Valentine’s Day has long felt like an occasion for suckers, suckering poor couples out of paying exorbitant prices to observe their love for each other, that is. For a long time, Chris and I played into that game. And really, it’s not the consumers’ faults that their only recourse, should they decide to seek out a nice dinner, are restaurants that jack up their prices and force you to participate in the prix fixe menu concept.
A few years ago, we decided to start taking short trips as a way to escape those pressures. We’d drive to places a little out of the way, Bolinas for example when we were still living in San Francisco, and go to some dive-y restaurant that didn’t acknowledge the existence of Valentine’s Day. There, we’d enjoy a lowbrow dinner that was usually replete with multiple pints of cheap beer. It was a fine way to commemorate the occasion. Philistines! you must be thinking. But we loved it.
We were going to do the same this year, but memories of our visit to Montauk reminded us how our last-minute tendencies are not as forgiving out here. If we’d wanted to go somewhere, we probably should’ve thought about it earlier than yesterday.
That’s why we’ve decided to boycott the entire dining out experience and cook at home! I’m really excited. (The fact that this idea just occurred to us gives you an idea of how indoctrinated we are with the idea that eating out is the only way to do Valentine’s Day—how silly, right?)
I have all these ideas swarming in my head—these sliders, for instance, which have been on my mind for a good half year, and Momofuku-style pork buns. I’m still narrowing down the list, but one thing’s for certain: dessert will most certainly be Evelyn Sharpe’s chocolate cake.
This recipe is officially titled Evelyn Sharpe’s French Chocolate Cake. But because I don’t see what’s so French about this cake, I decided to omit that part of the title so as not to confuse you like it confused me. (Edit: a nice commenter informed me that this cake is how chocolate cakes are like in France—much denser and chocolatey-er cakes than American cakes—making it very much French-style. Thanks for clearing that up Tessa!) Other than that, it’s pretty much perfect the way it’s written. It’s so dense with chocolate that it’s fudgy and indulgent, but it doesn’t feel heavy or overly-sweet (there’s only half a tablespoon of sugar in the entire thing!). I also threw in a huge pinch of Maldon salt, so occasionally a piece surfaces and sends a little jolt of sublime through your taste buds. And, the recipe, halved, results in the perfect amount of cake for two people, enough to fit a 6-inch pan. It’s lovely. I’m planning on serving it with freshly whipped cream, a little creme fraiche folded in for good, tart measure.
You can read about the background behind the cake in the original article by (THE) Amanda Hesser. Basically, Evelyn Sharpe’s identity is unknown, so please don’t ask me who she is. But I’m sure she was some woman; I can almost imagine her whipping out this most special of cakes with aplomb whenever the occasion called for it.
Happy Valentine’s Day, all of you! (And I hope secret admirers surface, for those this might apply to! The intrigue of the day used to be my favorite part when I was a teenager—oh the raging hormones.)
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (mine was 64%)
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
Pinch of Maldon salt
1/2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1/2 Tbsp sugar
2 eggs, separated
Creme fraiche whipped cream
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Generously butter a 6-inch round pan (the original recipe calls for using a springform pan, but I don’t have one in a 6-inch size, so I used a regular round pan; it works just fine. You’ll have to be careful when removing the cake as it’s quite delicate.)
Melt the chocolate (either with a double broiler—I used a makeshift one—or in the microwave). Remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, salt, flour, and sugar. Lightly beat the egg yolks and gradually stir them in.
Beat the egg whites until they’re holding their shape, but are not stiff or dry. Fold them into the chocolate mix smoothly, quickly, and easily. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 10 minutes until the cake looks firm on the edges but is still a bit runny in the middle. Turn off the heat, open the oven door, and let the cake cool in the oven. It’ll firm up a bit more.
Once it’s only a little warm, remove it from the pan gently. Serve each slice with a dollop of whipped cream. Enjoy!