Editor's note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn't. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
A big pay-off dessert - that's how I classify this thin, rich, European-style torte, with an intense bitter-chocolate taste and a mousse-like texture. Why? Because it's decadent and sophisticated enough to be impressive, yet comes together more quickly than most American butter cakes; you get excellent results with little effort. In fact, it may take longer to describe how to make this torte than it does to actually do so. I get it in the oven in about 15 minutes and on a cooling rack 15 to 20 minutes later. It requires no frosting, just some time in the refrigerator (it will wait there patiently for a day) and a sprinkle of cinnamon and confectioner's sugar before coming to the table.
Chocolate Cream Torte
(Adjusted for altitudes between 8,000 and 10,000 feet. Make in an 8-inch springform pan.)
1 1/2 teaspoons espresso powder
1 1/2 teaspoons hot water
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar, preferably Baker's
3 tablespoons flour
A generous 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons confectioner's sugar
Whipped cream, optional
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, with a rack in the center position. Open your springform pan and flip the bottom over, so its rimmed edge is on the pan's outside, and close the pan back up. It will be easier to cut and serve the torte without the pan's rim in the way. Generously butter the springform pan and wrap it well in heavy- duty aluminum foil (to prevent water from seeping into it). Select a second pan that will hold the springform pan so that it is close to, but not touching, the sides of the larger pan. Begin heating water to be used as a water bath.
In a small bowl, dissolve the espresso powder in the hot water and set it aside. Chop the chocolate very finely (I do this in a food processor). In a large microwave-safe bowl, heat the cream in a microwave oven until it is almost boiling. (This can also be done in a saucepan over medium-low heat.) Immediately add the chopped chocolate to the hot cream, submerging it in the liquid. Set this aside for several minutes until the chocolate melts. Add the espresso powder mixture and gently stir (don't create bubbles) until smooth and shiny. Set the bowl aside.
Combine the eggs, sugar, and flour in a mixing bowl and, using an electric mixer, beat at medium-high speed until the mixture is pale in color, thickens, and nearly triples in volume. This takes from 5-10 minutes, depending on the power of your mixer. Add about a third of the egg mixture to the chocolate and mix with a silicone or rubber spatula until just combined. Add the rest of the egg mixture and fold, trying not to deflate the eggs, only until no streaks of egg are visible. Don't overmix.
Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan. Place the springform pan in the larger pan and put both in the oven. Pour about an inch to an inch and a half of boiling water in the larger pan; the water should come about half way up the sides of the springform pan. Bake until the top develops a dry crust, the sides of the torte are set but the center still jiggles a little when gently shaken. This takes from 15-20 minutes in my oven. Remove the torte from the oven, the water bath, and the foil wrapping and let it cool completely on a rack.
When the torte has cooled to room temperature, cover it loosely and refrigerate it for at least four hours and up to overnight. When you're ready to serve it, run a knife between the torte and the pan side, pressing toward the pan, and carefully remove the side. Dust the top of the torte with a mixture of the cinnamon and confectioner's sugar (I use a fine sifter to do this.) I serve the dessert on the base of the springform pan. If you want to remove the base before serving, invert the torte before taking off the side of the springform pan, re-invert it onto a serving platter, and dust with the cinnamon-sugar topping. Slice the torte with a thin-bladed, sharp knife, dipping it in warm water and drying it between each cut. Because of its soft texture, the torte won't cut precisely. It slices most easily when cold. Serve the pieces slightly cooler than room texture for the most mousse-like texture.
This is a variation of a recipe in Fine Cooking.
Vera Dawson, a chef instructor with CMC's Culinary Institute, lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.