It all started with a recipe in Michael Solomonov's Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking. The recipe, for a flourless chocolate cake – in which Solomonov and co-author Steven Cook use almond flour in place of wheat flour – is called "Chocolate-Almond Situation." I was drawn to the recipe because of its unusual name. Why "situation"?
Also, it looked so easy and good I couldn't resist. I melted chocolate, heated the oven, and went for it.
Rich, luxurious and profoundly chocolatey, with a wonderfully moist, velvet-cream texture, the dessert was a big hit. And it was as easy to make as brownies. Another bonus: It's gluten-free. I posted a snap of it, with a description, on Instagram, tagged Solomonov and Zahav and added, "But still dying to know, Chef, why it's called a 'situation.'"
"Gorgeous!" came the comment from Zahav.
"Thank you!" I wrote. "Now why is it called a 'situation'?"
Meanwhile, I had an idea I couldn't get out of my head: Mexican chocolate. Wouldn't it be cool to make this cake using Mexican chocolate instead of regular dark chocolate?
Last winter, my friend Michalene and I had enjoyed the most amazing Mexican hot chocolate at El Cardenal, a Mexico City restaurant known for its epic breakfasts. The drink, silky and incredibly rich, was prepared at the table by a waiter who used a molinillo, a traditional wooden chocolate whisk. I had to rush off early to catch my flight home, but Michalene surprised me by sending me a box of Doña Oliva chocolate tablets, which they use and sell at the restaurant. I was stunned to find that I could use a tablet to make a cup of chocolate almost as delicious as El Cardenal's; I've been rationing them ever since.
Since I'm always craving a cup, Mexican chocolate has been on my mind for months – especially since the start of winter.
Could I maybe use the tablets to make a Mexican-Chocolate Situation?
Nah...those tablets are too precious.
Meanwhile, I'd seen really cool-looking Taza organic Mexican-style stone-ground chocolate tablets at the supermarket. Maybe I could use those! But when I saw the price – they're $5 per 2.7-ounce tablet on the Taza website – I realized they'd be way too expensive, as we'd need four or five tablets for one cake.
Instead, I tried hunting down the Ibarra Mexican chocolate I grew up with. I didn't find it at my local supermarket, but found and purchased a box of Abuelita, another industrial brand.
What a disappointment: I brought it home and tasted it. It tasted nothing like chocolate. Just like sugar and chemicals. No way was this going into my cake (or yours).
I was back to the drawing board.
Then, as she often does, Michalene came to the rescue. She suggested using the same high-quality 72% cacao chocolate I first used for the Situation and adding spices and other flavorings you'd find in Mexican chocolate. After all, I already had almonds in the almond flour. She suggested not just cinnamon and vanilla, which is what I'd naturally reach for, but also ancho chile powder and brandy.
I made a couple other little tweaks to the recipe, for instance, changing the amount of chocolate to equal three 3.5 bars (10.5 ounces) rather than the 11 ounces the original called for.
I whipped up the chocolate batter, added the ancho chile (just a touch), the cinnamon, the vanilla and brandy, mixed in the almond flour, spread it in a pan and baked.
Eureka! Same wonderful texture and richness, and now it had that dreamy Mexican chocolate flavor.
It was such a hit at dinner that one of my guests would not leave until I wrapped up two slices for him to take home.
You can bake it in a round pan and slice it into wedges, but be sure to make them small, as it is very, very rich. I'd say one 9-inch cake serves 10-12, rather than the 8 you'd expect. For an elegant dinner party, you might want to garnish it with a dollop of whipped cream, or whipped cream mixed with crème fraîche. You know what would be wonderful? Nata, the Mexican-style clotted cream El Cardenal serves at breakfast with the pan dulce known as a concha.
Or you can bake it in a square or pan and cut it into brownie-like bars. Dust them with powdered sugar or not, as you like. Honestly, they were so creamy, chocolatey and rich, they didn't need any adornment.
Here's the recipe:
As for why it's called a "situation," well, that remains a mystery. Chef Solomonov, care to comment?