High Country Baking: Chcolate lover’s dream cake comes in La Bete Noire
High Country Baking
High altitudes make 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 that make baking in the mountains successful.
Meet La Bete Noire: a famous French flourless torte that’s a chocolate lover’s dream. Rich, decadent and sophisticated, it’s a special occasion dessert, perfect for the holidays or any time you want an impressive finale. And, good news: In spite of its elegant appearance and mousse-like texture it’s one of the easiest cakes you’ll ever make and can be prepared up to two days before serving.
Use the best chocolate you can find, it makes all the difference. A dollop of whipped cream is a nice accompaniment.
La Bete Noire
Make in an 8-inch, shiny metal springform pan
Adjusted for altitudes of 7,000 feet and above
Yields eight to 10 servings
½ cup plus 1 teaspoon water
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons superfine sugar, preferably Baker’s
4 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter
9 ounces high-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, optional
½ cup heavy whipping cream
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1. With a rack in the lower third, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease your pan with a baking spray that contains flour, line it with a circle of parchment paper, and grease the paper. Wrap the outside of the pan with three layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil, molding it to the pan and bringing it up to the pan’s rim. Set this pan aside. Select a larger pan to use for a water bath; it should be about 2 inches deep and at least an inch wider on all sides than your springform pan; a roasting pan is a good choice. Place a clean kitchen towel or wash cloth in the pan; it will keep the springform pan from sliding around when it’s in the water bath.
2. Combine the water and sugar in a small saucepan and, while stirring, bring the mixture to boil over medium heat. When the sugar has dissolved, turn the heat down, simmer for 5 minutes, and remove the pan from the heat. Cut the butter into 18 pieces and place the pieces, with the chocolate, in a microwavable mixing bowl. Microwave the mixture at medium-low heat until only small lumps of chocolate and/or butter are visible, about 2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the oven and stir until fully melted, smooth and shiny.
3. Start heating water to a simmer for the water bath. Using a silicone spatula, stir the sugar-water into the chocolate mixture and, if it’s quite warm, cool it slightly so it won’t cook the eggs. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring gently (avoid making air bubbles) until blended after each addition. The batter will thicken with the addition of the eggs. Stir in the vanilla extract, if using. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, level the top and tap the pan on a counter to release any air bubbles. Place it on the towel in the larger pan, move it to the oven and slowly add enough simmering water to come half way up the sides of the springform pan.
4. Check often to make sure the water bath isn’t boiling; if it is, reduce the oven temperature until the water barely simmers. Bake until the cake’s center no longer moves when you gently shake the pan, about 35 minutes, though the time will depend on the temperature of the water bath. Remove the cake pan from the water bath, place it on a cooling rack, and run an offset spatula or knife between the cake and the pan edges. Let the cake cool completely. It may develop small cracks as it bakes and cools; no worries, the ganache topping will cover them.
5. Make the ganache topping: On the stovetop or in a microwave, heat the cream until very hot, just short of boiling. Remove it from the heat, add the chocolate, submerging it in the cream. Let it sit until the chocolate starts to melt and then whisk until shiny and smooth. With the cooled cake still in the pan, pour the ganache over the top and gently tilt the pan so it spreads evenly. You may not use it all. Refrigerate the cake, covered loosely, until the topping is set, at least 3 hours or overnight. When ready to serve, run an offset spatula or knife around the pan’s sides to loosen any stuck ganache and release the pan sides. Cut the cold cake with a thin-bladed sharp knife, warming it under hot water and drying it between slices. Let the pieces warm slightly before serving.
This recipe is a variation of one posted on Epicurious.com.
Vera Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks (available at The Bookworm in Edwards, Next Page Bookstore in Frisco, and Breck Books in Breckenridge). She became a full-time Frisco resident in 1991 and has been developing and adjusting recipes so that they work at our altitude ever since. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.