5 Ingredients or Fewer

Chocolate Nemesis

by:
February 11, 2019
42 Ratings
Photo by Ty Mecham
Author Notes

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
Ingredients
  • 10 eggs
  • 2 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons (575g) granulated sugar
  • 24 ounces (675g) best-quality bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa solids), broken into small pieces
  • 1 pound (450g) unsalted butter, softened
  • Crème fraîche, for serving
In This Recipe
Directions
  1. 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.
  2. Whisk the eggs with a third of the sugar with an electric mixer until the volume quadruples—this will take at least 10 minutes.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Lynn E. Dixon
    Lynn E. Dixon
  • Theresa Lemieux
    Theresa Lemieux
  • Kristin Watson Heintz
    Kristin Watson Heintz
  • Theresa Lemieux
    Theresa Lemieux
  • Smaug
    Smaug
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117 Reviews

Stephanie February 7, 2021
I divided it by ¾. Used a 9" pan. Baked 2 hours but still very loose so really not a cake texture. Is this right? Can't find any comments on the consistency. Certainly "mousse" more than cake. Any thoughts. Should I have baked it longer?
 
trvlnsandy February 7, 2021
smooth rather than cake-like. Almost like a firm-ish melted chocolate bar
 
tally T. February 7, 2021
You’re right! Definitely a mousse-like texture.
 
Lynn E. February 2, 2021
Hands down the best, most decadent, chocolate cake I've ever made....but it's so rich that I am not sure how to hold over the extra.
 
trvlnsandy February 2, 2021
It freezes really well. I made the whole recipe (should have halved) when it was first posted -- way over a year ago. We somehow ate half (probably had people for dinner a few times) and I froze half. Just found the last of the frozen in the freezer about a month ago and we ate (I think there were a total of 6 slivers). I would slice off what we needed when needed. Might not have been as good as original, but it was good. Forget what it tasted like originally it was so long ago.
 
Smaug February 3, 2021
As this type of cake (there are a lot of very similar recipes) contains almost no moisture- it's practically all stable fats- it will keep quite a while just wrapped without going stale.
 
Theresa L. April 18, 2020
How do I know if I overcooked it? It's a little firm to the touch.
 
trvlnsandy April 18, 2020
Taste it - if you like it, it was perfect. My memory is it doesn't jiggle much. Made it ages ago and froze half. Just started eating the second half ;) Still good - after being frozen about a year.
 
Theresa L. April 18, 2020
How do I know if I overcooked it? It's a little firm to the touch
 
Ann M. April 18, 2020
Simply the best chocolate cake ever
 
Theresa L. January 18, 2020
Okay, I'm a doofus, but my cake pan was actually floating in the bain marie. Managed to get it into the oven without getting water in the batter. Got some on the floor but now i's cleaner so well and good. I used a Fat Daddio's aluminum pan inside a regular aluminum pan - a 16" round pan. It's hard to find a bigger pan for what is already such a larger cake pan, but I had one. I'm making the bigger version because we have people coming over tonight. Anyway I don' know that the floating cake will present any problems now that it's safely in the oven butI've never had that occur before and it weirded me out.
 
Smaug January 18, 2020
That's pretty strange- sounds like maybe you had the water too deep. The batter should be a bit lighter than water, and of course if the water was deeper than the batter you'd be displacing water with air.
 
Lauren January 5, 2020
This was a remarkable cake, I've never had anything quite like it. I do agree with the reviews that it is TOO MUCH CAKE! Unless you are aiming to feed 12-16. Best quality chocolate is likely key here, but I am intrigued by the ideas of adding a little grand marnier or other flavor. I also like the idea of doing individual servings, which I think would showcase it well.
 
E. V. June 4, 2019
Flabbergasted to learn from the river cafe video after having already made the cake that this version of the chocolate nemesis cake has been doubled in size from the original recipe. Why? Why on earth would you do that? In the end, It’s such a huge cake. Seems wasteful and ill thought out.
 
David May 12, 2019
This is quite a cake! Easy to make and NOT for any diabetic. It is a huge cake and would feed a good dozen. Can you scale down the recipe? Otherwise 5 stars.
 
cascade April 18, 2019
Can I bake this 2 days in advance and refrigerate?
 
trvlnsandy April 18, 2019
I did. But I refrigerated. I froze half.
 
2Dogs January 23, 2021
Yes check out The River Cafe's video on how to make it. They use half the quantities.
 
Heather E. March 29, 2019
This recipe is massive in volume!!! cut it in half or your mixing bowls and cake tin will overflow. I added a couple of tablespoon of Grand Marnier, and a teaspoon of almond extract to half of the batter and that cake was far better than the plain one.
 
Charles W. March 10, 2019
I agree pots de cream is much easier and less time consuming. However Nemisis has a wonderful texture and rich flavor, 70% chocolate. We will try the half recipe. Thanks!
 
Jeanette M. March 10, 2019
I halved the recipe and used a 9 inch pan. It took an hour and 45 minutes to bake. I actually preferred the cake chilled the next day. The texture was more fudgy. I also noticed a hint of a burned chocolate taste on the top, crackly layer of the cake. I didn't love that flavor, but it didn't seem to bother anyone else. I don't think I left it in for too long, as the texture was exactly as described and it had just set. I checked frequently from 60 minutes on, as I wasn't sure how the alterations to the recipe and pan size would play out. My kids noted that it tastes like chocolate pots de creme, which I agree with (ingredients are almost identical) and the pots de creme are a bit easier (no baking or water bath) and no less impressive.
 
Kristin W. March 3, 2019
As an FYI for anyone, like me, who doesn't have a 20-inch round pan: this fits perfectly into a 13X9. (Thank you math geek husband!)
 
Food March 8, 2019
Area of a circle is =πr^2

in case others have different sized pans
 
Smaug March 8, 2019
I presume you mean a 12" pan; a 20" round pan would be 314 sq. in., a 13x9 is 117 sq. in., a 12" round about 113 sq. in.- you would also need to be sure the pan you use is deep enough, and find a pan that would work for the water bath unless you want to change the baking method.
 
Joy P. February 28, 2019
Can anyone share a fabulous brand of chocolate we Should use? A grocery store brand and a better quality chocolate as well?

Thanks!
 
trvlnsandy February 28, 2019
I used Scharffen Berger (actually, a Hershey company now, I believe) but usually use Ghiaradelli for things like this. Sometimes Lindt.
 
Stacey March 3, 2019
Honestly, for stuff like this I use the Pound Plus bars from Trader Joe's. The rumor is that Callebaut makes them, but it will likely never be verified.
 
trvlnsandy March 3, 2019
If I had a Trader Joe's within an hour, I would too! My grocery has Nestle type and then we move up to the ones I mentioned.
 
Smaug March 8, 2019
If you're shopping at a grocery store, Lindt is probably your best bet.
 
P July 24, 2020
Callebaut, Valrhona or Barry
 
Theresa L. February 26, 2019
When you say "don't refrigerate" does that only apply to the cooling down period? Because how else do you store it? Thought it would be nice to make a day ahead but can't imagine leaving it on the counter.
 
trvlnsandy February 26, 2019
It shouldn't hurt to leave out, but I did refrigerate mine. I prefer things like that cold. Actually, a good portion of it is in the freezer now (and it might actually be good that way - will have to try).
 
Charles W. February 16, 2019
We made the 15" cake for Valentines. The 2.5" depth pan worked fine. Left out one 4 oz. bar by mistake. Harris Teeter had 60% & 100% bars on sale two for one. We used two 100% & three 60% Ghiradelli Chocolate. It turned out delicious. Sharing the cake with neighbors. Thanks for the best ever cake.
 
Smaug February 15, 2019
I've now had this for dessert 4 straight days; I expect to finish my 7" cake today. The charm is wearing a bit thin.
 
trvlnsandy February 15, 2019
LOL (which is why freezing is nice -- you could have a piece in a month when you're not sick of it)
 
Smaug February 15, 2019
I guess my situation is a bit atypical- I bake more because I like to bake and I like to try things than because I need something to eat, especially the last couple of years, I mostly just cook for myself. In recent weeks, I made three different versions of Kladdkaka and four versions of the torte souffle/ cloud cake- all of them essentially chocolate/butter/sugar/eggs- so I may have overdone the category for a while.
 
Charles W. February 16, 2019
We are sharing with neighbors & will freeze 4 pieces for later. 15” is a really big cake😀
 
soo February 14, 2019
has anyone made mini cakes in cupcake wrappers/muffin tins or ramekins? how long does it need to bake? less messy/cute presentation and easier to freeze, and would be much faster cool down time as well which would be a plus :)
 
trvlnsandy February 14, 2019
I made two ramekins and two 9" pans. Ramekins were about 50 min. I think you have to keep testing them.
 
artisanal January 1, 2020
I made the 1/2 version (from Serious Eats--same cake). For 1/2 the Food52 recipe, Serious Eats suggests a 10" pan but I only had a 9". I baked the extra batter in a buttered 6-portion silicon cupcake pan, 300 degrees for 25 minutes and it was perfect. Haven't cut in to the 9" cake yet, but think I'll refrigerate it overnight, as the mini-cakes were very fragile.
 
Stacy Y. February 14, 2019
Can you use 78% cocoa?
 
trvlnsandy February 14, 2019
Not that I love chocolate, but I've made similar using higher percentages. I wouldn't personally go higher than 80% (85% was just too high for most).
 
Max February 15, 2019
Better to use organic raw CACAO powder, sun dried or extremely low~temp baked, up to about 80%! ~~Much richer taste & actually HEALTHY!!
…& Try Coconut Oil!! Much healthier than butter & will set like butter when below about 75°F. (30°C.)!! Veritably tasteless except to the sensitivities of only the most discerning of gourmets (who usually find it more than pleasant) but, moreso than butter, creates a Heavenly rich smoothness!!
Also, if you’re not into messing up your body & mind with granulated white sugar, you can substitute organic coconut sugar for that! ~~Honey &/or 100% Maple Syrup will work in place of the “sugar syrup” as well!! Have healthy FUN!!!
 
Sonja A. February 18, 2019
Or like... enjoy proper desserts with the proper ingredients? Certain things are classics for a reason, no need to tamper by replacing every little thing. They’re not meant to be “healthy”, they’re meant to be enjoyed.
 
Smaug January 5, 2020
You're talking about a completely different dessert- if you have a recipe to submit, why not do it? I don't know if I could be described as a "discerning gourmet", but I find the taste of coconut oil pretty obtrusive. Caution is needed in substituting honey for sugar; for one thing it is much sweeter because of it's high fructose content (actually higher than most high fructose corn syrup, for those that consider that a health concern), and, as it consists largely of the monosaccharides fructose and glucose, it will interact with ingredients, particularly fluids, differently than disaccharides such as sucrose (or maple syrup, which is primarily sucrose).