The year I spent as a student in Bologna, Italy was -- and I'm not exaggerating here -- absolutely spectacular. I was 20 years old and was experiencing life in a city for the first time (granted, not a very big one, but I am after all from Rhode Island). This city was old and beautiful and covered in portici, and was the home of not one but two medieval towers, Le Torri Asinelli. My academic responsibilities as a student at the University of Bologna were minimal compared to what they had been in the U.S -- just two courses and two oral exams per semester (!!!) I traveled extensively, found myself not having to think when I spoke in Italian, and met wonderful people from all over the world through the university and my language school. While I generally had always been reserved, shy, and easily made to feel self-conscious in the U.S, I found that in Bologna, something changed for me. I'm not sure if it was the the foreign country and city, or the tons of new people I met, or even the relaxed academics, but I became more out-going and self confident -- I was outside my comfort zone, and flourished there. I was figuring out how to navigate the city on my own, making friends in a foreign language, and experiencing the world outside my home country for the first time, seeing everywhere from Barcelona to London to Milan to Stockholm. As much as I enjoy Rome, Bologna was and always will be my first love; it changed me in a significant way, and I'll always be grateful to it for that.
Personal development aside, some of my best memories in Bologna are also linked to food (it is me we are talking about here, after all). The cooking class where I learned to make fresh pasta, for example, or my first cornetto (called a brioche in Bologna,) incredible pizza al taglio from Pizzeria Le Due Torri after a 4 hour Italian class, and, most importantly of all, the Chocolate Cake to-end-all-other-chocolate-cakes.
If you ever find yourself in Bologna, do yourself a favor and go to Il Banco del Pane, in Via Zamboni. Gloria (my former co-blogger and first Italian friend, who I met on the first day of classes at university) brought my sister and me there one day after lunch, insisting we order the chocolate cake. I was skeptical. Upon first glance, it was simple, no frosting or filling or glaze, and it was rather flat, not at all like the tall, fluffy American layer cakes. But appearances can be deceiving. This cake was deeply chocolate-y and intensely fudge-y, with a crisp brownie like exterior and a slightly under-baked soft interior, decorated with just a dusting of powdered sugar. It was elegant, rich, and incredibly delicious. Going to Il Banco del Pane after class became a ritual for the three of us -- no better way to unwind then with a piece of cake, right? -- and when I visit Bologna even now, I make sure I stop by.
This recipe is the closest I've ever come to recreating that magical Chocolate Cake at home. Today's Chocolate Fudge Souffle Cake cake is made with little flour, allowing the chocolate flavor to really shine, and in a big way -- this cake is purely, and intensely, chocolate-y. While this cake is a bit more souffle-like than the cake in Bologna -- this will collapse shortly after coming out of the oven -- the flavor and and soft, fudgey texture are just the same. It is one of my favorite things I've ever made, a tried and true recipe that I know I can rely on. Bottom line: every baker needs a simple, elegant, and unbelievably delicious chocolate cake in their repertoire. This should be yours.
A couple of notes: This cake can be made a day before serving, it is equally delicious the next day. This cake is good served room temperature but I also like it cold as it is even fudgier that way (swoon). You can serve this with raspberries and whipped cream if you want to dress it up a bit, but it's also excellent with the aforementioned powdered sugar and nothing more. My apologies for the lack of step-by-step photos and overall fancy photos here, but I made this cake last minute for a dinner party and was able to photograph the cake only just before serving. But hey, it's called "Chocolate Fudge Souffle Cake" -- I don't think you need nice photos to convince you to make this one, do I?
12 ounces (336 grams) good quality bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons, or 168 grams) butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (170 grams) sugar
5 large eggs, separated and left at room temperature for 30 minutes
1/4 cup (35 grams) flour
Whipped cream, powdered sugar, berries for serving (optional)
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and line bottom with a round of parchment or wax paper, then butter paper.
Melt chocolate and butter in a large metal bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring frequently, then cool completely. Whisk in vanilla, salt, and 6 tablespoons sugar. Add yolks 1 at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in flour.
Beat whites with a pinch of salt in a bowl using an electric mixer at medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks, then add remaining 6 tablespoons sugar a little at a time, beating, and continue to beat until whites hold stiff glossy peaks.
Whisk about one fourth of whites into chocolate mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly. Pour batter into springform pan, spreading evenly.
Bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center comes out with moist crumbs adhering, 35 to 40 minutes.
Let the cool cake completely before removing the sides of the springform pan and eating. Serves 12.
Recipe from Gourmet magazine, February 2004.