By Anne Willan

Anne Willan has been an associate editor of Gourmet and food editor of the Washington Star, and currently contributes a column to the Tribune Media Services International as well as writing for the Los Angeles Times.  Anne’s international outreach, with books published in 24 countries and translated into 18 languages, makes her one of the most internationally renowned of today’s cooking authorities.

Light Chocolate Cake

I think of this cake as a chocolate mousse miraculously held together by potato starch so the outside is crisp and the interior soft and tender. As you’ll see, the method of mixing is quite strange but I’ve always followed it to the letter and had no trouble—the recipe comes from the back of a chocolate package I came across in Lyon, a city renowned for its chocolate fantasies. The Gâteau is served at room temperature and cuts like a sponge cake, though it tastes more like a luxurious dessert. I like to add a few fresh berries as accompaniment.

  • 8 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 6 tablespoons milk    
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar    
  • 2/3 cup potato starch    
  • Pinch of salt    
  • 2/3 cup ground almonds    
  • 6 eggs, separated   
  • Cocoa powder or confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling      
Chantilly Cream
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml./4 fluid ounces) heavy cream    
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar    
  • 1 tablespoon cognac   

Heat oven to 350 degrees F and set a shelf in the center. Butter a 10-inch springform cake pan, line the base with a round of parchment paper, and butter the paper.

Put the chocolate and milk in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring until the chocolate is melted and smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Take the pan from the heat and let the mixture cool to lukewarm. With a wooden spoon, mix in the vanilla, half the sugar, the potato starch and the salt. In a small bowl mix the almonds with the egg yolks, and then stir them into the chocolate mixture.

In a stand mixer whisk the egg whites until stiff. With the whisk turning, gradually beat in the remaining sugar and continue beating to make a glossy, smooth meringue, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir about a quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then lightly fold this mixture back into the remaining egg whites.

Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake until the cake puffs up and the surface cracks, 24 to 28 minutes.  The center should remain slightly underdone, and moisture will still cling to a skewer when you insert it in the middle of the cake. Watch carefully as a minute or two can make quite a difference. Let the cake cool completely before unmolding it. The cake can be served as soon as it is cool, when it will be creamy in the center. If you keep it longer it will firm up, and it can be stored up to 3 days in an airtight container. Whether soft or firm, it is delicious. Shortly before serving, make the Chantilly cream.  Sprinkle the cake lightly with cocoa powder or confectioners’ sugar and serve the cream separately.

Excerpted from THE COUNTRY COOKING OF FRANCE, by Anne Willan, Chronicle Books, © 2007

Serves 10 to 12