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

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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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • libba
  • Smaug
  • ketzynurse
  • Alison Jones-Pomatto
    Alison Jones-Pomatto
  • Kittytoes
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."


libba December 23, 2021
Hello crunch time. Is this cake fluffy or dense? The video makes it seem less brownie like and nice of fluffy goo. Thank for the help.
Smaug December 23, 2021
It rises and then falls, ends up quite dense.
Smaug December 13, 2021
As pointed out far, far below, this cake may have been a signature dessert of Richard Sax, but it was a signature dessert of Jean Banchet, owner and head chef of Le Francais restaurant near Chicago. It was published (with attribution) by Maida Heatter in 1980, but had been around for some time by then.
Smaug December 13, 2021
... of Jean Banchet long before.
ketzynurse December 12, 2021
This is the most decadent delicious dessert. Easy to make and so satisfying to eat. I don't add the Grand Marnier or orange zest and it is still a crowd pleaser.
Alison J. December 12, 2021
So happy to see this recipe as it was long forgotten. I made this often as I was starting out baking many years ago. It was my first experience with flourless cake. I’ve made many since, but this is one I’ll happily return to.
Kittytoes May 4, 2021
Can you divide this batter and bake in separate ramekins or muffin cups? Not sure if they would have the same texture as baking in one pan....I would appreciate any advice!!!
davidhicks February 13, 2021
Amazingly similar to the chocolate torte recipe from Joy of Baking, been making this torte for years in my restaurant. Very simple with lots a variations you can top with ganache, play with different liqueurs, add ground nuts.....use the best dark rich chocolate and this hits chocolate lovers buttons big time
Judy S. December 14, 2020
I made this yesterday. While it was delicious I can’t say that it was moussey. Nor did it fall in the middle. It had more of a dense brownie texture. Maybe I didn’t whip the eggs enough? I baked it for 30 mins.....maybe too much? Hard to say. I may give it another go. I would for it to be like the photo description.
Adele December 15, 2019
does any know how many servings this makes?
Linda A. December 15, 2019
I will make this soon and add CHOCOLATE GANACHE in top then whipped cream, then top with sprigs of fresh time and sugar coated cranberries and dust with powdered sugar for a festive Christmas cake!😋❤️
Picholine December 15, 2019
I made this cake and it’s delicious! How do you sugar cranberries?
Linda A. December 15, 2019
Wet with water, roll in sugar and freeze them. Same with the Rosemary. Dust them with 10x sugar if you’d like.
Picholine December 16, 2019
Thankyou. Much appreciated.
Adele December 14, 2019
This looks so rich and yummy! I love chocolate and orange together but my grandaughter requested a chocolate and peppermint dessert. How would you alter this recipe to have a peppermint flavor? I was thinking of using peppermint ice cream balls in the center and drizzling chocolate fudge sauce over it. Then top with whip cream and some crushed candy canes. Would you add mint extract to the cake batter and just omit all the orange flavors?
Linda A. December 15, 2019
I would just ad creme dementhe instead of grand mariners. Alcohol would bake out of it and sprinkle whipped cream with crushed candy canes.😋😋
Linda A. December 15, 2019
Oh and replace vanilla extract with mint extract in the whipped cream.
JenGnsbrg February 23, 2019
Can you make the topping and put it on the cake 5-6hours before serving if you are keeping it in the fridge?
Picholine February 23, 2019
I often whip cream for topping and refrigerate before using it as a topping and it holds for many hours . So when I made this for company I brought it to the table just after applying the refridgerated whipped cream . It looks wonderful!
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.
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!
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. 😋😋
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.
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.
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!!
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!
Kristen M. January 2, 2019
I'm sorry for the delay, Kim—so happy to hear all of this. Thank you!!