The Mexican-Chocolate "Situation"
This dessert was inspired by a recipe in one of my favorite cookbooks, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook. The sweet in the book, intriguingly called "Chocolate-Almond Situation," is a super-easy chocolate cake that substitutes almond meal for flour. The combination of almonds and chocolate inspired me to give it a Mexican chocolate spin, so this one is flavored with cinnamon, ancho chile, vanilla and a touch of brandy. It's no harder to make than brownies. This recipe gives a range of amounts for the cinnamon and ancho chile, depending on whether you want it more subtly or assertively spiced.
The cake is super-chocolately, moist, and super-rich. It would be great topped with a dollop of nata – Mexican clotted cream – or English clotted cream, or whipped cream, or whipped cream mixed with crème fraîche. But I love it just on its own. It's so rich you want to cut the slices pretty thin – a 9-inch cake should serve 10 or 12. Make it in a round pan for elegant slices, or make it in a square or rectangular pan and cut it like brownies. A 7- by 11-inch rectangular pan (a Pyrex baking dish does nicely) made 18 bars.
Canola or other flavorless oil for oiling the pan
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
10 1/2 ounces dark chocolate (3 3.5 ounce bars), 70% to 72% cacao
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon brandy
1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1/2 cup almond flour (almond meal)
Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees, with the rack in the center. Oil a 9-inch round or square cake pan or a 7- by 11-inch rectangular baking dish, cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom, line the bottom, and brush the parchment with oil. Break the chocolate in a few big pieces, place it in a non-metallic bowl and melt the chocolate in the microwave. Set aside.
2. Place the butter, sugar and salt in a large bowl and use a hand mixer or stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment to beat them together under they are pale yellow and fluffy. Add the melted chocolate and mix just till combined. Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula and mix briefly again. One at a time, beat in the eggs, then add the vanilla, brandy, cinnamon, ancho chile powder and mix till combined. Add the almond flour and mix on low until just incorporated.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and smooth the top with the rubber spatula so it's even. Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes. Let it cool in the pan 10 minutes, then run a sharp knife around the edge. Invert the pan and turn the cake onto a wire rack to cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar, if you like, and serve.