Bake

Richard Sax’s Chocolate Cloud Cake

December  5, 2018
93 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
Author Notes

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.” Adapted very slightly from Genius Desserts (Ten Speed Press, 2018). —Genius Recipes

Watch This Recipe
Richard Sax’s Chocolate Cloud Cake
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • Serves 8 to 12
Ingredients
  • Cake
  • 8 ounces (225g) best-quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (110g) unsalted butter, at room temperature and cut into 1-tablespoon pieces
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup (200g) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cognac or Grand Marnier (optional)
  • Finely grated zest of 1 orange (about 1 tablespoon; optional)
  • Whipped Cream
  • 1 1/2 cups (355g) heavy cream, very cold
  • 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder and/or bittersweet chocolate shavings, for topping
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. To make the cake, heat the oven to 350°F (175°C), with a rack in the center. Line the bottom of an 8-inch (20cm) springform pan with parchment paper. (Do not butter the pan and parchment.)
  2. Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over but not touching gently simmering water in a saucepan. You can whisk it occasionally to help it along. When it’s melted, remove the bowl from the heat and whisk in the butter until smooth.
  3. In two small bowls, separate 4 of the eggs. In a large bowl, whisk 2 whole eggs and the 4 egg yolks with 1/2 cup (100g) of the sugar just until combined. Slowly whisk in the warm chocolate mixture. Whisk in the Cognac and the orange zest. Using a handheld mixer in a separate bowl, beat the 4 egg whites until foamy, about 2 minutes. Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup (100g) sugar and beat until beautifully glossy, soft peaks form that hold their shape but aren’t quite stiff, about 5 minutes more. Very gently fold about a quarter of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then gently fold in the remaining whites. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top.
  4. Set the pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until the top is puffed and cracked and the center is no longer wobbly, 35 to 40 minutes. Be careful not to bake the cake beyond this point.
  5. Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack. The center of the cake will sink as it cools, forming a sort of crater—this is good! Let the cake cool completely on a rack.
  6. To make the whipped cream, whip the cream, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl with a handheld mixer until billowy, soft—not stiff—peaks form.
  7. Using a spatula, fill the sunken center of the cake with the whipped cream, swirling the cream to the edges of the crater. Dust the top lightly with cocoa powder.
  8. Run the tip of a knife around the edge of the cake, carefully remove the sides of the pan, and cut into wedges to serve.
  9. Store any leftovers airtight in the refrigerator—they won’t be very presentable but they’ll make a delicious moussey snack.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

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    Samantha Yen Yee Tan
  • Justine Simonson
    Justine Simonson
  • Sarah Simpson
    Sarah Simpson
  • Sunny Aalami
    Sunny Aalami
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

121 Reviews

Raluca C. November 29, 2020
As a beginner, I can say this was easy to make and a great hit! I used a 10" pan because it's what I had on hand and it didn't cave in for me, but it did deflate. I added the whipped cream on each portion, as I wasn't sure we would finish it and what happened if I left it with the whipped cream on top overnight. It was beautiful and light and just sweet enough without being overpowering. I'll definitely make it again whenever I'm trying to impress loved ones.
 
Judy S. December 13, 2020
Mine didn’t cave either. Too bad I was hoping it would. Smells good though. Will know for sure tonight!
 
Flora September 17, 2020
Hi wonderful community! Can I bake the cake in the morning to then serve it in the evening (without whipped cream on top? If so, what's the best way to preserve it best?

Thank you!!
 
Flora September 17, 2020
Hi wonderful community! Can I bake the cake in the morning to then serve it in the evening (without whipped cream on top? If so, what's the best way to preserve it best?

Thank you!!
 
Erin B. September 18, 2020
Yes, you can bake it in the morning to serve in the evening. If you leave it on the counter, it will be fine. The texture won't change very much from when you take it out of the oven - it will just settle in a little bit. You can also store it in the fridge until you're ready to serve it, and then it will take on a slightly fudgier texture. I like it both ways and have successfully done both. And as you said, just leave the whipped cream off until you're ready to serve.
 
Flora September 18, 2020
Thank you SO much! I will make it tomorrow :)
 
Smaug April 30, 2021
If you don't mind eating the cake cold, you can stabilize the cream with a bit of gelatin and it will hold in the refrigerator for two or three days.
 
robyn F. September 17, 2020
My go to chocolate cake. ALWAYS a huge hit and super easy to make. We prefer it without the cognac and orange.....pure chocolate heaven.
 
Samantha Y. June 12, 2020
Hi, may i ask if I use two smaller pans so I get two smaller ones is that possible? Also how should I adjust the timing if yes? Thanks much in advance
 
plevee February 11, 2020
My gourmet friend said this was the best dessert she had ever tasted. I cut down the sugar by 1/4 cup and it was sweet enough.
 
Yougivemecancer January 11, 2020
I'm not sure what went wrong, it looked just like the photo and was almost too soft to move after making. I put it in the fridge as I made it in the morning and was serving at night, the cake was very dense. I was pretty much like a dryer brownie at that point, could I have some help?
 
Smaug January 13, 2020
This cake is actually a soufflé (original name torte soufflé au chocolat) and is supposed to collapse; it should be quite dense, though not dry except for a sort of crust on top. The fanciful name "cloud cake" is a bit mysterious, perhaps referring to the whipped cream on top. As it is composed mostly of butter and chocolate, it will take quite a while to firm up enough to handle.
 
Yougivemecancer February 5, 2020
Thanks for the reply, I mistakenly thought it was supposed to be light then. I guess I did it correctly except I may have cooked it too long making it a bit dry.
 
alexisfromtexas December 31, 2019
I thought I could cut this recipe in half and use a 4" springform pan. Maybe my eggs were too large, but I probably could have filled a 6" pan. Oops. But still delicious.....
 
Smaug January 1, 2020
An 8" springform is 4 times the size of a 4" of equivalent depth- 6" would indeed have been about right.
 
alexisfromtexas January 1, 2020
good to know - thanks!
 
Justine S. September 5, 2019
I recently moved to Germany and am totally out of sorts adapting to an elecrtic oven, metric measurements, baking powder that comes in pre-measured packets... I could go on.

Today was my son's third birthday and showed him several pictures of cakes I thought I could make - he chose this one. The cake itself came out fabulous even though I could only come by a 10" springform pan (loaned to me by a neighbor). It was wider but still caved beautifully. I backed it possibly a smidge too long and should have pulled it out about 5 minutes earlier.

My horror though when I realized I bought the wrong kind of cream! It was some reduced-fat cooking cream and not a kind that would whip. I was brought to tears in the kitchen. I recovered and dotted the top of the sunken chocolate cake with ripe raspberries and the chocolate shavings - it was a decadent chocolate torte. So for anyone who's looking to do it without whipped cream I can attest that it works. It's intense, but still very delicious.
 
Smaug September 5, 2019
The original of this recipe, by Jean Benchet from LeFrancais restaurant in Chicago, was simply dusted with confectioner's sugar. I've been making it- occasionally- for something like 40 years and I've only used whipped cream a few times.
 
Haya August 25, 2019
A wonderful cake! This recipe is pure genius. Everyone was impressed by this cake: look and taste. Even the picky eaters enjoyed it! This Chocolate Cloud Cake is my go too.
Adjustments: I don't add the alcohol. I've baked the cake twice, once with a tbsp of orange zest and once without; they're both wonderful, just depends on if you like an orange-chocolate taste (picky eaters tend to prefer the orange zest-less version, I don't mind either.)
 
Sarah S. August 24, 2019
I could only find a 9” springform pan has anyone else used 9 instead of 8? Did it turn out ok?
 
Linda D. August 27, 2019
Yes, I did twice, Sarah, and the cake turned out great!
 
Sunny A. August 19, 2019
I followed this recipe to a letter and it did not turn out like the photo or the cake in the video. I didn't line or butter the sides of my baking pan as it was suggested in the video and the cake ended up sticking to the sides and didn't really rise. The center didn't really sink as much as it did in the video either. Because the cake is so dry it ended up being a disaster and falling apart at the sides when trying to get it out of the pan. Taste wise it was reallly delicious.
 
Roohafza August 15, 2019
Hello, just had a little question, can I substitute the whipped cream for a meringue buttercream?
 
Erin B. August 15, 2019
Sure you could, but the extra weight of the meringue buttercream vs. the lighter weight of the whipped cream might compact the center of the cake down more than you want and make the whole cake feel heavier. Part of the beauty of this cake is its ethereal lightness. But I'm sure the flavor would be fine. Give it a go and report back!
 
Roohafza August 19, 2019
Thank you Erin, went with the whipped cream option, and by far the most easiest and best desserts to make. Made it for my dinner party last night and it was a hit.
 
Erin B. August 20, 2019
It really is the easiest, most delightfully velvety cake in the world, especially with the whipped cream! I'm always surprised when I see reviews that mention having trouble with the texture or the rise like the most recent review above yours. I've had my fair share of cake failures, but this one is foolproof for me. Glad you and your guests enjoyed it!
 
Casey September 17, 2019
I've made this cake and filled the collapsed centre with a chocolate mousse then topped with a whipped cream with chocolate shavings and it is DELICIOUS.
 
Felicity July 11, 2019
I made this cake yesterday and it turned out exactly as it shows here. It is a good cake but I will definitely make some changes next time I make it. For my taste, it's too sweet, so next time I will half the sugar. In my opinion because the cake was too sweet it was hard to taste that dark chocolate flavor. I made it with a tablespoon of orange zest and this was way too much. It tasted like those Christmas chocolates in the shape of orange. :) Again this is my personal take away. Other than that the cake is really good.
 
madzy June 6, 2019
Hello -- I have made this cake a few times now, and it is a delicious and light cake. rich flavours, and subtly decadent. However, the cake doesn't seem to have the lovely merigue-like top that the cake in the picture has. Could this be because I live in the tropics (I live in Sri Lanka). Do you think I could follow my adaptations for making a pavlova could work? Or perhaps beat all 6 egg whites separately? Any suggestion are very much appreciated!! Thanks a lot
 
Linda D. June 4, 2019
WOW what a delicious and easy dessert to make. I used Triple Sec instead of cognac or Grand Mariner. Thank you!
 
Alexis1478 May 27, 2019
Out of this world and super easy to make. I served it at a recent dinner party and even the people who don't really do desserts loved it. Everyone had seconds.
 
annette May 1, 2019
Easy and fabulous! I helped my daughter, a beginning cook, to make this for Easter. It could not have been better! A keeper! Thank you!
 
Fiona G. April 18, 2019
I have a small question - can I leave out any of the sugar? Im making this for my mom, who keeps a very low sugar diet, but is not strictly keto or sugar free. I just want to use the least amount that will keep the cake delectable and have the cake function as intended.
 
Erin B. April 18, 2019
There are so few ingredients that by volume the sugar makes up a large portion of the batter. I don't think this recipe will be successful without it, but if you try it be sure to post the results because I would be curious to know. I'm not brave enough to spend money on high quality chocolate and risk less than perfect results, but if you are willing to experiment I'm sure people will be interested to hear about it!
 
Fiona G. April 22, 2019
So I made it this weekend, using Ghiradelli 60% bittersweet chocolate and a total of 3/4 c of sugar. I used 3/8 cup in the chocolate butter mixture, and 3/8 cup in the egg whites (I did take the extra step of pulsing this portion in a blender to create superfine sugar, which I had spotted in a meringue tutorial as a step that can help meringue success). I used no sugar in the whipped cream. It was a beautiful success! So, if anyone is out there considering a lower sugar version, you can reduce the sugar to 75% of the total without problems. I may try again to reduce further!
 
Erin B. April 22, 2019
Thanks for being the guinea pig and sharing your results! You've emboldened me to try it too!
 
Emmalie P. April 15, 2019
This recipe made me fall in love with chocolate cake, not an understatement at all. I’ve always been opposed to chocolate desserts due to their unnecessary richness. However, this cake is light, flavoful, and easy to make. I urge all chocolate lovers and haters to try this recipe.