Of Chocolate Cake and Telephone Lines

Flourless Chocolate Cake
When I was fourteen, I got a phone jack installed in my room, my very own touch-tone Slim Line phone in ubiquitous beige. My very favorite thing was to roll onto my back and throw my legs up in the air so I could twirl the long receiver cord between my toes. There, I would yak with my best friend Andy. We’d blab about anything, every day, all the time. There were times when the phone call was literally about nothing; she would be watching TV and I would be reading. It was no words then, just breathing, and hearing the distinct silence in which we were both thinking, and living, connected by a phone line.

We grew up and moved. Andy had this wild and wonderful career as a scholar and mountain climber, a journalist and world traveler! I became a chef, a business owner, a stepmom and wife. There we were, having lives, which were excessively busy and way too filled with stuff to curl up in a bean bag and pick up the phone. Then Andy got very sick. Then my husband died. Then there was time to do a whole lot of things.

So Andy and I talk on the phone now, about once a week. This Thanksgiving Day she called as I was puttering around my kitchen making my semi-regular Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Caraway, and Smoked Salmon Spread with Crostini.  Smoked Salmon Spread and Brussels Sprouts

“Lesa, I want you to know, I’m making a cake right now. I will give you the recipe. It’s flourless chocolate cake, and I can eat it, and it’s marvelous. Do you know the Gourmet cookbook, the yellow one?”

I’m an inveterate cookbook buyer. Of course I own it. I opened the book to the page as she directed and scanned the ingredients. There were only five, and I had them all on hand. I assembled my gear and ingredients. She assembled hers. Together on the phone, we baked a cake, or rather, two cakes. We discussed weights and measurements, parchment paper and Springform pans.

“What’s your feeling about unsalted butter?”

“Get the best you can!”

“Is this block of butter half a pound? ”

“How would I know? Do you have a scale? ”

“For… cooking? Is that even a thing? ”

We agreed emphatically on this,  politely disagreed on that. There was a lot of yakking. There was also silence and thinking. There was a lot of being connected by wires, and more. There was a feeling that if we wanted to we could belong like this to each other for the rest of our lives. As long as we picked up the phone every now and again.

Here’s the recipe, adapted by me a bit. I added a bit of instant espresso powder because it really underlines the chocolate flavor, but the original recipe is espresso-less and I have it on good authority that it’s still quite the smash hit. I like to use Pernigotti cocoa from my friends at ChefShop.com for its incomparable richness and nuanced vanilla-y smell. Regular cocoa powder can be substituted, as long as it is unsweetened.


Flourless Chocolate Cake

Serves 8-12 

 (From The Gourmet CookbookRuth Reichel Ed; ©2004 Conde Nast Publications)

Things you’ll need:


  • 10” Springform pan
  • Cooking spray
  • Parchment paper
  • Double boiler or microwave and microwave-safe bowl
  • Dry measuring cups
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Measuring spoons
  • Sieve or sifter
  • Whisk
  • Bowl
  • Spatula
  • Cooling rack
  • Cake plate
  • Warm knife (to cut the cake)


For the cake:

  • 8 ounces good quality semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (about a cup and a half), chopped or in morsels
  • 2 sticks (1/2 lb.) unsalted butter
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder (optional)
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa, sifted (plus additional for dusting)


Preheat your oven to 350 F.  Set a rack in the middle of the oven.

Spray the bottom and sides of the pan with oil. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment and spray the top of the parchment. Dust the bottom and sides with a bit of cocoa. Set aside.

In a double boiler over simmering water or in a microwave with a micro-safe bowl, melt the chocolate and butter together until they are completely liquid. (This takes about 4 minutes over a double boiler, 2 minutes in the microwave).  Stir well to make sure there are no lumps. Add espresso powder, if desired.

Pour the melted ingredients into a large bowl and add the sugar. Stir with a spatula to combine. Crack all six eggs into a liquid measuring cup. With a whisk, incorporate the eggs one at a time, whisking well after each egg is added. Add the cocoa powder and fold it in gently with the spatula, just until the ingredients are combined.

Pour into the prepared Springform pan and place it in the middle of the rack.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the surface is dry to the touch and an inserted toothpick comes out with moist crumbs adhering to it. Let cool in the pan for about 10 minutes, then remove the side of the pan. Let it cool for another five minutes, and then invert it onto a plate. Invert the plate onto a cooling rack, and let cool completely before serving. Dust with cocoa before serving. To cut the cake, warm a knife in hot water (and dry completely before cutting) or warm it over a low flame for just a few moments. This will allow the knife to cut cleanly through the cake.


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