Genius Recipes

This Genius Flourless Chocolate Cloud Cake Will Look (& Taste) Amazing No Matter What

With a trick for extra oohs, ahhs.

December  5, 2018

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Creative Director and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.

Photo by James Ransom

If you’ll permit me a sweeping generalization or two, I will say that most of us home cooks, deep down, would love to be able to confidently unveil a dazzling dessert at the end of a dinner party or holiday feast. For the joy it brings our loved ones, for their warm admiration, for the reinforcement that we can do anything we want in the kitchen, and in life.

And almost precisely that same number of home cooks feels a little shaky about pulling it off. Even me. Heck, especially me, because I had to go and write a cookbook about Genius Desserts and now the expectations of my well-intentioned family and friends weigh a little heavier. Failure feels bigger.

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For all of us, a dessert that will look and taste spectacular no matter what your sidetracked mind might do is a gift, and we should hold it tightly. Below is one of my favorite recipes like this, an iconic flourless chocolate cake from the late, tremendously talented Richard Sax, excerpted from Genius Desserts.

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Top Comment:
“I was fortunate enough to work with Richard Sax, having typed several of his cookbooks for him. I made this recipe many times and it is INSANELY GOOD, as are all of his recipes. His description of "intense, then relief" is perfect. You will love this cake. Rest in Peace, Richard!!”
— Barbara
Comment

Read on to understand how it works and how its spirit will save you from anxiety whenever your cakes fall or look unexpectedly disheveled. Swoops of whipped cream and chocolate dust will hide all, as will saying, "It's supposed to do that. Isn't that cool?" (1)


Genius Desserts Sneak Peek

Richard Sax’s Chocolate Cloud Cake

Here is where we learn that flourless chocolate cake can mean many different things, depending on ratios and technique. Both this recipe and Rose Levy Beranbaum's Chocolate Oblivion Truffle Torte are known and loved as flourless chocolate cakes and use the same basic three ingredients (eggs, chocolate, and butter), with wildly different appearances and textures.

This one was a signature dessert of the late, beloved writer and cooking instructor Richard Sax. For the same amount of eggs as Beranbaum’s, he calls for half the chocolate and butter, and—instead of heating and whipping six whole eggs until billowy—he has you whip four of the whites with sugar to make a fluffy meringue, then gently fold them into the rest. Far from a dense and creamy torte, these three changes produce a poufy soufflé of a cake that intentionally caves in the center, leaving a craggy, wafer-like rim behind and a moussey hollow that you fill up with cold whipped cream. The effect is dramatic and bold, giving you, as Sax famously said, “intensity, then relief, in each bite.”

(1) Since recently re-sharing this recipe around the office, I have two tips to add. 1: The cake freezes beautifully. I would have said no, until our Food Stylist Anna Billingskog went and did it. 2: Consider filling the middle with Nigel Slater's Raspberry Ripple whipped cream, as our Video Programming Director Ishita Singh is planning to do. I sure will.

Got a genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

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The Genius Desserts cookbook is here! With more than 100 of the most beloved and talked-about desserts of our time (and the hidden gems soon to join their ranks) this book will make you a local legend, and a smarter baker to boot.

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75 Comments

Leslie123 February 15, 2019
Just made this luscious cake for a dinner party. I did leave out the orange zest and liquors, going instead with "straight chocolate." Oh boy! Delicious. Every person's plate had not a crumb left at the end. I do think I will add one of the liquor options next time. Thanks!
 
Picholine December 28, 2018
Made this today and the name chocolate cloud cake is a perfect name for it! It’s so delicious and not heavy...melts in your mouth yet richly chocolate. Comes out exactly as the photo. I used 70% chocolate . Perfect for a dinner party and impressive! I had a 9” springform pan.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 2, 2019
Woo-hoo! Thanks for reporting back.
 
Linda A. December 26, 2018
Can you use semi sweet chocolate but use less sugar? Just curious cause I have plenty of semi sweet already on hand. Should eggs all be at room temperature? Love your recipes!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 2, 2019
Hi Linda, I'm sorry for the delay! Semisweet, bittersweet, and dark chocolate are, in practice, pretty interchangeable terms—there's no regulated standard for any of them and brands vary. The most important thing in a very chocolate-heavy recipe like this is that you choose one you like the flavor of and, if there's a cacao percentage specified, you aim for that. (I get into this a bit in the beginning of Genius Desserts.) And this will work fine with either room temp or straight from the fridge eggs—I've done both, but I generally assume people will do the latter, unless the recipe specifies otherwise. Hope this is still helpful!
 
Linda A. December 26, 2018
Could you make “2” cakes using a 6” pan. I think guests would take a much smaller piece and maybe you’d have one left for YOU if you chose to hide the second cake. 😋😋
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 2, 2019
Hi Linda, apologies for the delay—I like your rationale. I just did some quick math and I think that would be fine! (The surface area of one 8" pan is about 200 square inches; for two 6" pans it's about 225; for one 9" pan it's 250—and Picholine above said 9" worked great!)
 
Linda D. February 15, 2019
Thank you for your response!
 
Louisa December 25, 2018
In a kitchen filled with many cooks and much Christmas chatter, I slipped up and forgot to add the butter to the mix. Tragedy? No! It was wonderful. Everyone raved about how good it was! I used Cointreau— it enhanced the orange peel. Next time I’ll see how much difference the butter makes.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 2, 2019
Thanks for reporting back, Louisa—who knew?! (Glad I know it now!)
 
aliciaa December 24, 2018
I made this for a Christmas party buffet and people were lined up to try it. It was gone in a jiffy. I love this cake.
 
Claudia Z. December 23, 2018
i just made the recipe, added the 2 TBS of Grand Marnier....I noticed my final batter was a bit more liquid-y than the video, not nearly as thick and fluffy (my egg whites were soft peaks- so those aren't to blame) and in fact when I took it out after 40 minutes it was still quite wet inside...any chance the liquid of the Grand Marnier makes the batter more liquid-y and requires more cook time? Do you think just adding 5 minutes to the time will compensate?
 
Alison December 23, 2018
Since it's on the bottom of the cake, I left it on. I slid the cake off the bottom of the springform and onto a cake plate.<br />
 
Kim December 22, 2018
I’m curious, how do you peel the parchment off without ruining the top of the cake? I just pulled it out of the oven. It looks gorgeous. But how do I transfer to a serving plate and peel off the paper? Thank you!!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 23, 2018
Hey Kim, I'm guessing you had to make a call on this already, but it's up to you! If you're feeling wary of messing with the cake, you can leave the parchment on and just be careful not to slice through and serve pieces of it as you're serving the cake. If you're feeling bold, you can carefully try to lift up the edges of the cake with a thin spatula or two and peel it away, once the cake has cooled.
 
Kim December 23, 2018
I ended up freezing the cake over night which made it much easier to handle and therefore was able to peel it off. I feel so honored that you responded to me!! Your genius desserts cookbook is at the top of my Christmas list this year. I’m a HUGE fan!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. January 2, 2019
I'm sorry for the delay, Kim—so happy to hear all of this. Thank you!!
 
Alison December 17, 2018
Superb! The texture was fantastic. Followed the recipe precisely. One thing I would say is you need to love orange as the flavor was intensely orange/chocolate. Next time I will skip the orange.
 
Barbra F. December 14, 2018
This looks amazing! Do you think you can make this in an 8-inch silicone springform pan? I have one but I am afraid the cake wouldn't be able to climb on that surface.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 15, 2018
Hi Barbara—I've never seen or used one of those! But I think it might actually work fine—silicone still seems to be slightly sticky and textured-feeling, even if it inhibits things from really getting stuck.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 15, 2018
Oops, sorry for misspelling your name, Barbra—I was too intrigued by the silicone springform!
 
judy December 12, 2018
Delightful. That said, I did not follow the recipe, as usual! I used unsweetened chocolate and only 3/4 cup of sugar. We like our chocolate very bitter. And whipped cream but no confectioner's sugar -- a splash of Bailey's was enough. So good. I'll do this for Christmas dinner now that I have had a taste. Thanks so much.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 15, 2018
Thanks for reporting back, judy! Glad to hear it still worked well with less sugar.
 
Ann D. December 9, 2018
Has anyone tried this without the whipped cream? I'm not enormously fond of it, and I have a severely lactose-intolerant son. I don't want anything too sweet, like marshmallow. Would it work well plain, or with a choice of ice creams that includes non-dairy?
 
Claudia T. December 9, 2018
Breyers ice cream makes a lactose free ice cream and it’s absolutely delicious, it’s there of the Vanilla Bean. I don’t see where that wouldn’t be good with that. There is also a topping by riches it is a lack toast free frosting vanilla you whip it up in your mixer it’s not real sweet, it’s light and airy. You can get it at Gordon’s food supply. I do cake decorating and I’ve use that for lactose free, In fact I worked at a bakery where we used it and people didn’t even know it was lactose free it’s delicious. Hope this helps you somewhat.
 
Mary F. December 9, 2018
There is also a coconut-based version of Cool Whip available in the freezer section of many supermarkets. I tried some with pumpkin pie last Thanksgiving, and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised by it— the coconut taste is very subtle. My son has even grown to prefer it to whipped cream.
 
Smaug December 11, 2018
I usually don't use the cream- the original version of this cake was just dusted with confectioner's sugar.
 
Jen December 21, 2018
If your son is severely lactose intolerant I would steer clear of Breyers vanilla bean. It is not 100% lactose free (learned the hard way). The fine print actually says 99% lactose free. I would go for the lactaid brand vanilla ice cream instead.
 
Bea December 25, 2018
Also they sell that at the bakery dept in Walmart for less than $4
 
Claudia T. December 9, 2018
Please let me know if you freeze the cake in the springform pan or out of pan. Also how long does it take to defrost? Should you take out of pan right away or after it’s defrosted? <br />Want to make this for my Card Club ladies... it will put them on Cloud 9 😇
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 10, 2018
Hi Claudia—check out my tips for Carolyn, below! Hope your club loves this as much as we do.
 
Ann R. December 9, 2018
I do not use sugar anymore since I have found stevia, it's more healthier and I only use a fraction of the quantity with no aftertaste that I found with the sweeteners
 
Angie December 9, 2018
You say this freezes well. How long does it take to defrost? Did you freeze it directly in the pan?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 10, 2018
Hi Angie—check out my tips for Carolyn, below!
 
Carolyn December 8, 2018
looks divine! would you freeze the cooked cloud cake in the springform?
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 10, 2018
Hi Carolyn, I checked in with our Food Stylist Anna Billingskog, who smartly froze an extra cloud cake after a video shoot—here's how she did it: She froze the cake (without the cream) in the pan, wrapped well in plastic. Transferred to the fridge for a couple hours to thaw, then uncovered and moved to the counter to finish (to help air out any condensation that collected on the plastic). We devoured it while it was still a little cold but you could certainly keep going to room temp. The crust was crisp and the middle moussey.
 
Ebravo December 6, 2018
Suggestions on where to by the springform??
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 6, 2018
Hi Ebravo—here's a Hotline thread with some community favorites! https://food52.com/hotline/28070-does-anyone-have-recommendations-for-a-good-springform-pan
 
Chili December 6, 2018
Choc. Cloud Cake is heavenly and her reaction at the end when she tastes it is divinely visceral!
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 6, 2018
:) I have a terrible poker face.
 
Lauren December 5, 2018
Can i substititute Splenda for sugar? I’m diabetic and the other sugars are negligible. For baking and cooking, it generally works. The consistency is the same, dissolves the same an$ are the same ratios. I’m usually against fatty desserts, but i would leave in the butter and go with a lighter whipped cream. I have a recipe for making whipped cream with sugarfree Cool Whip but might use light cream for a lighter middle.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 6, 2018
Hi Lauren, I haven't tried it myself, but if you otherwise like using Splenda in baking, it should work just fine here. I'd recommend making fresh whipped cream and just leaving it unsweetened. You can cut some of the cream with yogurt, creme fraiche, or sour cream if you like a little tang.
 
Lauren December 6, 2018
Thank you! The heavy cream issue is fat, not sugar. I ‘try’ to avoid high fat food items. Splenda generally works in sweets though someone always has a sob story. This cake sounds too good to pass by and though I’m not a huge chocolate cake fan, when paired with cream, I’m a huge fan!