Photo: Courtesy of PBS Food
I’ve known and loved this cake for at least 25 years! It was one of my mom’s signature summer desserts. She loved whipping it up to show off the many varieties of basils she grew in her garden, often using a mix of cinnamon, Genovese, and purple basils. The recipe calls for a whole whopping cup of chopped basil! You can use any variety, so long as it’s fresh, fragrant, and chopped very finely, it will add the most exquisite perfume and depth of flavour to this rich and moist chocolate cake.
To this day, whenever I make this recipe and smell the aromatic chocolate and basil wafts of goodness that mingle and meander through the house as it bakes, I immediately feel my mom’s presence around me.
Although this cake doesn’t use a leavener, the egg whites do give it an elegant lift. But it’s not a fluffy cake and will not rise very much. Its texture is similar to a brownie, though not quite as dense, sweet, and chewy. There’s no flour in this cake. It gets its bulk from ground almonds and a bit of cornstarch so it somehow manages to be rich and satisfying but also relatively light. And a little bonus for those who care is that this cake is entirely gluten-free!
Chopping the basil for this recipe does require a bit of love and attention, as fresh herbs usually do. If you’re not sure how to ‘chiffonade’ basil, I recommend watching this helpful little video. You want to make sure your basil leaves are clean and fully dry, then make tidy stacks of leaves, rolling them like a cigar, and slice across with a very sharp knife so you get thin delicate shreds of basil. Afterwards, I cheat a bit and give a few quick chops across the strands so that they aren’t too long and stringy. Stringy basil in a cake is not so appealing. Basically, you want to chop the basil as finely as possible without mangling it. You definitely don’t want it to turn black or lose its delicate aromatic oils.
This cake is delicious simply served with a sprinkle of confectioner’s sugar and some fresh basil leaves as a garnish, but you can also pour a ganache over it for a more decadent dessert, or pile on some whipped cream and fresh berries. I’ve also served it with strawberry coulis, or a generous scoop of zesty berry sorbet. It pairs well with so many things. I find myself returning to this recipe again and again because it has few ingredients, is easy to make, and always elicits an enthusiastic reaction, no matter how it’s served. The basil just sings through!
- 8 ounces dark bittersweet chocolate (I like to use 4 ounces unsweetened and 4 ounces bittersweet)
- 1 1/2 stick unsalted butter (3/4 cup)
- 1 cup finely minced fresh basil, loosely packed
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon cane sugar
- 1 cup ground almonds
- 2 tablespoons non-GMO cornstarch (or tapioca flour)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Optional garnish:
- 1 teaspoon confectioner’s sugar for dusting
- Fresh basil leaves
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Grease an 8-inch cake pan and lightly dust it with flour. Gently heat the chocolate and butter in a double boiler, just until melted. Remove from heat and stir in the minced basil. Mix well and allow to cool slightly (not fully or it will harden).
- In a large bowl, beat the 4 egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the sugar until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture turns pale yellow and forms silky ribbons when the whisk is lifted. Whisk into melted chocolate until incorporated.
- Whisk together the ground almonds, cornstarch, and salt, and incorporate into chocolate mixture, mixing well.
- Beat the 4 egg whites with 1 tablespoon sugar to stiff peaks. Gently and gradually fold into chocolate mixture. Mix delicately so the whites don’t lose their spring, until fully incorporated. Immediately pour into prepared pan and bake in 350 degrees F oven for about 35 minutes or until knife inserted in centre comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for about 10 minutes, then remove and cool on a wire rack. Serve at room temperature. To garnish, dust with confectioners sugar, top with a few sprigs of fresh basil and serve.
This recipe was originally posted on PBS Food.