We gave Sarah Coates of The Sugar Hit, a three-pronged challenge on this edition of Made By Mail…to create something seasonally appropriate, with a classy spin on spooky, using herbs de provence. That’s right! Herbs De Provence. You don’t think we’d hand out a pumpkin spice free-pass on this one, do you!? No way.
Per usual, without batting an eye, Sarah delivers a treat that is not only sophisticated and decadent but also visually devious.
Savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender and…chocolate? I’m not crazy I swear. These beautifully blended herbs from the South of France to actually work incredibly well with chocolate. We’re all on board the chilli-chocolate train that exploded into popularity not so long ago, and we’re well and truly salting all our caramel. The next big step is herbs and chocolate, I guarantee it.
The beauty of this combination lies in the natural complexity of both chocolate, and the herbs de Provence blend. The herbs are peppery, lemony, floral and a little bitter and, depending on the particular balance of your blend, the lavender can be quite strong. Interestingly, the lavender in Herbs de Provence, which I’ve always thought of as its defining characteristic, is apparently not a traditional ingredient. I’m in no way surprised that the beautiful purple bloom made its way into the mix, though, given the ubiquity of lavender in Provence. Those beautiful fields of purple, who could resist?
Flourless Chocolate Cake with Herbs de Provence and Pepita PralineFor the chocolate cake: 8 oz (200g) dark chocolate, 70% cocoa solids at least 1 + ½ sticks (150g) butter ½ cup (100g) caster sugar ⅔ cup (100g) ground almonds 4 eggs, separated pinch of salt For the glaze: ½ cup cream 1 tbsp herbs de provence 4oz dark chocolate For the pepita praline: ½ cup sugar 1/3 cup pepitas Pinch of sea salt To make the cake, preheat the oven to 180C/375F and grease and line an 8 inch/20 cm cake tin. Place the chocolate and butter in a heatproof mixing bowl, and microwave until melted. Once the chocolate is melted add the sugar and ground almonds and stir well to combine. Separate the eggs, placing the whites into a mixing bowl, and adding the yolks into the chocolate mixture. Stir the yolks into the chocolate. Whisk the whites with a pinch of salt until the reach stiff peaks. Fold the whisked egg whites gently but confidently into the chocolate batter, until there are no white streaks remaining. Pour the batter into the cake tin, and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the cake is risen, and only barely wobbles if you gently shake the pan. A skewer will come out with a lot of crumbs on it. Set the cake aside to cool completely. To make the glaze, place the cream and herbs de provence into a small saucepan and bring up until almost boiling. Set aside for 5 minutes to infuse, and then strain out the herbs and place the infused cream back into the pan. Add the chocolate, and heat gently, stirring, until the chocolate is melted and the glaze is shiny. To make the pepita praline, lightly grease a baking sheet and set aside. Place the sugar into a medium saucepan along with about 2 tbsp water, and place over a medium heat. Cook the sugar, without stirring, until it boils and turns a golden amber colour. At this point, turn off the heat and quickly and carefully add the pepitas to the pan. Gently swirl the pan to coat the pepitas in the caramel (some of them may make a popping sound), and the carefully tip the mixture out onto the baking sheet, using a metal spoon to spread the seeds in one even layer. Sprinkle with sea salt and leave to cool completely. To assemble the cake, place it onto a serving dish, and then generously spread the glaze over the top of the cake, letting it drip down the sides. Break the praline into large shards and stab these all over the top of the cake. Serve!
The key to incorporating these flavours into a chocolate dessert is subtlety. This gorgeous, fudgy cake is just a simple, flourless chocolate cake made with ground almonds. The herbs make their appearance in that drippy chocolate glaze oozing its way down the sides of the cake. And they add such a gorgeous herbal hit of flavour, that it really does take this from a pretty standard concoction to something that could really stop a show.
And then of course, there’s the crowning glory – the pepita praline. That’s just good old fashioned October synergy. Halloween, Jack-O-Lantern’s, pumpkins, pumpkin seeds, pepitas! Plus, it lends the cake such a darkly glamorous edge, as though it’s been stabbed with shards of golden amber studded with those ominous looking green seeds.
Kind of ghoulish, but perfectly posh for a grown up’s Halloween party.