Richard Sax’s Chocolate Cloud Cake

December 5, 2018

Test Kitchen-Approved

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

Serves: 8 to 12
Prep time: 20 min
Cook time: 40 min

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.

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Reviews (30) Questions (6)

30 Reviews

Bridget December 13, 2018
I made this for a party the other night and my guests were literally licking their plates! The only alteration I made was skipping the Grand Marnier. I'm not usually a huge fan of orange and chocolate but in this recipe it was exactly what was needed to lighten it up a bit. I'll make this again for sure. Food 52 to the rescue again! <br />
 
Bridget December 13, 2018
One additional note, I pulled my cake at 40 minutes despite the fact that it still looked pretty wobbly. The recipe's warning to avoid over baking was enough to make me err on the side of the wobble! It was perfect and became more stable as it cooled.
 
Susie S. December 13, 2018
I too would like to use orange oil instead of Grand Marnier. Do you suggest substituting the same amount, 2 tablespoons? Thank you for your advice!
 
Smaug December 13, 2018
Lord no- orange oil is very powerful stuff. I'm not a big measurer, but I would say 1 tsp. would be quite generous.
 
Susie S. December 13, 2018
Thank you!
 
Sandy K. December 12, 2018
It says optional but would you recommend using the orange zest and/or cognac? <br />ps. I love the music very soothing
 
Smaug December 12, 2018
I would, the orange flavor (Grand Marnier originally) works great. Mr Sax published a variation (Fallen Chocolate Cake) that uses vanilla instead- also good- and I've made it with coffee- also quite good. But just plain chocolate (which usually contains some vanilla) is never bad.
 
Albert December 11, 2018
Why the added sugar? I use a floorless recipe with no added sugar. It is rich and sweetened just right.
 
Mike December 10, 2018
since the butter is melted and not creamed with the sugar, could you use a liquid oil instead of the butter in this recipe?
 
plotto December 9, 2018
Why use a handheld mixer instead of a standing mixer?
 
Kristen M. December 10, 2018
Feel free to use a stand mixer—each stage may just happen a bit more quickly, so rely on the visual rather than the timing cues.
 
plotto December 10, 2018
Thanks! Also: It was still jiggly at 40 mins, baked another 5 mins. and still seemed a bit wobbly. Pulled it anyway. Looked beautiful with the whipped cream but was really difficult to serve pretty "slices". Was it still not done baking if difficult to serve?
 
Smaug December 12, 2018
Neatness is not a virtue of this cake. Mme. Heatter's version is baked more cautiously- 1 hr. at 300, 1/2 hr. at 250, then cooled in the (turned off) oven with the door partially open. It comes out somewhat less crusty and a bit more even textured, but still not what you'd call neat.
 
Martin December 8, 2018
Very good. It has the texture of, yes, clouds. I'd be happy with a bit less cream and less cognac, but otherwise, this is a delight. I will make it again. Thanks for sharing!
 
Linda W. December 7, 2018
Can you make this a day in advance--without the whipped cream? <br />​
 
Smaug December 7, 2018
Yes. It's best at room temp, no need to refrigerate until the cream is added- if you use it.
 
witloof December 5, 2018
I wish there were a way of watching the videos without the music, which I experience as distracting and annoying.
 
tastysweet December 5, 2018
Was there any reason why I could not hear the video? Had my sound all the way turned on. <br />Also if this cake was prepared earlier in the day, should one refrigerate it and when ready to serve, then make whipped cream and then release the spring?
 
Smaug December 5, 2018
It can be removed from the springform as soon as it reaches room temp. Really best served at room temp., though you'll have to refrigerate it once you put the cream on, if you do.
 
tastysweet December 5, 2018
Thanks for the answer.<br />What about the sound question?
 
[email protected] December 6, 2018
Click the microphone icon at the bottom of the video itself. It will turn the volume on the video. You can then control the volume on your keyboard.
 
tastysweet December 6, 2018
Thank you. Funny though, I just viewed it and the sound just was working. Gremlins☺️
 
emily_hollander_levine December 5, 2018
could you swap bourbon for the cognac or grand marnier?
 
Smaug December 5, 2018
Sure- I've used orange oil mixed with vodka- it's of no great significance structurally, so if the flavor fits you'll be fine.
 
Smaug December 5, 2018
This cake is virtually identical to the "Torte Souffle au Chocolate" from Maida Heatter's "Book of Great Chocolate Desserts", published 1980. She attributes it to Jean Benchet at Le Francais restaurant in Wheeling, IL
 
Smaug December 5, 2018
ps It is indeed a great chocolate dessert.
 
Smaug December 10, 2018
I was a little disconcerted to note that this recipe appeared to be plagiarized; a little poking around revealed that earlier published versions (I checked the ones in Bon Apetit and on Epicurious.com) differed in ways likely to have a noticeable effect on the outcome.
 
Smaug December 11, 2018
I tried one of these ("Fallen Chocolate Cake" from Bon Apetit, March 2013; it is substantially different, but is called a riff on this cake (I like this one better". I'm really a little confused; Sax's book was published in 2010; virtually the same recipe was published in "Nigella's Bites" (Nigella Lawson) in 2001 and, as mentioned above, there's Heatter's recipe (published 1980 and not new then), which differs mostly in being more cautiously baked. As is usually the case, where Maida Heatter has published a recipe it's your best bet.
 
Lori M. December 5, 2018
I live at 6500’ elevation. Will this recipe work at this altitude?
 
mtnnewf December 5, 2018
I live at 9200 ft and have learned a little, I think. I would say that, because the leavening is from egg whites, it should work. I'd reduce the sugar by 2 tbsp to 1/4 cup (at altitude it melts before everything else cooks and makes it all very crispy); I'd also make sure to not whip the whites too stiff.