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 (76) Questions (8)

76 Reviews

Chrissie L. February 15, 2019
Made this for the first time for a Valentines desert........absolutely beautiful and so delicious! I love chocolate but am not crazy about a super heavy flourless chocolate cake. This is light and fluffy and so decadent. This will be one of my favorite desert recipes for a long time, thank you!
 
Nancy C. February 12, 2019
Just this morning I made a Dutch Baby for breakfast. This chocolate cake seems to be in the same broad category of cakes raised only by eggs. The DB cooks at 425 F, but it does have flour. What is in common is the batter climbing up the sides and forming a crater to be filled with something scrumptious. Akin to a pavlova, but there the meringue is cooked separately. I will have to create an occasion to make this. I’m wondering about making a custard as with the pavlova. As to flavors, would not ginger be good? Cinnamon? And peach slices, or mango, or even banana? Lots of possibilities, I’d say.
 
Mrs. H. February 7, 2019
Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I'm so in love with your cakes and recipes in general. And this cake is a killer. Recommending it for all the chocoholics out there!!!
 
Sara S. January 22, 2019
Can I make this a little in advance.....as in about 3 - 4 hours before guests arrive?
 
Olga O. January 22, 2019
Yes, but I'd only make the chocolate part ahead of time. Top with the whipped topping right before serving.
 
Suse January 23, 2019
I made it on the morning of my dinner party. Next time, I'll make it the day before to develop more of the orange flavor. Leave it in the pan, wrapped with plastic, on the counter. Top with whipped cream just before serving. I added shaved chocolate and fresh raspberries on top.
 
Darian January 22, 2019
I made this using a 9" springform pan, with cognac but no zest. It was amazing! I baked in the evening and kept at room temperature, then served with fresh whipped cream the next day. It was so good, I'm making it again for my mom's birthday this weekend!
 
sparkycooks January 14, 2019
Made without any changes. This cake is beyond delicious and simple to make!! The subtle taste of orange with the chocolate is just the right mix - the orange didn't overtake the chocolate. Wonderful Wonderful!!
 
Erin B. January 10, 2019
I just made this again for the second time in less than a month. Once again I used a non-stick 9" springform pan, but this time instead of going the orange liqueur / zest route, I substituted 2 tablespoons of Kahlua with 1 teaspoon of espresso powder dissolved in it. It was utterly luscious! I might even prefer this version to the orange (although I am huge fan of both flavor profiles). There was just something magical about the coffee flavor with the cloud of whipped cream!
 
tastysweet January 11, 2019
I haven’t made this cake yet. But when I make my chocolate chip cookies, I use Kahula in lieu of vanilla. And use dark chocolate chunks instead of Nestles chips.
 
Nancy January 19, 2019
I made this on New Year’s Eve with no changes, and it was a huge crowd pleaser. One of the guests requested it for his birthday, which is tonight. This go-round I subbed out the orange and Cointreau for 2 Tbs espresso. It’s still baking now, but the batter tasted heavenly.
 
April W. January 9, 2019
Amazing, absolutely amazing! I served this as one of my desserts at Christmas! Everyone loved it. I was so happy with the results and have had many requests to make it again! I omitted the orange zest but otherwise I followed the recipe.
 
Olga O. January 2, 2019
Made it for the NYE. It was a dream! I left out the orange zest and and cognac. The cake tasted great the next day! It looked as gorgeous as it tasted http://www.mangotomato.com/2019/01/richard-saxs-chocolate-cloud-cake.html
 
Kristen M. January 2, 2019
So glad it was a hit—thanks for blogging about it, Olga!
 
Erin B. December 27, 2018
This cake has such a gorgeous velvety texture. I followed the recipe to the letter, ingredient-wise, but I only had a nonstick, 9" springform pan which actually ended up working perfectly. My cake rose nicely and developed a beautiful, thin, wafer-like crust that cracked and buckled nicely. The middle had a pretty crater that was just deep enough to hold a cloud of whipped cream, but not so deep that there was no substance to the middle of the cake. It took exactly 40 minutes. This cake is so worth making: for very little effort (other than quality ingredients) you get a show-stoppingly delicious result!
 
Kristen M. January 2, 2019
Woo-hoo! So happy to hear nonstick (and a 9" pan) worked well.
 
Suse December 26, 2018
This is the best chocolate dessert ever! I served it with fresh raspberries. Pay attention to the baking time. Mine was done at exactly 40 minutes. I would make it a day ahead next time to develop the orange flavor. I only needed 4 ounces of whipping cream. Fabulous recipe!
 
Suse December 26, 2018
sorry for the repeat review!
 
Kristen M. January 2, 2019
Don't be sorry—this is music to my ears! So glad it was a hit.
 
Suse December 26, 2018
OMG! This is the absolute best chocolate dessert ever! I only had 4 oz. of whipping cream and that was plenty. I served it with fresh raspberries. Pay strict attention to the baking time - mine was done at exactly 40 minutes. I would make this a day ahead to develop more of the orange flavor. Just cool, wrap well, and leave it on the counter until time to add the whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Fabulous!
 
Mo P. December 25, 2018
Super simple and delicious! I reduced the amount of Grand Marnier to 1T, which was perfect for us. We loved the difference in the texture of the chewy crust and melt in your mouth center. I only had a 7-inch springform so I ended up using two small ramekins for the extra batter. Will definitely be going into my rotation of decadent desserts.
 
Kristen M. January 2, 2019
Great call on the extra ramekins! (And then you don't have to wait to taste.)
 
hellspantry December 24, 2018
An excellent result with minimal ingredients. Don't skip the cointreau or zest, as they help cut the sweetness. Quality chocolate is a must here. 60% Ghirardelli is my go to. I have a 9" springform vs the 8" called for in the recipe, and it worked just fine. It takes at least 30 minutes to cool completely.
 
Claudia Z. December 23, 2018
hi- i just made the recipe, added the 2 TBS of Grand Marnier....I noticed my final batter was a bit more liquid-y than the video, not nearly as thick and fluffy (my egg whites were soft peaks- so those aren't to blame) and in fact when I took it out after 40 minutes it was still quite wet inside...any chance the liquid of the Grand Marnier makes the batter more liquid-y and requires more cook time? Do you think just adding 5 minutes to the time will compensate? <br />
 
frizz December 24, 2018
I added the Grand Marnier, and my batter was thick and fluffy. I did take my egg whites a little further than soft peaks I'd use for whipped cream, though.
 
Dindin S. December 22, 2018
The batch is so yummy. My daughter licked all of it. My springform is a bit smaller (7,2") so I had a lot batch over. I baked the cake exactly 45 minutes, 170°C (325°F). It looks amazing! Taste perfect, so fluffy. I will definitely bake it again for Christmas.
 
Olivia M. December 21, 2018
I just realized I do not have an 8" springform pan. Are there any other pans/dishes that might work like an springform pan?
 
Smaug December 21, 2018
A 9" springform actually works OK for this- wouldn't do that for most cakes. This has no particular tendency to stick and could be made in a standard pan, but it would have to be at least 2 1/2" deep. The top of the cake is quite fragile and you'd have to be very careful taking it out- be sure to line the bottom of your pan and find a plate or something that would fit inside the pan so that the cake wouldn't have to drop on the way out.
 
Molly December 19, 2018
Can you use a nonstick springform pan for this? I’d imagine it would defeat the purpose of not greasing the pan but I only have a nonstick one and haven’t been able to find a basic one anywhere!
 
Kristen M. December 20, 2018
I'm trying (and failing) to remember if I've ever made this in a nonstick pan. I think it should still work—you might not get quite the height you would in a simple, less-slick tin version, but it will still be delicious. Please let us know how it goes if you try!
 
frizz December 20, 2018
My springform is non-stick, and it worked great.
 
frizz December 16, 2018
Made this cake today, and several people (strangers) said it was life-changing. It's so easy to make -- I'll definitely keep this one in my arsenal. <br /><br />One note: be sure to mix more than you think you should. Any white streak or blob does NOT blend into the rest of the cake - it shows up as white in the final cake.
 
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.
 
Kristen M. December 15, 2018
Bridget, thanks for reporting back and glad it was a hit!