I can hardly begin to imagine a life without flour. Yes, it forms the basis of a lot of the food that I put in my mouth, but for me flour is so much more than that. It’s the foundation of baking, a hobby and passion I find therapeutic, relaxing, rewarding and escapist. I love the process of rolling up my sleeves, dusting down the work surfaces, sifting and weighing, kneading and shaping, folding and finishing.
Flour is a staple ingredient in bread, of course, but so much more besides; think biscuits and brownies, pastry and cakes, pizza, pancakes and puddings, even quietly playing its part as a subtle addition to something as simple as a white sauce. It’s the ultimate easy ingredient; long-lasting, cheap and filling.
Flour also falls into a food group that has had a pretty bad press of late. Increasingly people are going on low carb diets, cutting out their daily sandwich or slice of toast in an attempt to channel their inner Atkins and shed some excess pounds. You may have guessed I don’t subscribe to this group – I prefer to enjoy a bit of everything I want in moderation – but for these people who do cut out carbs, it’s a decision they choose to make. Some people don’t have that choice.
One such person is a school friend of mine who was diagnosed with coeliac disease a few years back. This isn’t just an allergy or food intolerance, it’s a fully blown autoimmune disease where a reaction is triggered by the gluten found in wheat, rye and barley. It’s something people live with every day, but is definitely not to be taken lightly, especially when you cook in the kind of kitchen where crumbs are commonplace and the cupboards are bulging with bags of flour . . .
With my friend in mind I started reading about the kinds of gluten-free desserts I might be able to make. Plenty still contain flour in some form – and I discovered some amazing recipes involving flours made from rice or potato, chickpea, buckwheat, corn, millet, peanut and more (for some incredible gluten-free recipes, I’d recommend visiting www.cannelle-vanille.blogspot.com) – but in the end I decided to bake something completely flour-free; a decadent dessert with few ingredients and a celebration of baking without flour that would be impressive yet understated in its elegance.
The result is this two-tiered flourless chocolate mousse cake. Taken from the Green and Blacks Chocolate recipe book, it’s the ultimate chocolate lovers’ delight. A slab of dense, fudgy, flourless chocolate cake is chilled then topped with a layer of intensely rich chocolate mousse. Served in thin slices with a chilled mint crème anglaise, this decadently dark dessert is velvety and seductive, smooth and sweet and utterly delicious. You wouldn’t even think to miss the flour.
No-one quite knows why this celebratory confection is called a marquise, but some have suggested it was named for the 18th century aristocrat the marquis de sade. Known for his libertine lifestyle and love of all things chocolate, he was said to love the stuff so much, he even made his wife bring him packages of it when he was in prison. I don’t know the truth of the story, but if I was locked up, this dessert would come pretty high on my list of requests.
What foods couldn’t you live without? And have you ever tried?
Marquise au Chocolat with Mint Crème Anglaise (adapted from the Green & Blacks Chocolate recipe book)
(Serves 10 – 15 chocoholics)
For the base
300g dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa solids*
275g golden caster sugar
165g unsalted butter
5 large free range eggs
1 tbsp ground almonds
Pinch fleur de sel
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Brush a 23cm loose bottomed tin with melted butter.
Melt the chocolate, caster sugar and butter in a large heatproof bowl suspended over a saucepan of barely simmering water. Set aside to cool slightly.
Beat the eggs with the ground almonds and salt, then stir into the chocolate mixture, continuing to fold until rich and glossy. Pour into your prepared tin and bake for 35-40 mins. Remove from the oven and set aside for at least two hours before you start the next stage.
For the mousse
250g dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa solids*
100g icing sugar
175g unsalted butter
5 large free range eggs, separated
150ml whipping cream
Melt the chocolate. Remove from the heat then stir in half the icing sugar, along with the butter, until smooth and glossy. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time then set aside.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then add the other half of the icing sugar and continue to whisk until glossy. Whip the cream until stiff peaks form.
Carefully fold one third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Gently fold in the remaining whites, alternating with the cream until a smooth mixture is formed. Do not overmix, but make sure it is well blended.
Pour the mousse over your cooled cake base in the tin and refrigerate overnight.
For the mint crème anglaise
300ml double cream
Handful chopped mint leaves
2 large free range egg yolks
1 heaped tbsp caster sugar
Crème de menthe (optional)
Bring the cream to the boil in a small saucepan with the mint leaves. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 15 mins.
Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until thick and creamy. Strain the cream so all mint leaves are removed, then reheat until almost boiling before whisking into the egg mixture.
Return the mixture to the saucepan and gently heat, stirring continuously until it thickens to a custard. Remove from the heat and leave to cool, stirring in a little crème de menthe to taste if you like.
To serve the cake, remove from the fridge about 15 mins before you want to eat. Slide out of the tin and smooth the edges with a palette knife dipped in boiling water. Cut into thin, rich slices and serve in a puddle of creamy green custard.
*If making this cake for a gluten-free friend, double check the chocolate you are using. My friend, for example, is ok with Green & Blacks, but can’t eat Bourneville or Lindt.
This November Sally at My Custard Pie is hosting a Monthly Mingle around the theme of custard. This mint crème anglaise felt like the perfect participant, so I’m submitting it to join in her celebration of all things custard. Check out the link above for more custard-based dishes from 30th November!