*I’ve partnered with Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker to bring you this bittersweet flourless cake with a torched meringue cap. With only four ingredients in the cake chocolate is the star. I use their 70% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Bar for a rich, not-too-sweet, flavor that leaves room for the cool sweetness of the billowy peppermint meringue.
I cradled Ivy into her sling that hugged my chest and positioned her head in just a way that I could inhale it with every breath. We stepped outside of the car having driven an hour out of the city for the purpose of creating the perfect Christmas tree selecting memory. The air bit our noses as we stepped outside. Baron wore black cowboy boots as he did every day and Roman, with his electric blond hair, was always easy to spot as he eagerly ran off without ever looking back. It didn’t take long for the rain to soak through our layers and the picturesque outing was marred with grumbling, tears and mud covered boots. We quickly picked out our tree and Ivy and I left the boys to saw it down while we sought the car for refuge. Every year since we’ve picked up our tree from our local produce stand five minutes from our front door.
In the early years I forced traditions on us like a chore. Each memory was to be perfectly calculated as if their childhood happiness depended on it. I was the director of the Rodriguez Family Perfect Holiday Fun Fest and I sat back in my director’s chair calling cut and action in a way that made sense for the scene but not for my family.
Ivy is very far from her sling carrying days. Now she’s reading books, losing teeth and painting her fingernails. Baron has long outgrown his cowboy boots and Roman’s hair – still radiant – falls over his eyes in just a way that he shifts his head to the side then gives it a quick flick so that he can see. Without directing and carefully crafted scripts we’ve settled into our own traditions. They don’t always happen with great fanfare but we look forward to them just the same.
It starts with the gift of the advent calendar from Gabe’s mom. It’s the one from Trader Joe’s with the brightly colored graphics and paper doors that open to reveal sweet milk chocolate. We get our tree, as I mentioned, close to home with twinkling lights overhead and rows and rows of trees. It’s a pine scented maze that always leads us to just the right tree. At home we’ll make hot chocolate and the kids will hang ornaments. They are the same ones that hung on the Christmas trees that decorated the space where Gabe and I were married. While the kids are in bed I’ll rearrange the tree so not all the ornaments hang in the lower right hand side.
We’ll drive through the streets with houses covered in lights and holiday music blaring over the speakers. My brothers kids will come over for a Christmas tea complete with a cheese ball shaped like a snowman. There will be cinnamon rolls with tangy vanilla bean flecked frosting and we’ll eat clementines until our mouths hurt. There will be peppermint scented cakes and caramel candies that get stuck in our teeth and those little hard candy storybook sets wrapped in cellophane that I always got in my stocking. Moderation will meet us again in January.
Our traditions began when I stopped forcing them. They are the simple activities that without my noticing get repeated every year. The temptation to orchestrate the so-called-perfect holiday season still creeps in but each year I get better about knowing my intentions. I ask myself, “Am I doing this because I think I SHOULD or because it fills me with JOY?” If the answer is joy I proceed with a giddy grin and soak up the fluttery excitement of the season. Every year there are things that never get crossed off the to-do list and I vow to start “Christmas-ing” in October but every year it is what it is and in making joy, peace and hope the priority it’s always my favorite time of year.
This cake is bound to be a tradition as each bite brings me immense joy. It’s a dense flourless chocolate cake made with Scharffen Berger’s 70% cacao bittersweet chocolate. The chocolate is bright and almost fruity making the cake softly sweet which leaves room for the meringue laced with peppermint. If you feel like getting real fancy a streak of red food coloring laced through the meringue would look oh so festive. The toasting of the almond meal can be skipped but I find the reward of a deep roasty flavor is well worth the ten minutes in the oven.
Chocolate Almond Cake with Peppermint Meringue
Serves 8 – 10
Cake adapted from Joy of Baking
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup (100 grams) superfine almond meal
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar, divided
6 ounces (170 grams) Scharffen Berger 70% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate, coarsely chopped
6 ounces (12 tablespoons) (170 grams) butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon (4 grams) pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) salt
3 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds removed or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For the cake:
Preheat your oven to 350°F.
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Add the almond meal to the sheet pan then toast in the oven for 10 minutes or until lightly golden and fragrant. Set this aside to cool.
Butter an 8-inch springform pan then line the bottom with parchment. Butter the parchment.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment begin the beat the egg yolks with 1/2 cup of the sugar. Beat for 2 to 3 minutes on medium high until light in color and tripled in volume.
While the yolks are beating melt together the chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pot filled with simmering water. Stir until just melted then remove it from the heat.
Add the whipped egg yolks to the melted chocolate and butter and carefully stir until just combined. Add the almond meal and vanilla then stir to combine.
Clean the bowl of your stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment begin slowly whipping the egg whites. Once frothy add the salt. Increase the speed to medium and slowly start adding the sugar. When working with egg whites every move is gentle, so we start the machine slowly and add the sugar very gradually. Once all the sugar has been added increase the speed once more then beat until stiff peaks form.
Fold 1/3 of the whipped whites into the chocolate mixture until combined then add the rest until no streaks are showing.
Carefully add this batter to the springform pan then bake for 45 – 50 minutes. A toothpick inserted into the center should have a few fudgy crumbs. The cake will puff and crack and then settle as it cools.
Set the cake aside and cool for at least 20 minutes before running a knife around the edge and releasing the pan.
Cool completely before adding the meringue.
For the meringue:
Add the egg whites and sugar to a clean bowl of a stand mixer. Carefully place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (or if you are very carefully – directly over a gas flame set on low) and whisk continuously. Periodically check the temperature of the mixture just with your finger. It should have no remaining sugar granules and it should feel quite hot. Immediately set the bowl on the mixer and begin to whip. Continue to whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Stir in the salt, vanilla and peppermint extract at the end.
Top the cake with the meringue then caramelize the perky peaks with a kitchen torch or pop it under the broiler until the meringue is toasted in parts.
The cake can be made up to three days in advance. Prepare the meringue just before or a few hours before serving.