Saturday, February 28, 2009

Birthday Cake: Chocolate Nemesis

The lengthy process of auditioning cakes for my birthday finally arrived at a suitable candidate. A tough task, but it had to be done.

I abandoned my previous contenders when I came across David Lebovitz’s post about the chocolate cake recipe I found on a men's room wall. I had to try it, even though it involved translating from the original French.

The flat mate and I were duly impressed - me especially with the addition of a small glass of strong coffee - while the flavour of the coffee itself remains hidden, it dramatically deepens and intensifies the chocolate. Yum.

Thinking more on this theme brought me back to the ultimate flourless chocolate cake recipe: the River Cafe’s Chocolate Nemesis.

I first ate this at the famous restaurant itself. I remember our party of six admired the huge cartwheel of a pudding on the counter as we came in. However, I was the only one to actually order a slice.

My involuntary orgasmic gasp on my first mouthful brought 5 large spoons down on my plate - “for a taste” - leaving me with virtually no pudding left. The nightmare of maintaining a polite composure as I watched my nemesis disappear lives with me still.

So once Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray published their River Cafe Cook Book, I tried to do the recipe one Christmas - with disastrous results. I later found out I was not alone. In fact, this recipe had become pretty notorious in London: Julian Barnes himself wrote about the social phenomenon:

“Moralists know that Hubris inevitably leads to Nemesis, but never before had the theory been given such literal expression. Overweening pride in one's ability to cook led to chocolate disaster. The pudding - in case you need reminding - was a signature dish (as the vile phrase has it) of the River Cafe. People had eaten at the restaurant, discovered this most decadent of puddings (2lbs chocolate, 10 eggs, 1lb butter, 1lb 5oz sugar), and, when the first River Cafe Cook Book came out, decided to try it for themselves.

Why it went wrong we Nemetics never discovered. The paranoid explanation was that some key element of the recipe had been deliberately omitted, thus driving customers back to the restaurant for the authentic item. The more plausible one was that there is a difference between the professional and the domestic oven, that certain dishes exaggerate this difference, and Chocolate Nemesis exaggerated the exaggerations. But the failure was generally so spectacular that few got back up off the floor and tried it again.”

Well, I laid my nemesis ghosts and tried it again, from their River Cafe Easy book. It worked! - at least, it came out, stood up, and was deliciously rich and fudgy: but not quite the perfection that in memory lives forever fresh.

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