Elizabeth David's Chocolate Cake

December  2, 2016
5 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Makes one 8-inch cake
Author Notes

This cake was made in my family over and over again for birthdays and festive celebrations throughout my childhood, and it’s been a favorite whenever I've put it on my dessert menus.

It’s sort of my little black dress of a dessert, as it's quite simple to make and keeps well for a few days, yet is stylish and elegant at the same time. The rich, dense chocolate tastes festive and indulgent, but in a very adult way. You can dress it up with a ganache frosting or keep it plain with just a little confectioners' sugar. I like it best with a little dollop of tangy crème fraiche on the side.

It reminds me very much of the flourless chocolate walnut cake of Capri where Elizabeth David vacationed with some very flamboyant British expats, and I like to imagine she got the recipe from there.
Sara Jenkins

What You'll Need
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon espresso or strong coffee
  • 1 tablespoon brandy or other hard liquor (I've used grappa in a pinch)
  • 3 ounces butter, plus extra for greasing the pan
  • 3 ounces ground almonds (or substitute ground walnuts or hazelnuts)
  • 3 ounces sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • Confectioners' sugar, boozy whipped cream, or crème fraîche, for serving (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 290° F. Butter an 8-inch cake pan generously.
  2. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate with the coffee and brandy. Add the butter and melt, then add the almonds and sugar and mix well. Remove from the heat and stir in the egg yolks one at a time, adding them only after the previous one has been thoroughly mixed in. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Fold into the batter and pour the batter into the buttered cake pan. Bake in the center of the oven for about 50 minutes. This is a dense and moist cake so don’t expect the cake tester to come out dry. Depending on your oven, it may take up to 20 additional minutes to cook.
  3. Remove from oven, allow to cool on a rack, then, once cool, invert onto a serving plate. I like to dust the top with confectioners' sugar and it's particularly pretty if you put a paper doily on top so as to get a lacy effect. I find this cake is intense and rich, but if you need an addition, stiffly beaten and very boozy whipped cream is a good one

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18 Reviews

meganmcbride December 28, 2016
we have a nut allergy in our home. any ideas how to replace that ingredient?
Sunny A. June 5, 2022
there are plenty of others here with regular flour.
Kate December 23, 2016
Any tips to sub honey for the sugar? Also, is the coffee/espresso grounds or brewed?
Amanda T. December 22, 2016
I made this and while it was fine, it was nothing special. Sorry....
Stephanie L. December 22, 2016
Can almond meal/flour be used in place of ground almonds?
witloof December 12, 2016
I've been making this cake for years, ever since I read about it in one of Laurie Colwin's wonderful books of food essays. I butter the tin and then flour it with unsweetened cocoa. I also add a large pinch of salt. Otherwise it tends to taste kind of flat to me.
Dima G. December 12, 2016
the secrets of Coconut Oil: 9 Reasons to Use it Daily
sarah S. December 10, 2016
Thank you. I re-made the cake and the parchment paper worked. The menu is excellent. I made almost everything on the suggested menu.
sarah S. December 8, 2016
Help. I made the cake today and it got stick to the bottom on the non stick dish. I buttered the dish before baking. Any suggestions how to salvage this? Can you suggest how to prevent this from happening again?
(The cake is delicious btw)
Sara J. December 9, 2016
you could try using a piece of parchment paper also buttered. it is important to let the cake cool completely in the cake pan before taking it out, that might help also
Bertha R. December 8, 2016
Can this be baked in a loaf pan?
Sara J. December 9, 2016
not really because its flourless and the structure is coming from the ground almond and beaten egg white it wouldn't work in a loaf pan
Ellie G. December 8, 2016
Can this be made without the coffee?
Sara J. December 9, 2016
yes, maybe just double the alcohol
Beth S. December 7, 2016
Is this weight or volume?
Sara J. December 9, 2016
K B. December 22, 2016
Can this be made ahead of time? I'd love to make for Christmas dinner.
Leah December 23, 2016
I found this recipe through another article which recommended making it a day ahead, so I imagine you'll be fine! (link I'm referring to -