that too, on top of the roasting pan and springform pan. So I chopped up the chocolate (an organic one I found in bulk at PCC, 63% cocoa) and tossed in the butter, set the microwave at 50% and stopped it every minute to stir and stir. Within a few moments, it was smooth, melty chocolate. I had to resist the urge to just dip my fingers in it and eat it up there.

Bu there was work to do. The eggs were foamy, doubled in volume, and ready to go. Now this is the part that requires patience. I poured 1/3 of the foamy eggs into the melted chocolate and stirred, thoroughly, hard, fast, faster, more thoroughly, sweeping the spatula around the bowl, in hopes that it would all blend together. But it took forever, and my arms started to ache. I’m not kidding. And I kayak every other day. I didn’t need to go yesterday, though. Making this torte was a workout. Finally, I saw flecks of chocolate through the foam, and then streaks, and then giant swaths. And eventually, it was homogenous, one chocolate egg mix. And then I had 2/3 of the egg foam left, to do it again.

I sighed with satisfaction when the eggs, chocolate, and butter were finally one. I poured it into the springform, took the kettle bubbling over from the stove, and filled the roasting pan with water. And away we go.

Twenty-three minutes later, it looked like this.

flourless chocolate torte

While it cooled, I knew I had only one thing to do: I had to find that wine. Luckily, it was only six blocks away. I’m blessed with one of the best wine stores in Seattle in my neighborhood. Friendly, smart, and not at all pretentious, the employees know their wine. And they’re filled with passionate responses. I told the woman behind the counter that I needed a great wine to go with dark chocolate. “I’d like a wine from Washington State,” I told her, feeling the desire to show off my home. But she scrunched up her face, as though she had just swallowed sour vinegar.
“Um, no?” I said.
“Really, there’s nothing from Washington State I’d recommend for this,” she said. (I know she’d like me to inform you, however, that there are dozens of great wines for other purposes from Washington State.)
I gave up and asked her what she would buy. There was only one. She led me to it. I started to laugh.

It was from France. Just like Clotilde. I swear, I’m not trying to sweeten up the judge here. It really was the one.

great wine with chocolate

The woman at
McCarthy and Schiering told me that the wine is a bit sweet, but not too much. A slight bit tart. Like a port, but not. “People always talk about cabs with chocolate, but....” And she made that face again. I couldn’t help but laugh at her physical honesty. I bought the wine, the Cuvee Leon Parce 2003, made by the Domaine de la Rectorie winery in Banyuls. This vineyard, on only 54 acres, is owned by brothers Marc and Thierry Parce. And they make a damned fine wine.

Finally, it was time to stop researching and stopping, time to start eating. I had three dear friends over for dinner, to eat the leftover red beans and rice from the night before. (And oh my, that dish was a thousand times better the second day.) We ate and talked and stretched out on the floor. And when I brought out the flourless chocolate torte, everyone oohed and aahed. I told them about the wine and chocolate event, showed them the bottle of wine, and opened it up to breathe. Soon, we had our first smells: a little plum, a little sweet grape, and even (voila!) a little chocolate. And then sips. Here is some of what they said:

“There’s a lot in the bouquet.”
“Ah, it’s sweet.”
“But it’s not as sugary as port.”
“There’s something in there that’s just a little smoky. Like an old cabin in the woods.” (This friend is from Alaska, where that would be a real sesnory memory.)
“There’s not as much afterburn as there is with port.”

And another friend said, “Hey, stop talking about the taste. I’m still just smelling it.”

They were impressed. So was I. It was a complex, lovely wine, with twenty layers of taste. I don't know how to write about it properly. It just felt right. And then, when we ate the torte.....

a slice of chocolate torte

Ah. Gorgeous. Dense with chocolate, with nothing in between the ineffable taste of dark chocolate and my tongue. Perfectly blended, not an ounce of air in it. Slightly bitter, smooth and even, sweet but not too much so, a surprise in every bite. And we only needed several bites, because it was so wonderfully rich that we only needed a few forkfuls. Great food is like that for me now. I never overeat anymore. I just leave the table sighing with happiness.

So there it is: my wine for chocolate. I’d definitely do it again, if I were to splurge again. And I will. But for now, I’ll bask in the memory of that taste on my tongue. And the happiness at finally having made a flourless chocolate torte.

FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE TORTE, from The Best Recipe, p. 461

8 large eggs, cold
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 pound of butter (two sticks), cut into 1/2-inch chunks

°Adjust the oven rack to the lower-middle position. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Grease pan sides. Cover the pan underneath and along the sides of the springform pan with sheet of heavy-duty foil and set it in a large roasting pan.
°Beat the eggs with an electric mixer (preferably a KitchenAid, if you have one), with the wire whisk attachment, for about five minutes. Turn off the mixer when the eggs have doubled in volume and grown foamy.
°Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. OR, set a large, heatproof bowl, set over a pan of almost simmering water, until the chocolate and butter mixture is smooth. OR, melt the chocolate in the microwave at 50% power for two minutes. Stir. Add the butter. Continue heating at 50%, stirring every minute, until the chocolate and butter have melted and are smooth.
°Set a kettle of water on to boil.
°Fold 1/3 of the egg foam into the chocolate mixture, using a large rubber spatula, until only a few streaks of eggs are visible. Fold in half of the remaining foam, then do the same with the remaining foam, until the mixture is nearly homogenous.
°Scrape the batter into a prepared springform pan and smooth the surface with a rubber spatula. Set the roasting pan on the oven rack and pour in enough boiling water to come about halfway up the side of the springform pan. Bake until the cake has risen slightly, the edges are just beginning to set, and a thin glazed crust has formed on the surface. (Think brownie.) If you wish, you can use an instant-read thermometer to determine when the cake has reached 140°. This should be about 22 to 25 minutes.
°Remove the cake pan from the roasting pan and set it on a wire rack. Cool it to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight. [I didn’t do this, because we just couldn’t wait. It tasted just fine!]
°About 30 minutes before serving, remove the springform pan sides, invert the cake on a sheet of waxed paper, peel off the parchment pan liner, and turn the cake right side upon serving platter.
°If you want, you can sieve a light sprinkling of confectioners’ sugar or unsweetened cocoa powder over the cake to decorate it further. But really, don’t bother. Everyone’s going to gobble it up immediately, anyway!


At 6:43 AM, Blogger Freckle Face Girl said...

You definitely had a wonderful evening. The descriptions were so inspiring. I can't stop myself from drooling a little.

At 7:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was truly beautiful. I've been driving across town in my gas guzzler each weekend to buy GF pastries from a bakery that also makes them sugar free. You can't tell in the taste, but the GI reaction is undeniably artificial sweetner. I'm sure it will take me much longer to reach a flourless chocolate torte, but it sounds like it's worth the effort!

At 8:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That slice of torte looks divine! And such a lovely post to go with it :-)

I am a wine dunce though, so can't comment on that part...heehee

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Mags said...


By the way, don't waste your money on a double boiler. You can just use a big glass bowl over a pot of simmering water. Seriously.

At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your blog which I've been reading since Clotilde mentioned it on hers - you are very inspiring. I have a wheat, dairy, sugar and alcohol sensitivities as well as requiring to eat more protein and low carbohydrate, but it's not as difficult as celiac. Like you, I still enjoy lots of good and healthy foods.

Sweet treats are a challenge though. This recipe sounds absolutely fabulous. I want to make it for a birthday if I can find very low sugar choc and add Stevia. May I have the quantities for the recipe, please, Shauna.

By the way, I have made cakes with finely ground almonds which are good though they don't rise much, especially without much sugar.

At 7:59 PM, Blogger Randi said...

You're a really good writer. I made clotilde's recipe and it has 1tbls of flour in it. Id like to try yours. The one i made was more like a dense brownie. I made a wicked, easy peasy peanut butter ice cream to go with it. Its in the blog a few weeks ago.

At 9:31 PM, Blogger Shauna said...


Oh you could make this cake, easy. And then you could drool, then eat!


While I applaud the efforts of people trying to make sugar-free for those who cannot eat it, I really prefer the real thing. Not too much of it. Just a few perfect tastes. I find that's infinitely better than too much of mediocre. And I'm sure you could make this torte too!


I pretty much feel like a wine dunce as well. But chocolate I know!


Thanks for the tip. In fact, several people wrote to me to suggest this. Clearly, I don't need a double boiler. I just have this fantasy of owning one someday...


I applaud your attitude in the face of so many foods you cannot eat! But like you, I see this as a challenge to be mindful, a chance to really experience food.

I was so tired last night when I finished posting that I forgot to put the quantities on here! But the recipe is posted now. Come on back.


Thank you for what you said about my writing. I really appreciate that. Please do try the torte. It's sooo good. And now you're tempting me with that peanut butter ice cream!

At 10:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You remind me of myself! I also did the WBW 13 event and I had never made such a gourmet cake before, nor do I know very much about wine. But we both did well, huh!??! :)

At 11:51 PM, Blogger kitchenmage said...

Sounds yummy. But then I am a sucker for chocolate. I have a similar torte that's on my reliable dessert list, with the primary difference being the addition of a mint infusion to the butter. To do this, melt the butter, toss in about half a cup of cleaned mint leaves, stir and cover for half an hour. Strain, pressing the mint leaves to squeeze out all the butter and proceed as usual. Depending on your preferences you can try different mints--chocolate mint is more subtle, while spearmint is a much brighter, greener taste.

At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, great post. I love chocolate and a good red wine. The next time I make Cowboy Cupcakes I'll have to pair it up with something. You know, I think you could make those if you left out the flour. The little bit of heat in them is really warming.

At 11:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want to try a flourless chocolate cake with absolutely no flour that comes out with the texture of a brownie (an EXCELLENT brownie), please try this one. I've made two of them, and they ROCK.
Also, you can melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave on reduced temperature. Just stop and check and stir it every 30 seconds.

At 11:53 AM, Blogger Shauna said...


You do remind me of me! (What an awkward sentence, but never mind.) Wasn't it fun to concoct something we didn't think we could do?


I'd love to try the mint variation. Of course, that means I'd have to make another chocolate torte....

Pragmatic Chef--

Ooh, now I want to try Cowboy Cupcakes. I like desserts with heat, and I certainly trust your taste!


That recipe sounds tempting. I'll try it soon!

At 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just discovered your site whilst reading Chocolate & Zuchini and noticing the gluten-free reference.

I, too, am celiac and have been looking for a good flourless cake recipe for a couple of years, so thanks! My speciality dessert is creme brulée, which is similar in having few ingredients but a certain amount of fussiness involved.

I find the best GF foods are the ones that were never intended to have wheat in them. This is why I am such a fan of mexican and thai food {which my brother served at his wedding to keep his celiac siblings and Mom happy}.


At 11:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re the double boiler: it's really just a home replacement for a bain -marie, the effects of which you can easily reproduce at home by putting one saucepan or heatproof bowl into another saucepan filled with boiling water. You just leave the larger pan on the heat while you're melting or combining ingredients (do not boil the water; just keep it hot) and you will have the results you want. I find it even easier to use than the double boiler I used to own.

For the person who made a chocolate almond cake that didn't rise very much: that's because you have to beat the egg yolks separately from the whites and fold the whites in at the end after you've combined the other ingredients. Sometimes I add extra egg whites. It just depends on what I have on hand and how high I want the torte or cake to be. If you're using sugar, try brown sugar (golden or light brown unless you're a whiz in the kitchen) with the chocolate to enhance the dark, rich flavour. A pinch of cinnamon also does wonders (not enough to make it cinnamonny, like apple pie spice, though). If you do use cinnamon, use the good kind, not the cheap, slightly bitter -tasting approximation often sold in supermarkets. McCormick has an excellent quality cinnamon powder which is widely available. Good luck and happy eating!

At 3:46 PM, Blogger amsuka said...

Thank you for your inspiration!
My husband is celiac, and as I now believe I am gluten sensitive, I have omitted gluten from my diet as well. I am now searching for a bread machine recipe for baguette and sandwich bread- any ideas how to adapt regular GF recipes?
I made a torte (with chocolate ganache-yum) for my Mum's 75th birthday party- and EVERYONE was in chocolate heaven! Just wish I had thought of a dazzling red to go with it-I'll just have to make another one I guess! Thank you thank you- I will be a regular reader of your inspiring blogs!

At 8:24 AM, Blogger erobbins said...

so is there an alternative to this recipe if you have to be dairy free too? thanks for your blog. you write beautifully and are inspiring! you gave me chill bumps reading your "about this site" section. i can relate. thanks!

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Sasha Lynn said...

Since this is one of my favorite recipes - and I just shared it with my friends on LJ - I figured I had better get over here and leave you a comment.

This cake has ABSOLUTELY saved birthdays for me. Returned are the happy faces of all who share in the blessed cake of birth. Yay!

As decadent as it is one would never believe how quickly and easily this goes together. You continue to enrich my life, my dear.

I also wanted to share a little modification I did for a fund raiser a few months ago. I took a mini cup cake pan and made tiny tortes in liners - whipped a quick cream cheese frosting (cream cheese, butter, vanilla extract) - piped it on top - and then added a slice of strawberry to the top of each - stood up in the frosting like a tiny boat sail.

They were, of course, a hit. The remains at the end were quickly gobbled by those working the table. This is by far my favorite dessert recipe - although my family recipe for sweet potato souffle comes close...

Thanks again, Shauna, for all you continue to do for the GF community.

At 10:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sounds like you had a very nice evening. I am a chef, but not a vintner, and have had to cook for people with similar challenges. I wish you the best in all your endeavors. Oh and by the by my last name is Parce and I wasn't aware of a wine with Parce on the label until I saw your blog.

At 10:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sounds like you had a very nice evening. I am a chef, but not a vintner, and have had to cook for people with similar challenges. I wish you the best in all your endeavors. Oh and by the by my last name is Parce and I wasn't aware of a wine with Parce on the label until I saw your blog.


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