dark chocolate catastrophe cake
Thursday, 5 Jan 2017


I recently heard of Carine Goren via a list of best cookbooks of 2016. I know nothing of her other than she propelled herself from working in IT to retro-fashioned baking domestic goddess-ness - and thus I’ve adopted her as a sort of aspirational figure. I was reading an article about her which listed a recipe for a flourless chocolate ‘catastrophe’ cake that looked a little familiar. I looked it up and it did indeed read like a variation on a recipe I’ve wanted to bake for a few years now, Rose Levy Beranbaum’s chocolate oblivion torte.

If you aren’t already familiar with Rose Levy Beranbaum, she wrote The Cake Bible which is, as touted, a cake bible. It’s detailed, specific and explains the rationale behind each step. If you could only have one cake book, I recommend this one.

Although the concept of the cake is lovely, the steps involved are somewhat complicated and discouraged me, ie. the whisking of eggs over simmering water, the water bath, the careful inversion of cake pans, etc. I made other, easier cakes and all thoughts of the chocolate torte were pushed to the back of my mind, that is, until now.

The Carine Goren recipe reads much simpler and, importantly, replaces the water bath with a steaming pan of boiling water at the bottom of the oven (though I accept that my aversion to water baths is largely psychological, since wrapping a tin tightly in foil isn’t technically difficult. My worry here is the water will leak in via the springform bottom and ruin my cake). The other major difference is that the eggs are whisked cold, straight from the fridge (in the article she explains that this is to give a rich texture).

I ended up making a simplified blend of both recipes. I used Rose Levy Berenbaum’s proportions with Carine Goren’s method and her addition of liqueur - though I halved the amount. The only liqueur we have in the house is mead, which my husband once received as a gift. I reasoned that while the suggested liqueurs (coffee, amaretto, etc. ) are based on non-alcoholic things, mead in itself is an alcohol and thus mead liqueur is really a liquor-based liqueur and so needed half the amount for the same impact. Of course the alcohol bakes off and the chocolate I used is so dark I can’t honestly say that the mead liqueur left a lasting impact on the cake. I would use the suggested amount of liqueur next time.

I used dark chocolate (60%, 80%, 80%) and no sugar, and very fancy butter (the Isigny-Ste-Mere stuff). The end result is a very adult cake: dense, creamy and a little austere (at least the sans sugar version). I’ve tried these two ways: with powdered sugar and double cream, and with a maple caramel sauce.

dark chocolate catastrophe cake

  • 6 large cold eggs
  • 225g (slightly under a European-sized block) unsalted butter
  • 450g bitter chocolate (I used one block of 60%
  • and two 80%)
  • 1.5 tbsp mead liqueur

I heated the oven to 150 Celsius and put a roasting pan of boiling water in the bottom of the oven.

I chose the microwave technique from the Rose Levy Berenbaum book to melt the butter and chocolate. I blasted a pyrex jug of cubed butter and chocolate for 15 second periods, stirring each time, until all the chocolate melted.

I did this first to give it some time to cool while I whisked the eggs, so I wouldn't end up mixing my egg mixture with warm butter, scrambling it (clearly I've had some bad experiences with this). Unlike the Carine Goren recipe, I didn't add sugar to make a cake that was purely dark.

I whisked my cold eggs with an electrical hand mixer until frothy, then proceeded to fold in 1/3 of it into the melted butter-chocolate, followed by the liqueur and the rest of the egg mix.

This then went into the buttered and parchment-lined cake tins. Now, I don't actually have a large springform tin as requested for in the recipes, instead I have a 14cm round springform tin with which I bought for making smaller Victoria sponges and a loaf tin, which are what I used. I baked these for 40 minutes.

microwave maple caramel sauce

  • 1 tsp butter
  • 2 tsp soft dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp double cream

This is the easiest sauce ever. These measurements make enough for 1/4 of a 14cm cake. Scale up as necessary.

Microwave sugar and butter for 15 seconds and stir.

Add the double cream and microwave in 15 second bursts until all the sugar has dissolved, stirring each time.

Mix in 1 tsp maple syrup.