Chocolate Armagnac Cake

Now I am one of the few people who are not completely disgusted with prunes.  So, when this cake was picked by the bakers over at TWD I was excited.  I really think prunes are completely misunderstood.  If one were to call them dried plums I doubt they would be thought of so disgust-fully.  I happen to think prune filling in danishes is one of the best option.  They are not too sweet, but yet they have a nice subtle flavor which lends itself nicely to sweet things.

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This cake is very similar to a flourless chocolate cake in that the only levening it uses is egg whites.  If it weren’t for the prunes though this cake would almost have too intense of a chocolate flavor I think.  The prunes help cut down on the sweetness from the chocolate and offer a nice bit of texture to the cake.  This recipe was also fun to make because you are supposed to steep the prunes in Armagnac and then set them on fire.  This was the first time I had ever done that.  It was a lot of fun and not nearly as dangerous as I expected.  Now, I don’t recommend everyone to try this.  My husband was close on hand and we did have the lid nearby just in case the flames got too high.  We also have a fire extinguisher for our kitchen, so we were probably more safe than most people.  We are engineers though after all and we do tend to think of safety in most things because it is part of our jobs. 

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Overall, the cake was excellent and I would highly recommend it.  I sauteed the prunes in brandy which smelled great and offered a nice accent to the cake.  So, if you are thinking of trying this but are scared of the prunes, try to get over your fears and try something where the overall taste of the prune is masked by a lot of chocolate.  I mean really, what isn’t good when it is surrounded by chocolate? 

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Recipe (from Baking: From my home to yours by Dorie Greenspan)

For the cake

2/3 cup finely ground pecans

1/4 cup AP flour

1/4 tsp salt

12 plump, moist prunes, pitted and cut into bits

1/4 cup + 3 Tbsp water

1/4 cup Armagnac (or cognac, brandy or whisky, I used brandy)

7 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 stick unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces

3 large eggs, separated

2/3 cup sugar

For the glaze:

3 oz bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 Tbsp confectioners’ sugar

3 Tbsp unsalted butter, at room temperature

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Grease an 8-inch springform pan and dust the inside with flour, tapping out the excess.  Put the pan on a baking sheet.

Whisk together the nuts, flour and salt.

Put the prunes and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, being careful not to scorch the fruit, until the water almost evaporates.  Pull the pan from the heat and pour in the Armagnac, stand back and set it aflame.  When the flames die out, transfer the fruit and any remaining liquid to a bowl and cool. 

Combine the chocolate, butter and remaining 3 Tbsp water in a heatproof bowl.  Set it over a pan of simmering water and stir occasionally until the chocolate and butter are melted.  Remove the chocolate from the heat just as soon as it is melted and not very hot – you don’t want the chocolate and butter to separate.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together until thick and pale.  Switch to a rubber spatula and, one by one, stir in the chocolate and butter mixture, the nut mixture, and the prunes with any liquid.

Working with a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they hold firm, glossy peaks.  Stir in about one quarter of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture.  Then gently fold in the remaining whites.  Turn the batter into the pan.

Bake the cake for 28 to 32 minutes, or until it is puffed, firm on top and starting to come ever so slightly away from the sides of the pan.  A thin knife inserted into the center will come out streaky – the cake should not be wet, but you don’t want it to be completely dry.  Transfer the cake to a rack and let it cook for about 10 minutes, then carefully remove the sides of the pan.  Invert the cake, pull off the bottom and turn right side up to cool to room temperature.  The cake should be absolutely cool before you glaze it.

To make the glaze:

Melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of gently simmering water.  Remove it from the heat and using a small spatula, stir in the sugar, then the butter, a bit at a time, stirring until you have a smooth glaze.

Have a long metal icing spatula at hand.  Pour the glaze over the top of the cake, allowing the excess to run down the sides, and use the spatula to smooth the top of the cake if necessary.  Let the glaze set at room temperature, of if you want to speed it up, slide the cake into the refrigerator for about 20 minutes.

Enjoy!  Just make sure to have a glass of milk on hand to help with the intense sweetness.

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