Monday, June 20, 2011

Chocolate Grand Marnier Torte à la Litbrit

This exquisite, dreamily chocolate-y flourless torte is one of my go-to grownup desserts for special occasions, and I say that because creating the torte tends to be a relatively labor-intensive and time-consuming endeavor, certainly more so than the throwing together of my (almost) everyday cakes and cookies (not that there's anything wrong with--or non-delicious about--those). Furthermore, Grand Marnier is a bit pricey these days. Trust me, though, this torte is absolutely, positively worth the effort and expense.

This is my adaptation of a recipe I found in Elle, back in the 1980's. (Come on, America, please go metric already!) It's also the first birthday cake I ever made for Robert, in 1988; the following year, we got married. To be clear, I'm not suggesting any connection between the two, although, as readers may remember, I do firmly believe that a fine chocolate experience affords the kind of transcendent bliss and soul-soothing magic that make fine chocolate itself worth defending from the slings and arrows of outrageous corporate takeovers.

Anyway, I'm going to give you my recipe for an 8" torte; the picture above is of the 10" one I made for Robert's birthday this year, reasoning that the lads would be deeply unhappy if they only got a tiny sliver each and there were no remaining torte over which to fight the next day. If you're making this with an eye toward satisfying a large-ish number of chocolate connoisseurs, just multiply the ingredients by 1.5, and when you get to the eggs, substitute 8 whites and 7 yolks for the 5 eggs called for. (Note to my fellow math-o-phobes: use your cell-phone's calculator, as I did! Or, *sigh*, just e-mail me, and I'll send you the quantities for the 10" version.) As for the chocolate itself, I generally use Ghirardelli's bars in my baking--the quality is reliably good and they're widely available in the States. If you're near a Trader Joe's, though, I'm told their chocolate is superb.

You'll want to make this the day before, at least, as the flavors need to blend and develop.

Chocolate Grand Marnier Torte à la Litbrit

For the torte:

3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1/3 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup walnuts
1/3 cup plus 6 tablespoons sugar
2 oz. finely-grated or chopped semisweet chocolate
zest of one orange, finely grated
5 eggs, which you've taken out of the fridge and allowed to come to room temperature, then separated
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the filling:

1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier
1/2 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped finely (but not pulverized)

For the glaze:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons light corn syrup (this is not the same thing as HFCS, don't worry)
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 oz. semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 cup finely chopped walnuts


Preheat oven to 350º F. Lightly butter an 8" springform pan, line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper, butter that, and then dust very lightly with flour.

Melt the unsweetened chocolate and butter together in a double-boiler or pan with a heavy bottom over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from stove and allow to cool.

In a Cuisinart or other food processor, whirl the walnuts around with 2 tablespoons of the sugar until finely ground, using the on-off pulsing button, and then tip it into a small bowl and add the grated, semisweet chocolate (not the melted stuff, not yet!) and the orange zest, and stir until mixed.

Beat the egg yolks in a mixer until they are foamy; add 4 tablespoons of sugar and keep beating until the mixture is pale yellow. Then stir the cooled, melted chocolate/butter mixture into the egg yolks.

In another, deep bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until you see soft peaks. Reduce the mixer's speed and slowly sprinkle in 1/3 cup sugar, making sure it's incorporated before adding the next sprinkle (patience, patience). Then increase the speed again and beat like mad until the egg whites are stiff.

Stir 1/3 of the egg whites into the unsweetened chocolate mixture, then sprinkle 1/3 of the nut mixture on top, and fold together gently until barely combined. Repeat this until all is combined and batter is smooth, but do not overmix, or you'll knock all the loft out of your egg whites.

Spread the batter evenly in your prepared pan and bake for about 30 minutes. (My oven is a bit temperamental and tends to run high, so I reduce the temperature 10-20 degrees and watch my precious sweetie-projects like a hawk--this torte is no exception.) Remove when a toothpick inserted in the middle of the torte comes out almost clean. Cool in the pan for ten minutes, then run a thin, flat knife around the edges of the cake; remove the springform pan's rim, and invert the cake onto a wire rack. Peel off the parchment paper and re-invert onto another wire rack on which you've put a fresh piece of parchment. Allow to cool completely, then wrap the cake tightly in plastic film (Saran wrap) and put it in the freezer for about an hour, until semifrozen.

Meanwhile, make the filling...

Drain any liquid from your ricotta, and press it through a fine sieve into a small bowl. Stir in the sugar and 1-2 teaspoons of the Grand Marnier; fold in the chocolate bits. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until mixture firms up and can be spread.

Remove the cake from the freezer and carefully, with a very slim and sharp knife, trim off any exceedingly obvious bumps on the crust. Now, the tricky part: with the same knife, slice the semi-frozen cake horizontally in two. I find that if I score it around its perimeter first, finding the halfway-mark between the top and bottom and going in about an inch and giving it a quarter-turn at a time, it's easier to do this in an even way. I also pay attention to my knife, making sure it's parallel to the counter and not sawing away at strange angles. Keep turning and slowly easing the sideways knife blade in until you've got two perfect discs.

Place the bottom-most disc, cut side up, on the serving platter you plan to use. Sprinkle it with at least 1 tablespoon of Grand Marnier. Remove filling from the fridge and spread on top of this, going to within 1/4" of the edge of the torte. Then place the top half of the cake on it, sprinkle that with the remaining Grand Marnier, cover the whole thing with plastic wrap and press down gently and evenly to compact the layers and filling. Refrigerate at least five hours, or overnight.

Now, the glaze. Melt the butter, corn syrup, salt, and 2 teaspoons of water together in a double boiler or small, heavy pan, over low heat. Stir occasionally, turn up the heat to medium, bring to a boil, and allow it to boil for 1 minute, stirring all the while now. Remove from heat and stir in the semisweet chocolate, which will quickly melt. Allow to cool for about five minutes; it will thicken somewhat.

Take the cake out of the fridge and unwrap it. Pour the glaze over it, and with a metal spatula or frosting knife, quickly spread it out over the top and sides. Wait five minutes for it to set, then press the chopped walnuts into the sides and slightly on to the top, as you see in the picture. Refrigerate again for an hour, at least; take it out again about fifteen minutes before serving.

If you like, you can use orange slices and a few curlicues of peel for decoration, as I did.

Fire up the espresso machine, take a bow, and enjoy!

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