Flourless Chocolate-Pecan Cake with Vanilla Cream Topping
I found two kilos of pecan halves in the dry stores the other day and my heart sank because I know how expensive they are, so the urge to use them before they became rancid was playing on my mind. I also generate lots of leftover egg whites every day as I make a lot of ice cream for the restaurant, so I try to use them up in various ways by making macarons (in two flavours), flavoured meringues (to use as decorations on puddings) and the odd pavlova here and there too.
Following the increase in demand for gluten-free dishes, I thought it’s about time to try something different. My Wicked Bitter Chocolate Cake recipe is also gluten-free, but I am constantly wishing to nurture my own curiosity by trying something ‘new’ and different from my usual repertoire of recipes.
So here we have it, a delicious flourless chocolate and pecan cake, which in itself is completely dairy-free. The vanilla cream topping is entirely optional, so if you want to keep the cake dairy-free too, then you can serve it without the topping.
When you make this cake, the mixture will look like a lot and you might think that the tin is too small, but do not fear because once it’s cooked the cake will sink as it cools down. The first time I baked this cake I made a mistake and divided the cake mixture between two tins, so I then ended up with two quite flat baked cakes (which was not my intention!). The cakes were still usable though and I simply sandwiched them together with the vanilla cream in the centre rather than on top.
Ingredients & Method
For the cake
- 150g pecan nuts
- 125g caster sugar
- 250g dark chocolate (72% cocoa solids), broken into small pieces
- 280g egg whites (approximately 7 large egg whites)
- a pinch of salt
- ½ tsp cream of tartar
- 200ml whipping cream
- 1 vanilla pod, split in half lengthways and seeds scraped out
- 80g icing sugar
For the decoration
- 100g pecan nuts
- 25g caster sugar
- ¼ teaspoon ground mixed spice
- 25ml cold water
First roast the nuts for the cake. Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Grease and line a deep 22cm round loose-based cake tin. Set aside.
Spread the pecan nuts out on a baking tray and bake in the oven for 5 minutes or until lightly roasted but not too dark (roasting the nuts will give the cake a delicious toasted pecan nut flavour). Remove from the oven and cool completely (the nuts can be roasted in advance, then cooled and stored in an airtight container, if you like). Leave the oven on.
Whilst the nuts are cooling, prepare the sugared pecan nuts for the decoration. Toss the pecan nuts, caster sugar, mixed spice and cold water together in a mixing bowl, mixing well to ensure the sugar sticks to the nuts and coats them. Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper and spread the damp sugared pecans over the lined tray.
Bake in the oven for 5 minutes, then stir and bake for further 4–5 minutes or until the sugared nuts start to turn golden brown. Once the nuts are ready, remove from the oven, stir them once more, then let them cool completely on the baking tray (this will prevent them from sticking to each other). Set aside.
Now finish the cake. Place the cooled roasted pecan nuts in a food processor with 1 tablespoon of the caster sugar and grind to a fine powder. Tip the powder into a clean dry bowl and set aside. Add the chocolate and 1 tablespoon of the caster sugar into the same food processor and grind to a fine powder (but be careful not to overwork the chocolate, as the friction will start to heat and melt the chocolate; you want a powdered chocolate texture). Add the chocolate powder to the nut powder in the bowl.
Put the egg whites, the remaining caster sugar, the salt and cream of tartar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Whisk together using the balloon whisk attachment to form firm peaks. Fold the powdered nuts and chocolate into the whisked egg whites, then spoon the mixture evenly into the prepared tin.
Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, during which time the cake will rise and turn golden brown (remember it will sink as it cools down, which is correct). Remove from the oven, transfer to a wire rack and leave the cake to cool completely in the tin. Once cool, carefully remove the cake from the tin and place it on a serving plate or cake stand.
In a clean bowl, whip the cream, vanilla seeds and icing sugar together to form firm peaks. Spoon the whipped vanilla cream into the centre of the top of the cake and spread it to the edges, then pile the sugared pecan nuts on top to decorate and serve (see Cook’s Notes).
This cake is best made and served on the same day, but if you need to bake it the evening or day before serving, keep the cake and sugared pecans in separate airtight containers (stored at room temperature) and do not add the cream topping until just before serving. Once the cake is assembled, if you do have a few slices left, keep them in the fridge in an airtight container and eat within 2 days.
If like me you have a glut of any other type of nut, such as hazelnuts, walnuts or almonds, then they can be used instead of the pecans in this recipe. The quantities remain the same, but you might need to adjust the roasting time for the nuts at the beginning of the recipe – just keep an eye on the nuts as they roast and don’t let them brown too much.