Monday, April 9, 2012

Chocolate Cake That's Gluten Free---Happy Passover

I have been very fortunate when it comes to cake. Most of the time, it works out quite nicely. Apple cake, chocolate chip cake, Devil's food cake, white birthday cake---these are the cakes I've made that have turned out well, and by well, I mean, they have been so delicious that my family devours them and I can't stop eating them, even when I take the leftovers, hide them away in the freezer, and dive into their frost-bitten pieces in a PMS frenzy two months later.

But this post isn't just about cake. It's also about teaching. I've been very lucky when it comes to teaching. Almost five years ago, I received an email from Columbia, where I'd gone to graduate school in my thirties. Pursuing an MFA in fiction when you're thirtysomething is a bit of a fool's errand. There's no guarantee you're going to get anything resembling a real job once you finish your degree. I didn't care so much, because I knew that once I finished my thesis, I would turn my attention to my boys, then two and six, and focus on driving them all over God's green earth. (When it comes to suburban motherhood, a driver's license is much more useful than a graduate degree.) But one day, Columbia sent out an email blast, looking for teachers. Even without a shred of experience or a published short story, you too could teach creative writing to Columbia undergrads and graduate students as long as you had a degree. The catch was you didn't get paid. But since I had nothing else going on in the intellectually-stimulating department, I said yes.

Almost five years later, I'm happy to say that teaching creative writing has been one of the highlights of my life. After eighteen months of teaching for free at Columbia, I switched to teaching for money at the New York Writers Workshop. My students there have been fantastic---the majority have been really smart, serious, neurotic, ambitious, funny and  reliable. (Even more reliable than I am, sometimes. A few weeks ago, I was really sick and had to cancel class. Six of the students showed up anyway and held class without me.) I've had lawyers, TV producers, engineers, sports reporters, investigative reporters, Harvard MBA's, kindergarten teachers, New York Times editors, actresses, artists, psychologists, a sex researcher, a former sex worker, yoga instructors, receptionists, secretaries and software engineers as students. And a few of them actually cook, though it wasn’t until this week that I had the nerve to ask one of them for a recipe.

This Passover, we are invited to two Seders. Normally, we host at least one, but my sister-in-law invited us for the first night and a close friend of mine from high school invited us for the second. I am thrilled to be going as a guest this year. The last couple of months have been rough---my middle-aged cousin died suddenly of a heart attack in February and my brother-in-law Rich, a software engineer in Berkeley who has an adorable eighteen-month old son, was diagnosed with cancer in March (you can read about his chemo and recovery on the blog he shares with his wife, Richandlorien.) While we were vacationing in Colorado, my older son skied into a tree (he had a helmet on, thank God), and I came home to find that a very old friend from Business Week had unexpectedly died of cancer. Usually, I try to cook and write my way out of stress, but this year it was a massive relief to know that other people were going to be preparing the festive meal.

But going as a guest this Pesach means I'm out of my element. Like any self-respecting guest, I offered to bring dessert to the Seders, without having an actual plan for making one. Because we usually host, I've never made a Pesadich dessert. I usually make brisket and chicken, roasted string beans, potato kugel, and occasionally horse radish, but because desserts are an easy thing for guests to bring, I've delegated them.

So I emailed one of my former students---a Columbia trained lawyer, Orthodox Jew and feminist who is also an excellent writer and an avid cook. (Sometimes, she would be so busy cooking for Shabbat or a Jewish holiday that she would skip class.) I figured she'd have a good recipe for Passover dessert. She emailed back and said she doesn't really do Passover desserts because her older son is allergic to eggs. Still, she was kind enough to send me this recipe for Flourless Chocolate Cake. Since the recipe was a bit of an experiment, I decided to make it this morning. If it was a disaster, I'd make meringue cookies or fruit salad on Friday. 

The original recipe called for pecans, but because my sister-in-law is allergic to pine nuts and my high school friend's son is allergic to peanuts, I decided to substitute dried cherries and apricots for the nuts. Then, I started to feel bold. The cake didn't look that hard, and how bad could chocolate and dried cherries be? I decided to double the recipe and make two cakes. The recipe warned that the cakes would be flat (no flour to make them rise). They were. The cakes aren't all that pretty either--no one will accuse these cakes of getting by on their good looks. But they taste delicious. If you don't celebrate Passover but are looking for a delicious gluten-free dessert, this cake will also work beautifully for Easter.

Happy holidays.

Excellent Flourless Chocolate Cake for Passover, adapted from

 (To print recipe out, click here:)

6 eggs – at room temperature
1 cup sugar
5.3 oz / 150 gr high quality dark chocolate
5.3 oz dried cherries and/or apricots
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 Tablespoons good unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tablespoon brandy
Preheat oven to 350f / 180c.
Line a 10”/ 24 cm pan with baking paper and oil the sides.
Place the chocolate and dried fruit in a food processor and grind into very small crumbs.
Separate the eggs and transfer the egg whites to the mixer. Whip on medium-high until they begin to whiten and gradually add the sugar. Continue beating for 3 minutes until you get a thick white foam texture. Slow the mixer and add in the following order: yolks, oil, cocoa, nuts and chocolate and brandy. Continue mixing until even and transfer to pan.
Lower the oven temperature to 340f / 170c and bake for 55 minutes. Don’t prick the cake or it will fall immediately!
Flourless cakes tend to lose height when cooled – to help make it more even, remove from the oven and use a sharp knife to separate the cake from the pan sides. It doesn’t have to be a single movement so don’t push. Cover with a towel and let it cool.

Chocolate Glaze:

3 oz / 80 gr. dark chocolate
4-5 Tablespoons whole milk
1-2  tablespoons confectioner’s sugar 
Chop the chocolate and place it in a bowl with 4 tablespoons of milk. Melt in the microwave for two minutes. Mix. When cake has cooled, spread on top. Then take powdered sugar, put in a sifter, and sift over cake. 

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