Excerpted with permission from Ruth Rogers' cookbook, 'River Cafe London: Thirty Years of Recipes and the Story of a Much-Loved Restaurant': "Still the best chocolate cake ever." —Food52
Test Kitchen Notes
When I first booked my trip to London last fall, the first reservation I made was at The River Cafe, the storied Italian restaurant founded by Ruth ("Ruthie") Rogers and the late Rose Gray. I needed to try the legendary Chocolate Nemesis Cake (the name itself enthralls, does it not?) for myself, by hell or high water.
To no one's surprise, the entire meal was electric: From the fire-roasted Scottish langoustines to the chargrilled squid topped with chilis, to all of the incredible pastas, there was not a moment our party of four couldn't be found nodding and practically cooing over every dish.
And, of course, just when we thought it couldn't get any better, dessert came along. We had heard about it. We had planned it, actually, for months. We had been looking forward to meeting the one, the only.
At Food52, we use a lot of superlative language to describe all the wonderful dishes we get to try, but this cake actually stunned us into silence. The rich, mousse-like cake even stopped our Test Kitchen Director Josh Cohen in his tracks.
"My favorite childhood dessert was chocolate mousse," Josh tells me. "This cake had all the righteous deep, creamy chocolate flavor of the best chocolate mousse. But this also has structure, due to the fact that it's a cake. You can slice it. It isn't just a plop of mousse in a bowl. The thin crispy surface that forms on the top of the cake is a great textural contrast to the creaminess of the rest of the cake. Overall, it's just outrageously good—one of the most memorable desserts I've made in a long time."
Well, if that endorsement isn't convincing enough, I'd urge you to try it for yourself at home. The restaurant celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2018, complete with a special-edition cookbook, River Cafe London: Thirty Years of Recipes and the Story of a Much-Loved Restaurant, full of time-honored classics (such as this one), as well as 30 new hits.
How could just four ingredients alchemize into a taste of heaven? How did this cake come to be? I went straight to the source to find out.
“Rose and I found a version of this cake in a magazine in 1988,” explains Ruthie. “We loved the name, but we didn’t think the recipe was quite right, so we adapted it to include more chocolate and beaten egg yolks. The high quality chocolate gives an intense flavor. It’s the perfect end to an Italian meal.”
The cake is so popular, the restaurant sells approximately 500 decadent slices per week. When I asked Ruthie if she’s taken any liberties toying around with the recipe over the years, she gave me an honest and enigmatic response: “Yes, we have….”
We’ll just leave it right there. No need to press further when talking about something as luscious as this flourless, silky beauty. Run—don’t walk—and don’t forget to report back. —Hana Asbrink
- Prep time 20 minutes
- Cook time 1 hour 45 minutes
- Serves 18
2 3/4 cups
plus 2 tablespoons (575g) granulated sugar
(675g) best-quality bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa solids), broken into small pieces
(450g) unsalted butter, softened
Crème fraîche, for serving
- Preheat the oven to 250°F (130°C). Grease a 12-inch (30cm) round cake pan that is 3 inches (7.5cm) deep, then line the base with parchment paper.
- Whisk the eggs with a third of the sugar with an electric mixer until the volume quadruples—this will take at least 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt the chocolate and butter together in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water (the water should not touch the base of the bowl). Remove from the heat.
- Heat the remaining sugar with 9 fluid ounces (250ml) water in a small pan until the sugar has completely dissolved to a syrup, stirring occasionally. Gently pour the syrup into the melted chocolate, stirring.
- Reduce the speed of the mixer and slowly add the warm chocolate and syrup mixture to the eggs. Increase the speed and continue beating until completely combined. The mixture will lose volume.
- Pour into the prepared cake pan. Put the pan into a deep baking pan on top of a dish towel to prevent the cake pan from moving. Fill the baking pan with hot water so that it comes at least two-thirds up the sides of the cake pan. Bake for 1½–2 hours or until set—test by placing the flat of your hand gently on the surface of the cake.
- Remove the cake pan from the water. Leave the cake in the pan to completely cool before turning out (don’t refrigerate it). Serve with crème fraîche.