Last Friday, my friend Emily turned 22. Emily is my poet friend. Literally. She likes to spend evenings with a glass of wine, writing poems. We met because we were both interested in The Pop Culture of Early Modern Europe, one of my favorite class topics at Hopkins. I like witchcraft and charivari and carnivals and all those fun things. Also my favorite childhood story was called Cat’s Carnival. Go figure.
A friendship developed once I accepted her lunch invitation (it took awhile). She visited me for a weekend when I was abroad in Paris. We watched Heathers while drinking wine in my apartment. We even took a second class together. One about John Locke. And afterwards we would get burgers.
This semester we have no classes in common, but we seem to be seeing each other more than ever (which is a great thing, Emily’s the best). And so, of course I had to make her the best birthday cake I could. Her only stipulation was that it have chocolate in it. Easily done, since I have a bit of Scharffen Berger chocolate that’s been burning a whole in my pantry.
Like most normal people (excluding my mother and my roommate, Sluggy) I like chocolate. I’m not obsessed with it and I tend not to use it too often in cooking. When I do, I want it to be the best chocolate possible. Also, I want it to be the centerpiece of the dish, not just thrown in there for extra flavor.
This Chocolate Tea Cake with lime and almonds and browned butter comes from The Sweet Life cookbook, from which I’ve taken multiple recipes on this site. The cake was perfect. A little under baked, but that is my impatience, nothing to do with the recipe.
When I first looked at the recipe, I thought to myself, well that’s just too much for one cake. But I was also intrigued. Because how could a cake balance all of those flavors? I trust Kate Zuckerman and her recipes. Not a single one has ever let me down. So I made it. And I was happy. Very happy. The lime shines through brilliantly, highlighting the already acidic quality of chocolate. The browned butter adds a nutty quality that helps to melange the chocolate and almond flavor. Most of all the cake is wondrously chocolaty.
Jethro, sadly, could not enjoy the cake. His food choices are limited to organic cat food for outdoor cats (all other things upset his delicate tummy), so he may not have been too upset. He’s content now that I am home for a few days, even if he does think 4 AM is the perfect time for feeding. And chasing mice loudly.
Chocolate Almond Brown Butter Lime Tea Cake
Adapted from The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle
225 grams (8 ounces, 16 T) grams butter
85 grams (3 ounces) grams high quality bittersweet chocolate
140 grams (5 ounces) almond flour or blanched almonds
120 grams (1 cup minus 2 T) flour
9 egg whites
355 grams (2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons) powdered sugar
Zest of 2 limes
2 tablespoons honey
50 grams (1/2 cup) cocoa powder, Dutch process or natural
1/2 T salt
Preheat the oven to 375˚ F. Butter or oil a 9 or 10 inch cake pan (or make mini muffins, about 45-50)
In a small frying pan or a medium saucepan brown the butter over medium high heat. The butter will begin to form a foam on top. Turn the heat down to medium. The foam will start to have flecks of brown in it. The liquid underneath the foam will transform from yellow to clear golden, and the butter will emit a rich, nutty, caramelized scent. Once the butter is at this point, remove from the heat and set aside.
In a glass bowl set over simmering water or in a double boiler (make sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water), melt the chocolate, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat, but allow the water to keep simmering.
If using whole almonds, in a food processor grind the almonds and 1 tablespoon of flour until they become a fine powder.
In a large bowl over the simmering water, whisk together the egg whites, powdered sugar, lime zest, and honey until the egg whites are warm to the touch and all of the sugar has dissolved.
Slowly whisk in the remaining flour, ground almonds, cocoa powder, and salt into the egg whites. Smooth the mixture out, as it will become thick and clumpy, with a few turns of your whisk.
This next part is very important. You must emulsify the brown butter, that is add it very slowly to the egg white mixture so that it all becomes incorporated. Add in about a quarter cup at a time of the brown butter, making sure it is COMPLETELY incorporated before adding in another quarter cup. Once all of the butter is incorporated, add in the chocolate.
At this point, you can refrigerate the batter for up to 4 days.
Pour and scrape (and taste) the batter into the prepared pan or pans (if using mini muffin tins, I suggest using a spoon or a piping bag to get the batter in the tins). Bake the cake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, rotating at least once for even baking. If making mini muffins, only bake for 15 minutes, but still rotate.
Serve this cake on its own and warm or with some sort of caramel sauce. I used rum caramel sauce. Zuckerman also recommends blood orange caramel sauce. If you’d like either of the recipes, let me know!
The cakes will keep for about one week, if they last that long.