The first day of spring may not be until tomorrow, but yesterday was the first day that had the fresh, verdant feeling of the new season for me. With temperatures in the low 60s here in the North East, I opened all the windows in the house to let in the fresh air as I swept and dusted and got ready for the new week. The trees outside my window are beginning to bud, and there are buttery, yellow daffodils and purple and white crocuses sprouting up all over the place.
Yesterday’s Sunday supper demanded something fresh. A wild mushroom stew with a crusty baguette to sop up the savory sauce was just the thing, topped off with a chocolate roulade filled with orange cream. The stew was hearty and satisfying, but the roulade took the cake, so to speak. This flourless cake is springy and airy, and the cream, infused with orange blossom water and grated orange peel, is deceptively light. It is a quick dessert to prepare, but somewhat tricky to assemble since, without any flour, the cake has little structure to help hold itself together as you roll it up. The result was imperfect but the flavor couldn’t have been better.
This recipe is adapted from Gourmet’s “Lighter-Than-Air Chocolate Roll,” from January 2001, which makes 12 servings–about 7 more than I wanted camped out in my refrigerator the morning after, so I halved the recipe and we ate the whole thing in a matter of minutes. Instead of a standard jelly-roll pan, I baked the cake in an 11 x 7 inch glass baking dish lined with parchment paper, which made a perfect half-length of roulade when rolled up along the long edge. This recipe should make 6 servings, but if you want 12, just double the ingredients and use a standard sized jelly-roll pan (about 17 x 11 0r 15 x 10 inches).
Ingredients for the chocolate cake
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips
2 teaspoons water
3 large eggs, separated
1/3 cup sugar, divided
1/8 teaspoon salt (I just eyeball half of my 1/4 teaspoon measure, since I don’t have a 1/8 teaspoon measure)
1 – 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
Ingredients for the orange whipped cream
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
4 teaspoons powdered sugar, sifted (plus more for dusting)
1/2 teaspoon orange blossom water (if you don’t have any you could use an orange flavored liqueur, but you should really try to find the real deal–you will not be disappointed)
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Directions for cake
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line the baking pan with parchment paper that overhangs the edges just slightly, which will make removal of the delicate cake much easier.
Heat the chocolate with the water in a small, heavy bottomed pan over medium-low heat until just melted, stirring frequently. When all the chocolate has melted, remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature, stirring periodically (but make sure it doesn’t harden).
Beat the egg yolks, salt, and half of the measured sugar with a hand mixer in a medium sized bowl for several minutes until the yolk are thick and pale yellow. I made the mistake of trying to do this in my stand mixer, but only three yolks and a few tablespoons of sugar isn’t enough for the large mixer to do anything to it. Once the yolks are beaten, stir in the melted chocolate until well-blended.
In a small bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the sugar to them and continue beating until they form stiff peaks. Be sure not to overbeat them, as they will separate if you do. When you beat egg whites, always start with a perfectly clean bowl and beaters. Any oil in the eggs will prevent them from beating up nice and firm, so don’t be tempted to just rinse the equipment after you used it to beat the egg yolks. Soap and water, my friends!
Once the whites are beaten, using a rubber spatula, fold about a third of the whites into the chocolate mixture with as few motions as possible. After that is incorporated, fold the remaining whites into the chocolate, again, using as few strokes as possible. Folding ingredients together can be tricky. The reason you want to fold them, rather than beat or stir them, is that you want to preserve the structure of the whites, which give the cake its backbone. If you over mix them, they will deflate and your cake will lose its springy texture.
Once everything is incorporated, pour the batter evenly into your prepared pan and smooth the top of the mixture. Bake in the middle of the preheated oven for 15 – 18 minutes. Mine was perfect right at 15 minutes. The recipe says that the top should be dry to your touch and puffed when it is ready. Remove from the oven and place on a cooling rack. Cover the top of the cake with a damp towel, or double-layer of paper towels, for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, remove the towels and cool the cake completely. Once cooled, sprinkle the cocoa powder over the top of the cake and then remove the cake from the pan, pulling on the parchment paper to bring it out of the pan.
Place the cake on a piece of wax paper or parchment paper cut larger than the cake. With another piece of paper placed on top of the dusted side of the cake, invert the cake so that the bottom of the cake is now facing up. Peel off the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake and prepare your whipped cream.
To make the whipped cream
Beat the heavy cream, the powdered sugar, and the orange blossom water until it holds stiff peaks, using a hand mixer. Fold in the orange zest.
To assemble the cake
Spread the whipped cream over the entire cake with an off-set spatula. Place the short side of the cake next to the platter you want to put the cake onto. Using the paper under the cake as an aid, gently roll the cake up making a spiral. The cake will probably crack as you do this–don’t panic. Once the cake is rolled up, gently place it on the platter, seam-side down, using the paper underneath it to help you.
Dust the cake with cocoa powder or powdered sugar, and slice into the desired number of pieces. The note says that you can roll the cake up and refrigerate it for a day in advance, in which case I think you shouldn’t dust the cake until you are ready to serve it. If you don’t want to make this as a cake roll, bake it in an 8 inch cake pan for 35 – 40 minutes, and top with the whipped cream when cooled. I think I’ll try this method next time.