Working as a recipe developer means transporting a lot—and I mean a lot—of baked goods between my home and the office. They get wrapped up, tossed in a tote bag, and rushed to the subway, where I spend the whole ride squished between a bunch of strangers, hoping that no one smushes my cake.
You can imagine my surprise, then, when I stumbled upon a recipe that instructed me to set a stack of plates atop a just-baked cake, then leave it that way for 30 minutes.
But this wasn’t just any recipe. This was the Pressed Chocolate Cake from the River Cafe Cookbook—the same restaurant that brought us the legendary Chocolate Nemesis Cake, which our test kitchen director Josh Cohen called “one of the most memorable desserts I've made in a long time.”
So if the River Cafe tells me to press a chocolate cake, you can bet I’m going to press a chocolate cake. Of course, I was curious why we’re smushing something on purpose—and how this oddball technique came to be.
“It was so long ago,” River Cafe Co-Founder Ruth (“Ruthie”) Rodgers wrote to me. “But I think the inspiration came from having had a pressed chocolate cake in Italy.” The goal, she explained, is all about texture. “Pressing the cake takes away all the air and we like the contrast between the soft inside and crispy outside.”
I couldn’t get over its dense, mousse-like texture and ultra-concentrated, bittersweet chocolate flavor. The cookbook recommends serving it with ice cream—and who am I to disagree with something like that?
Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.