Like the best chefy desserts, this cake is absolutely ordinary, elevated to perfection. The warm flourless chocolate cake was long a signature dessert at Gotham Bar and Grill, a Village restaurant that anchors a fine-dining lineup that mushroomed up around it, including Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern. Former head chef Alfred Portale published the recipe in his Gotham cookbook, so we can now fuss our way through replicating it.
This post is part of the Eating New York series.
Gotham Bar and Grill was my parent's validation that they had, after lots of lean years, made it. It was the place they betook themselves, and occasionally my teenaged self and sister, to celebrate milestones. Conveniently situated near their favorite jazz clubs, especially Bradley's (about the demise of which the New York Times wrote, in appropriately poignant terms, "Quietly, Sorrowfully, a Jazz Club Dies"), they'd even treat themselves to dinner at Gotham just because. On the outside, we may have been fine diners for an hour or two, but on the inside, we were just us. My dad still complained about the leisurely pace of service (what are they doing, going out to find a cow to slaughter?) and my mom still ate the garnishes (why let it go to waste?). Then there was the time, after polishing off the mint leaves that adorned the chocolate cake, that my mom asked the waiter for the recipe. He was happy to inform her that a cookbook with the recipe had just been released. Meanwhile, she was pulling out her pocket notebook with earnest intention. Of course she didn't buy the book (what, for one recipe?) and left it to me to pilfer off the internet years later, as well she taught me (not a waste, you see?).
The famous Gotham chocolate cake is not hard to make, per se; it's mostly about the method, which requires more attention and fuss than you'd ordinarily give to a chocolate cake. Here are the steps involved:
(1) Melting the chocolate in a double boiler with espresso or coffee: Yep, you'll be chopping two different types of chocolate by hand. Like, an unholy (holy?) amount of chocolate. And yep, you should brew or press coffee specifically for this step.
(2) Making a meringue base: Technically, this isn't a meringue, because it uses whole eggs and not just the whites. But the technique here is identical to making Swiss meringue, where eggs and sugar are combined and then whisked over steam (in a double boiler) until the sugar dissolves.
(3) Whipping the cream: The cake relies on whipped cream for its texture, and it needs to be beaten to a Goldilocks scenario of just between soft and stiff peaks to work.
(4) Folding the elements together: You'll start by folding a small amount, about a quarter, of the egg mixture into the chocolate. Then, you'll fold that right back in to the remainder of the eggs. Finally, you fold in the just-right whipped cream.
(5) Baking the cake: This cake bakes for a long time at relatively low heat (325F/165C), around an hour. It also bakes in a water bath, which requires you to release the steam halfway through the baking time. After that, you leave the cake in the turned-off oven for a full 2 hours more. Yeah, it's a lot of baby-sitting.
The result? A sublimely textured flourless chocolate cake. Unlike most flourless chocolate cakes, this one doesn't rely on the flour-like properties of cocoa powder for its structure. I think that's what makes it so good: it's the meringue-like base combined with a hefty load of cocoa solids and cocoa butter, all lifted by whipped cream.
Serve it warm, all by itself, with a sprig of mint ceremoniously placed by each slice.
Gotham Bar and Grill Warm Flourless Chocolate Cake (dairy)
- 1 lb bittersweet chocolate - 450 g
- 3 oz unsweetened chocolate - 85 g
- ½ cup + 2 Tbsp espresso or brewed coffee
- 6 eggs - at room temperature
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup cream
- sprigs of mint - for garnishing
- Preheat oven to 325°F / 165°C. Lightly grease a 9 or 10" / 23-25 cm round springform pan. Optionally, line bottom of pan with a circle of parchment paper. Get out a pan, such as a roasting pan, large enough to hold the cake pan (for a water bath). Set up a medium pot with water to use as a double boiler.
Melt the chocolate and coffee together:
- Finely chop both types of chocolate. Brew the coffee.
- In a double boiler over simmering water, melt the bittersweet and unsweetened chocolates with coffee, while stirring. Set aside.
Whisk eggs and sugar over heat:
- In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Remove the bowl from the mixer and set the bowl over simmering water. Whisk continually over steam for 2 minutes, until the mixture is warmed and the sugar is dissolved. (To test if the sugar has dissolved, rub a bit of the mixture between you thumb and index finger; it should be smooth, not gritty.)
- Re-attach the bowl to the mixer and beat at medium speed until lightened with significantly increased volume, 3-4 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low and continue beating for 2 minutes. Set aside.
Beat the cream:
- Beat the cold cream until it's right between the stage where it holds soft peaks and firm peaks. It should dollop nicely, neither spreading nor holding its shape.
- Whisk the egg mixture. Fold about a quarter of the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture. Fold this lightened chocolate mixture into remaining egg mixture. (It will require a lot of folding.)
- Next, fold in the whipped cream gently until fully combined.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, smoothing the top.
- Place the filled cake pan inside the larger baking or roasting pan. Pour water into the outer pan to come about halfway up the sides of the cake pan. Insert into the heated oven.
- Bake 30 minutes. Open oven door 30 seconds to release any moisture that may have developed in the oven.
- Continue baking until center of cake feels somewhat firm when lightly pressed, 25-30 minutes.
- Let cake cool in the turned-off oven 2 hours.