Flourless Chocolate Cake with Toasted Hazelnuts and Brandied Cherries

Growing up, Passover was a mystery to me ’cause, well, I’m not Jewish. Over the years, I have had many Jewish friends, but I was clueless about the holiday’s meaning and traditions. I did know that if the calendar said we were getting close to Passover, it was a pretty good bet that I would stumble upon Charlton Heston in a toga while flipping through the channels.

It wasn’t until adulthood that I got to experience my first Seder. As a history major and enthusiast, I found it fascinating (although a bit tedious). But the food was amazing. (Rumors of gelatinous Gefelte fish abound, and I had been a little concerned. All right, really concerned. I was pleasantly surprised.) What I experienced was a delicious, deeply meaningful, and moving meal steeped in tradition and lessons for life.

We dined on Matzo ball soup and brisket. The haroseth was a favorite. How can anyone go wrong with apples, raisins and honey? The best was saved for last: a flourless chocolate cake with fresh berries. It was a perfect ending to a poignant evening.

The recipe below is similar, although just as delicious. You can purchase brandied cherries if you are short on time, or purée fresh raspberries or strawberries to use as a sauce.

Passover begins Monday March 25 at sundown. To all my Jewish friends past, present and future…Next Year in Jerusalem!

L’Chaim!  

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Toasted Hazelnuts and Brandied Cherries
Bon Appétit, March 2007
Makes 12 servings

This over-the-top cake has impressive looks and moistness. Start the cherries ahead: They soak in brandy for a week and then in syrup for at least two days.

Ingredients
Brandied Cherries
1 750-ml bottle brandy
1 1/2 cups dried tart cherries
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

Cake
10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, diced
10 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 large egg whites

Ganache
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted, coarsely chopped
Whipped cream
For brandied cherries:

Directions
Combine brandy and dried cherries in 4-cup glass container with lid. Cover and let soak at room temperature 1 week.

Bring 1 cup water and sugar to boil in medium saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and cool syrup. Drain brandy from cherries (reserve brandy for another use). Add sugar syrup to cherries and stir to blend. Let soak at room temperature at least 2 days.

Do ahead: Can be made 2 weeks ahead. Store covered at room temperature.

For cake
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter 10-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper round. Place chocolate and 1 1/4 cups butter in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water; stir until mixture is melted and smooth. Remove bowl from over water; cool to lukewarm, about 10 minutes.

Using electric mixer, beat egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in large bowl until very thick and pale yellow in color, about 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla and salt. Gently fold chocolate mixture into yolk mixture. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites and remaining 6 tablespoons sugar in another large bowl until peaks form. Fold 1/3 of beaten whites into chocolate mixture. Fold in remaining whites in 2 additions. Transfer batter to prepared pan.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out with moist crumbs attached, about 45 minutes (cake will be puffed and soufflé-like while baking). Cool cake in pan on rack 15 minutes (cake will fall in center). Run knife around cake sides to loosen; press edge of cake down to make level with center. Remove pan sides and cool cake completely.

Do ahead: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and store at room temperature.

For ganache
Combine chocolate and cream in medium metal bowl. Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water and stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Remove bowl from over water; let stand until ganache cools slightly but is still pourable, about 5 minutes.

Place cooled cake on rack set over rimmed baking sheet. Pour 1/2 cup ganache over top of cake. Using offset spatula, quickly spread ganache over top and sides of cake. Freeze cake 3 minutes. Pour remaining ganache over top of cake. Working quickly but gently and grasping pan bottom and rack together, slightly tilt rack with cake from side to side, allowing ganache to flow evenly over top and down sides of cake; smooth sides with offset spatula. Press hazelnuts onto sides of cake to adhere. Chill cake until ganache is set, about 1 hour.

Do ahead: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and keep refrigerated. Let stand at room temperature 45 minutes before serving.

Cut cake into wedges. Garnish with whipped cream and spoon brandied cherries alongside.

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