Bake This Velvety Flourless Chocolate Cake for Passover
Chef Alon Balshan takes baking cues from—and creative liberties with—his aunt Louise’s classic cake recipe.
Chocolate babka, honey cake, rugelach—there’s no shortage of delicious Jewish sweets. When Passover rolls around in the springtime, though, the star of the dessert table is most likely a flourless chocolate cake.
For the uninitiated, Passover (this year, April 15-23) is the holiday that celebrates the exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. The eight-day festival forbids eating fermented grains—wheat, oats, spelt, barley, rye and any food or beverage products that contain them are removed from the house before the holiday starts. The one exception: matzo. Made from a combination of flour and water, matzo is symbolic of the unleavened flatbread that Jews carried with them into the desert as there was no time to let the loaves rise before they escaped.
A flourless chocolate cake, then, avoids the wheat issue altogether. And Alon Balshan’s recipe delivers a decadent version for the holiday (or anytime, really).
Balshan, owner of Alon’s Bakery in Atlanta, takes cues for his flourless chocolate cake from his aunt Louise. Her cake wasn’t flourless, but it was her signature dessert that he was fond of. “I grew up on that cake and I loved that cake. We all did in the family. It’s an inspiration. I made it my own and kind of different, but that's where the inspiration comes from,” says Balshan.
Balshan now serves a flour-free riff on Louise’s cake (it’s even called “the chocolate Louise” in her honor). His cake features a rich chocolate base with a custard topping, into which Balshan blends in hazelnut praline and paste. “The cake is more of a cremeux, which is like a custard chocolate, so it’s got a velvety texture,” explains Balshan. He sells it year-round but it becomes especially popular during Passover when people entertain or tote treats to hosts’ homes.
“The cake is more of a cremeux, which is like a custard chocolate, so it’s got a velvety texture.”
“I tend to think that the whole concept of flourless chocolate cake evolved from nut flour cakes that have existed for centuries in the Mediterranean,” says Tori Avey, founder of her eponymous recipe website, who geeks out on food history. Flourless cakes remind Avey of her travels to the Mediterranean where springtime treats like torta caprese and tenerina (a brownie-like cake) make use of almonds and other nuts. “Almonds have a deep association with springtime in Italy, and that also makes almond flour cakes a nice seasonal choice for Passover,” she says.
When it comes to making a flourless chocolate cake, there are different methods to know about. Some recipes call for baking the cake in a water bath which protects the cake and helps it bake evenly. Others rely on cocoa powder. Balshan’s recipe, however, uses potato starch. There’s no wrong method and it’s ultimately up to you which one you prefer. “Certain techniques can help these types of cakes from becoming overly heavy and dense,” says Avey. “In my own almond flour chocolate cake, the egg whites are folded in to keep the batter nice and light.”
Avey also incorporates almond flour into her chocolate crackle cake recipe. “Adding almond flour lightens up the texture of the cake and really gives it a nice crumb, plus on a nutritional level it adds nice protein and healthy fat to balance out the sugar in the recipe—so your blood sugar won’t spike quite as much as it would with a nut-free flourless cake,” she says.
To make Balshan’s chocolate flourless cake, you’ll need potato starch for the soufflé base, which adds body and texture in lieu of wheat flour. The custard topping requires precision, but the result is an indulgent treat that’s totally worth it—whether you’re celebrating Passover or simply getting your bake on in the kitchen.
Aunt Louise’s Flourless Chocolate Cake Recipe
The chocolate soufflé:
• 300 grams chocolate, 62 percent
• 200 grams butter
• 110 grams egg yolks
• 115 grams powdered sugar
• 12 grams potato starch
• 150 grams egg white
• 50 grams sugar
1. Heat the oven to 500 degrees.
2. Melt the chocolate with the butter, add the egg yolks, powdered sugar, and potato starch. Mix well.
3. Whip egg whites with sugar to a soft peak. Fold into the batter, then scoop into flexible mold about 3 inches in diameter. You should leave space for about half the height of the mold to top with cream later. Alternately: use a 10-inch ring and put about 1-inch batter.
4. Bake individuals to about 5 minutes (the cake will seem soft and not baked, but it is done). For large cakes bake 7 minutes. Let cool completely.
The chocolate cremeux:
• 165 grams milk
• 165 grams heavy cream
• 40 grams sugar
• 65 grams egg yolks
• 70 grams chocolate, 62 percent
• 20 grams unsweetened chocolate
• 120 grams milk chocolate
• 20 grams hazelnut paste
1. Heat up milk and cream to a strong simmer, then reduce heat to low.
2. In a separate bowl, mix the egg yolk with sugar for about 5 minutes by hand. Add some hot liquid into the egg yolk mixture, then gradually incorporate into the hot milk and cream. Do not stop mixing and keep on a low heat, cook to 181 degrees (must be very quick or your egg will overcook and curdle).
3. Add the chocolate immediately into the custard and blend with a stick blender. Add the hazelnut paste and keep mixing until completely smooth and homogenized. While still hot, add to the cooled cake, you should have about a half-inch of cream above the cake.
4. Freeze until set, then unmold from pan. It’s ready to serve.