Richard Sax’s Chocolate Cloud Cake

July  6, 2021
136 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 40 minutes
  • Serves 8 to 12
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

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Richard Sax’s Chocolate Cloud Cake
  • 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
  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.

  • NancyfromVictoria
  • Cookie
  • Karajeca
  • Takako
  • Marnie Hyland
    Marnie Hyland
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

152 Reviews

[email protected] February 10, 2024
This was a show stopper and everyone loved it! I don’t use the cognac and would still use a bit less orange zest next time but loved it nonetheless!
NancyfromVictoria December 31, 2023
Is it okay to make this cake a couple of hours ahead of time? Thank you for your help. Happy New Year.
Smaug December 31, 2023
It keeps very well; very little moisture and a lot of fat. The whipped cream is best done last minute, but it can keep a couple of days in the refrigerator if stabilized. The cake needs to cool completely before serving, which takes some time- you need to start fairly early.
Picholine December 31, 2023
Yes, I always make ahead of time , either the morning or the day before I serve it.
Then I pile the center high with fresh whipped cream! A fabulous presentation!
Robin F. December 23, 2023
This is a Maida recipe. If you butter and then sugar a Bundt pan it gives the outside a different texture from the inside but it’s very important to coat the pan well. After baking let cake sit for 15 minutes and then take out of pan.
Smaug December 23, 2023
Getting closer- Maida Heatter published the recipe ("Torte Souffle au Chocolat") in her "Book of Great Chocolate Desserts" (1980) and possibly in later compilations. However, she attributes it to Jean Banchet of the restaurant Le Francais near Chicago. By that time, Banchet had developed the recipe and it had become a favorite on the restaurant menu, and Ms Heatter had collected it and, eventually published it, so it had presumably been around for some time. The Whipped cream is her addition; the original was just dusted with powdered sugar.
Sadie's M. December 18, 2023
I made this last Saturday for a small dinner party. It turned out just like the photo shows. I used Lindt, 70% cocoa for the chocolate and Kerry Gold unsalted butter. I substituted two tablespoons of Cream de Cacao for the Grand Marnier and no orange zest. Microwaved chocolate at 30 second intervals. I served the whipped cream on the side. It was as delicious and you can imagine. I will be making this again. Baked for 40 minutes, still seemed a little soft in the middle but I took it out anyway as the recipe says don't overbake. It settled into a crater and was perfect.
Cookie November 30, 2023
Amazingly delicious. The instructions and video are very clear and helpful - thank you. I found the timing a bit tricky. The recipe specifies baking 35 to 40 minutes until the top is puffed and cracked and the centre “is no longer wobbly”. I checked at 35 minutes: cake nice and domed, puffed and cracked but still very wobbly (and centre tested very liquid-y). Baked an additional 10 minutes, checking every couple of minutes, but the wobble remained. Finally, at 45 minutes, I removed from oven even though it was still wobbly, but it was testing done. The cake sunk over the course of an hour to form a crater on top as it was supposed to.
The cake upon serving was delicious, clearly had baked long enough, and the texture was fine. But I think it would have been better had I removed the cake from the oven a few minutes earlier even though still wobbly (at minute 40?) to yield a moister texture. I think the “no longer wobbly” directive is a little misleading, as there will still be a wobble even when the cake is ready to be removed from the oven. Test the cake at 40 minutes to make sure the centre is not liquid, though will still be a little pudding-like when done. It will firm up as it cools.
I served this in very small pieces as it is quite rich and I was serving it at the end of a pretty substantial lunch: everyone ate every last crumb of this cake. A winner.
Smaug December 1, 2023
You're right- this type of cake (there are a bunch of very similar ones), being composed largely of butter, sugar and chocolate, will always be pretty soft when hot.
Jenne September 30, 2023
I’ve made this cake twice now and absolutely delicious! Not very difficult to pull together and the cake is light in texture but rich. I used a half teaspoon of vanilla extract and half teaspoon of vanilla paste for the whipped cream.
bobbidodds August 29, 2023
Absolutely my favourite chocolate cake. Such a dreamy delicious cloud. Make it and you will not be disappointed. I've made numerous times for dinner parties and everyone loved it. It's a hit!
Taczar January 15, 2023
I am a novice baker and want to know how you know it's ready to come out of the oven? I took it out at 35 minutes since my oven runs hot but want to be sure it's done! Thanks
plevee October 14, 2022
I dislike chocolate but this is what everyone else wants me to bring for dinner party dessert. There never is any left so I presume it's a hit.
bakecakes! August 7, 2022
I have a question, my eggs whites didn’t stiff enough and I didn’t have enough time, so I just put it in the batter. My batter was runny and I just put it in the oven, what will be the outcome of this. ( it’s in the oven now)
bakecakes! August 7, 2022
please respond ASAP
Smaug August 7, 2022
You'll probably be the first to know- ordinarily the cake puffs up quite a bit in the oven, then collapses (it's basically a souffle)- it ends up pretty dense so it may not make a huge difference. There are a lot of these eggs/sugar/chocolate cake recipes, and not all beat the eggs; at worst you'll end up with something like a Swedish Kladdkaka (sticky cake), and there are far worse things.
Smaug August 7, 2022
"...beat the egg whites...", that is
Christine's C. July 24, 2022
One of my favorite desserts. And more proof that the world is better for Richard Sax having been here.
Smaug July 24, 2022
I'm sure he was a fine fellow, but as I've pointed out any number of times he did not originate this recipe.
Tommy August 19, 2023
Calm yourself. It’s a cake, not nuclear secrets.
Smaug August 19, 2023
Calm yourself yourself. Honesty is the best policy.
gremolata February 17, 2022
I made this cake many times because it is delicious. and interesting!
Sharon February 13, 2022
I made a 1.5x recipe of this because I was working with a 9" springform. I skipped the orange zest because the birthday boy isn't crazy about orange & chocolate together. I took it out of the oven while there was still quite a bit of jiggle happening and I'm glad that I did because the texture was absolutely perfect - delicate, light, melty. I did feel like the flavor could have used a little more depth, perhaps? My own fault for skipping the orange zest, but another time I might have added a bit of espresso powder to the chocolate mixture. I did use all the brandy called for and some vanilla as well.
Karajeca February 6, 2022
Sinfully great
Takako December 27, 2021
It was like eating a cotton candy! It was so light, soft and melted in my mouth.
The next day after refrigerated overnight, it was like a light but decadent mousse cake.
A friend of mine makes a very good flourless chocolate cake and I had imagined this to be similar, but it was quite different, it was better!! I will make this again.
Marnie H. October 2, 2021
Just wow! Everyone loved it. I added only 1 tsp of orange zest and no booze and it was just perfect. Can’t wait to make it again. Feels special without being fussy.
Miquoe May 16, 2021
This is Heaven... There is no other way to reiterate the comments. It’s moist, delectable and I made a healthy version using vegan butter and egg whites and egg beaters to reduce cholesterol. it was beautiful. I used both semi dark chocolate and Lindt chocolates to enrich the flavor. Fantasti!
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.
Miquoe May 16, 2021
Hi you can and put the whipped cream later on. But remember the cake sinks in the middle so you need a filler.
Smaug May 16, 2021
Well, need is a big word- as I pointed out somewhere far below, the original of this cake was just dusted with confectioner's sugar.