It’s Valentine’s Day, and on Valentine’s Day you eat chocolate. That’s just how it is. Accept it. Hallmark holiday or not, the more chocolate you consume on this day, the better. It’s always been this way. We started out when we were young and didn’t know any better with the classic Whitman sampler, pressing discreet holes in the bottom of each waxy chocolate to find the caramels and carefully placing the lemon and orange creams back in the box for some other sucker. Then we moved on to See’s, then Godiva then finally, thank god, to the Belgian and French chocolates because by then, we were old enough to know better. Then, for some reason, we started placing a lot of importance on going out to dinner on Valentine’s Day and all bets were off.
Hate to break it to you but as a pastry chef, Valentine’s Day blows. Next to New Year’s Eve it’s the worst holiday ever and I think I speak for the whole sugar mafia on this one. Amateur hour all round and it’s the same every damn year. I can’t explain it but something about this day makes people stupid.
“I’m sorry but we cannot squeeze in “just two more” at 8pm because we’ve been fully booked for 3 months” (and besides if you wait until the day before Valentine’s Day to try to make a reservation at a hot restaurant we already know 3 things about you: you’re an asshole, a bad tipper and an asshole.)
“Sir, are you absolutely sure you want me to “hide” this gorgeous 3-carat ring IN the soufflé?” (because a woman cleaning chocolate off a hot ring in the middle of a packed dining room is a bad bad idea, trust me on this and BTW, is there any possible way I can talk you out of proposing on Valentine’s Day?? Ugh.)
“No ma’am, I cannot make you a fat free, gluten free, dairy free, carb free chocolate dessert” (you do realize what real food is, right?)
It is the longest night of our lives. This year, it’s even worse because the blessed day falls on a Monday, the night a lot of restaurants are usually closed. Not this year! It makes for a very very long week after a very long weekend. Look around … those are the pastry peeps shuffling out the door at 3am and they’ll be back in just a few hours to start prepping all over again. I salute my comrades of the butter brigade. Hang tough. I do not miss this aspect of restaurant life though I do miss laughing about it all later. Some of my funniest stories happened on these nights and where would I be without my funny stories?
So if there’s one thing I learned is that on this day of all days, you gotta have a chocolate dessert and it has to be over the top. Rich, dark, super chocolatey, groan inducingly decadent. This chocolate torte fits all this criteria and more. It’s what you make when you want to dazzle and it’s easy too. A small sliver will do it but please have two if you like.
It took me a long time to get this one right. Over the years, I made several different versions, never quite hitting the idea I had in my head. I fiddled with the eggs, the type of chocolate, the liquid, the sugar, the baking method … each was good but just a smidge off of what I knew if could be. My notes and edits became unreadable. One day, and who remembers how many I had made at this point, I looked up in surprise… bingo! It was all there – the richness, creaminess, intense chocolate flavor. Perfect. And it only took a dozen or so tries. My friends, who tried them all, thought I was nuts and enjoyed every one but when I hit it, even they knew.
A quick note on the chocolate. If you’re hoarding the good stuff, this is the time to break it out as there’s not a lot in this recipe to detract or hide good chocolate flavor. Use one with at least a 60% cacao percentage and if budget is a concern, use the good stuff in the glaze where a little will go a long way. Sometimes I use a 60% in the cake but a really dark 72% Valrhona in the glaze. Quite lovely.
This torte is especially good with something tart to offset the richness – raspberries, passion fruit or orange are quite nice either as a sauce or with fresh fruit to garnish.
STRESS BAKING THERAPY FACTOR: 5 STARS. This is it. Do not look any further. When you crave something intensely chocolatey for yourself or chocolate to impress, this comes together in a snap. Actually this might be a bit over the top for just yourself but I say, what the hell, sometimes we all have days like that. I would not, however, recommend hiding an engagement ring in it – or in any dish for that matter. Seems like a fun idea but in the end, it’s just gross and you never get all the chocolate out of the setting. A girl wants to show off her pretty sparkling bling and when it’s dulled by food bits it’s like having broccoli stuck between your teeth. And god forbid the poor woman chokes on it. Not good.
DARK CHOCOLATE TORTE
Makes one 9” torte
This is a very rich, decadent torte that will easily serve 16 people. Cut into thin slices with a contrasting sauce of fresh berry garnish . The torte can be made at least a day or two ahead and kept chilled.
For the torte:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine (60%+ cacao)
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks)
½ cup water
½ cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
for the glaze:
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine (60%+ cacao, darker if you have it)
1 Tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
- Preheat oven to 350 °F. Line bottom of 9-inch-diameter cake pan with 2” high sides with parchment and spray with pan spray. Have a large roasting pan and a kettle of hot water standing by for the bain marie.
- Place all the chocolate in large bowl and melt either over a double boiler or in the microwave in 45 second bursts at 50% power, stirring between bursts.
- Bring butter, water, brown sugar and salt to a boil in medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar.
- Add this mixture to the chocolate; whisk until smooth. Cool slightly.
- Gently whisk in eggs, one third at a time.
- Whisk in the vanilla.
- Pour chocolate mixture into the prepared pan, give it a few raps to allow any bubbles to rise to the surface and smooth the top if needed.
- Place cake pan in roasting pan.
- Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of cake pan.
- Bake: Bake, uncovered, about 40-45 minutes or until center of cake is set and tester inserted into center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached.
- Remove pan from water and let cool for 10 minutes on a wire rack.
- Unmold: Unmold the torte while warm – run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan and invert onto serving platter. Remove parchment. (To unmold if chilled, hold pan bottom over a burner on low heat for 15 seconds, warming slightly to release cake.)
- Glaze: In a heatproof bowl, melt the chocolate and butter over a water bath or in the microwave in 30 second bursts at 50% power, stirring between bursts.
- Whisk lightly until smooth. Do not allow to cool.
- Pour the glaze on top of the torte and spread evenly.
- Allow 5-10 minutes for glaze to set, then chill for a few hours to set firm.
- Garnish with fresh berries or a dessert sauce. Torte is best served chilled.
- To cut nice clean slices, use a long thin knife, wiping the knife clean between slices.