Living in the Colorado High Country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan and 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.
Chocolate … dark and rich, enhanced by a hint of almond and a melt-in-your-mouth texture; this European-style torte can make any meal seem special. Its good looks and sophisticated tastes suggest that it’s difficult to create, but that’s far from true. In fact, the torte comes together quickly and easily and can be prepared ahead … just what I want when I’m entertaining. And, it’s made without flour or milk, so it’s a great choice for those who are gluten or lactose intolerant.
Chocolate almond flourless torte
(Adjusted for altitude. Make in an 8-inch springform pan.)
7 ounces high-quality semisweet chocolate (about 60 percent cacao)
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
4 large eggs
1/2 cup of superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup of almond meal/flour
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into eight pieces
2 tablespoons mild honey
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 360 degrees with a rack in the center position. Grease the pan with a vegetable oil-flour spray, line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper and grease it. Wrap the outside of the pan with heavy-duty aluminum foil, molding it tightly all the way up the sides (this will keep water from seeping into the pan when the torte is baked in a water bath). Set the pan aside. Start heating a kettle of water to boiling for the water bath. Locate a pan, 2-or-more inches deep, that holds the springform pan with at least an inch of space around it.
Step 2: Chop the chocolate into pieces no larger than a quarter of an inch and place them, with the butter, in a microwave-safe bowl. Heat in a microwave at low-medium temperature for two minutes. Stir and, if necessary, continue heating until almost completely melted with only a few small lumps of chocolate visible. Stir until the remaining chocolate melts and the mixture is smooth and shiny. Set it aside.
Step 3: In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, vanilla and almond extracts with an electric mixer until well combined and frothy (the top should be completely covered with bubbles) two to three minutes. Add the almond meal and melted chocolate-butter and, on your mixer’s lowest speed or by hand, stir until thoroughly blended; the batter will thicken as you stir. Make sure the ground almonds are evenly distributed in the batter and have not sunk to the bottom of the bowl.
Step 4: Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, place it in the larger pan and put them in the oven. Carefully pour boiling water into the larger pan until it reaches a little above halfway up the foil-wrapped springform pan. Bake until the sides of the torte are set and firm but the middle 2 inches are still a little soft and jiggle slightly when you gently shake the pan. This can take from 28 to 38 minutes, depending on your oven and the temperature of the water bath. Don’t overbake or the torte will be dry.
Step 5: Remove the pan from the oven, from the water bath, and from the foil. Cool the torte in the pan on a rack until it reaches room temperature. Then, tent the pan with foil and refrigerate for one to two hours (this is optional but makes turning the torte out of the pan and glazing it easier). The torte can be wrapped airtight and frozen for a month at this point.
Step 6: Remove the sides of the springform pan and invert the torte onto a cardboard cake round. Gently remove the pan bottom and circle of parchment. Leave it inverted (the bottom is now the top) for glazing.
Step 7: Make the glaze: Combine the chopped chocolate, butter and honey (grease the tablespoon before measuring to prevent the honey from sticking to it) in a microwave-safe bowl and heat at a low-medium temperature until almost melted (see step No. 2). Remove from the microwave and stir until smooth and shiny. Set it aside to thicken; it’s ready when you drop a small amount from a spoon and it mounds for several moments before disappearing. (You can speed up the process by refrigerating it for five to 10 minutes.)
Step 8: Place the torte on a rack, pour the glaze over it and use an offset metal spatula to spread it evenly over the top and sides. Decorate with a circle of sliced almonds and let the glaze set. The torte can be made a day ahead and refrigerated until it’s time to serve. It cuts most easily when it’s chilled; use a sharp, thin knife and wipe it clean between cuts. We like it served when it’s cool, but not cold; others prefer it closer to room temperature when it’s so creamy and almost mousse-like.
This is a variation of a recipe from “The Complete Book of Baking.” Vera Dawson, author of the new high-altitude cookbook “Cookies in the Clouds” (available at The Next Page bookstore in Frisco), is a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute. She 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.