When I was first contacted about cooking a Julia Child recipe and posting about it for PBS’s #CookForJulia celebration of Julia Child in honor of what would have been her upcoming 100th birthday, I was extremely ambivalent. On the one hand, it was PBS and that is exciting! And honoring Julia Child is certainly a cause I can get behind. But, the honest truth is that I own exactly one “Julia Child” book (in quotes because it was written by Dorrie Greenspan and none of the recipes are hers, rather it was the companion book to her Baking with Julia show) and previous to this recipe I had made exactly one Julia Child recipe. I have never even seen a single episode of any of her shows.
So I wondered, is it hypocritical of me to sing Julia Child’s praises when I myself have not really experienced Julia Child?
I’ve decided that the answer is no, any more than it is hypocritical of me to acknowledge the significance of other pioneers who have gone before in various disciplines. Julia Child was a pioneer, on more than one level. She was a pioneer as a woman cooking authority on TV in an age when most women cooks were home cooks. She was a pioneer in bringing cooking to TV, period. She was also a pioneer for publicly embracing enthusiasm and self-education over perfection, having once famously remarked, after messing up the flipping of a potato pancake and causing it to land on the counter instead of the pan : “You see when I flipped it I didn’t have the courage to do it the way I should have.” After picking the cake up, pressing it back together, and placing it in the pan, she uttered what would be become a famous piece of reassurance for every novice cook or baker everywhere “But you can always pick it up, and if you’re alone in the kitchen, who is going to see?” [see Snopes article for quote] As a side note, this story morphed into an exaggerated account of her dropping a turkey on the floor and then proceeding to cook with it(!) which never actually happened. I think the gradual exaggeration of what happened over time makes perfect sense, however. All self-taught home cooks, including yours truly, have messed up various things in the kitchen, and Julia Child gave us permission to ignore the mistake, fix it as best we are able, and continue cooking. That’s huge.
That bravery is what inspired me to choose this recipe for this post. I have been staring at Lora Brody’s Boca Negra in Baking with Julia: Savor the Joys of Baking with America’s Best Bakers for several years now. On paper it is a quite simple recipe cooked in a water bath (hence the steam in the photo above). However, the recipe includes some seemingly tricky instructions for getting the extremely moist, hot cake out of the pan. In my past experience, this is the part that is never as simple as it sounds, never works as well as claimed, and ends with me completely frazzled. But in honor of Julia Child and the countless moments of bravery she has inspired in home cooks everywhere over the years, I decided I was going to go for it.
The method worked absolutely brilliantly! Unlike most flourless or nearly flourless cakes, this one is meant to be served warm (although it is delicious room temperature as well). Which means getting it out of a round cake pan without breaking or cracking the cake–and then getting it immediately inverted to then slice and serve. You remove the pan from the water bath and dry it off. You then cover the top of the pan with a large piece of plastic wrap–at this point the excess plastic wrap will cling to the sides of the warm pan. Invert the pan onto a large plate (not the plate you will serve it on) and (this part was easier with 2 people) peel the plastic wrap from the sides of the pan, so that the plastic wrap is no longer attached in any way to the pan. Lift the pan off of the cake, leaving the cake behind on the plate. Remove the parchment paper which will be stuck to the bottom of the cake. Place the ultimate serving plate or platter on top of the cake and invert again. Peel the plastic wrap off of the cake. Voilá!
I mentioned that the cake is meant to be served warm. Learn from my mistake and serve the white chocolate cream on the side! As you can see in the photo above, the cream is dripping over the side. Amusingly (and frustratingly), this particular slice was the only one where the cream even stayed on the cake. I did manage to catch one hilarious shot (see below) of the cream sliding right off the cake! We really did not care, it was delicious. Some things I would do differently next time: forget about good pictures, this cake should be served in tiny (much smaller than shown) slices. It is rich!! Also, the white chocolate cream is deliciously but almost overpoweringly boozy and sweet. The second day I served this I folded the cream into lightly sweetened fresh whipped cream, and we all agreed we preferred it that way.
Closely adapted from Baking with Julia;
Note: be sure to prepare the white chocolate cream at least 1 day in advance.
- 12 oz good quality white chocolate I used Guittard, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/4 cup bourbon or more to taste(I was forced to sub vanilla vodka)
- 12 oz bittersweet chocolate coarsely chopped (I used Scharffen Berger 71%)
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup bourbon I was forced to use vanilla vodka
- 1 cup 2 sticks or 8 oz unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces, at room temperature
- 5 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 1/2 T AP flour
Put the white chocolate into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until it is finely chopped. Heat the heavy cream in a small saucepan until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Pour the cream over the chocolate and process until completely smooth. Add the bourbon, taste, and add up to a tablespoon more if you want.
Pour the prepared cream into a container with a tight-fitting lid and chill overnight. The cream can be kept covered in the refrigerator for a week or frozen for up to a month.
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350.
Lightly spray the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with baking spray. Line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper; butter the paper and sides of the pan. Put the cake pan in a shallow roasting pan and set aside until needed.
Put the chopped chocolate in a food processor. Process until finely chopped.
In a medium saucepan, mix the sugar and the bourbon and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves and the mixture comes to a full boil. Immediately pour the hot syrup over the chocolate and process until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.
Piece by piece, add the butter into the chocolate mixture with the processor running. Make certain that each piece of butter is melted before you add another. Add the eggs, one at a time, while the processor continues to run. Add the flour and then let the processor run for an additional 15 seconds.
Pour and scrape the batter into the prepared pan, running your spatula over the top to smooth it. Pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come about 1 inch up the side of the cake pan. Bake the cake for exactly 30 minutes, at which point the top will have a thin, dry crust.
Cover the top of the pan with a large piece of plastic wrap--at this point the excess plastic wrap will cling to the sides of the warm pan. Invert the plate onto a large plate (not the plate you will serve it on) and (this part was easier with 2 people) peel the plastic wrap from the sides of the pan, so that the plastic wrap is no longer attached in any way to the pan. Before it can reattach, lift the pan off of the cake, leaving the cake behind on the plate. Remove the parchment paper which will be stuck to the bottom of the cake. Place the ultimate serving plate or platter on top of the cake and invert again. Peel the plastic wrap off of the cake.
Serve the cake warm or at room temperature with the chilled white chocolate cream (folded into whipped cream as described above, if desired).
Once cooled, the cake can be covered with plastic and kept at room temperature for 1 day or refrigerated for up to 3 days; bring to room temperature before serving. I used my cake keeper to store it without any plastic wrap. For longer storage, wrap the cake airtight and freeze it; it will keep up to a month. Thaw overnight, still wrapped, in the refrigerator.
I love the look of that cake, but like you have always been hesitant to try one. Kudos on a job well done!
That cake looks amazing! Rich and moist….I love the addition of the white chocolate cream on top!
Katharina Sonzone says
This recipe do not work. The cake is – after 30 minutes in the oven – totally liquid.
I am sorry to hear it did not work for you. I am happy to trouble shoot what went wrong. Did you make any substitutions and have you checked that your oven runs true to temperature? With 5 large eggs, it definitely should not be pure liquid after 30 minutes in the oven!
I make the recipe two times today and after 30 minutes it was liquid
I am sorry to hear that! When was the last time you checked your oven temperature and calibrated it if it does not run true? Did you follow the recipe exactly? If you want to let me know exactly what you did I can try to help trouble shoot why you are having issues.
I loved the cake!! It was on the menu at a favorite restaurant and they are no longer making it so I was very happy to come across the recipe when I was browsing in my Baking With Julia Cookbook. I went from the book to the internet to see what might be out there in terms of feedback. I found your site very helpful!! (Especially since I questioned the 30 minute time to bake!) The cake was sooo easy to make in the food processor – I did it while I was talking on the phone!
Two changes I made: cut the bourbon in half for the white chocolate cream and used Pamela’s baking Mix (this made it gluten free for a member of our group) instead of the flour.
I would definitely make this again. Everyone at the dinner party LOVED it!!!
Thanks for the tips and glad I was helpful! And yes, this cake is a knock-out!
Daniel Bessinger says
Daniel Bessinger says
Some hints for success.
Heat cream to 195 degrees F.
Spray pan and line both bottom and sides of pan with parchment paper and butter all surfaces.
Remove cake to flat cookie sheet. Cool sides of pan with wet cool dishcloth before using plastic wrap to reduce plastic sticking to pan during flipping.
I have this recipe in my files, courtesy of a restaurant I used to work for, where Baking with Julia was a well-worn book. We had this on the menu often and it was always a sell-out. I’m making this tomorrow and forgot to see how much chocolate I’ll need to pick up on the way home. Glad to have found this posted here.
It is a tricky recipe, but I’m surprised it didn’t work at all for the poster above. I’m wondering about the quality of the chocolate.
Anyway, what I really came here to say- if you haven’t made it yet with Bourbon, you really should try it. I haven’t tried it with vanilla vodka, so really couldn’t say one was better than the other, but Bourbon and chocolate are such lovely partners.
100% on the bourbon 🥃 point! I’ve made this several times & it’s SOOOOOO damn delicious!!! I personally skip the white choc cream, the cake is so rich, I just powder it with confectioners sugar & done! Looks beautiful, tastes like you died & went to heaven!
In my experience cream based toppings often cut some of that richness (it is unintuitive I know). But hey however you like it best is how you should make it–I firmly believe that. I have honestly never gotten the fuss over bourbon and chocolate but it is clearly a classic combo. I would probably be perfectly happy making this without any alcohol outside of some vanilla extract.
Yolande Tzinavos says
I have made this recipe many, many times over many, many years and by following the recipe exactly it has only worked twice. Both times I used a very expensive Belgian chocolate.
When I don’t feel like spending a small fortune on Belgian chocolate (I live in New Zealand – it’s about as expensive as gold per ounce), I use 1/4 cup of flour and bake it for 40 minutes. I also don’t bother with the double flip onto the plate method – too risky. I just turn it over and serve it upside down (looks perfectly neat).
Only thing I will say is make sure you use well buttered / sprayed baking paper for the bottom and sides of the pan to aid release of the delicate cake.
You taste the chocolate so sometimes it’s worth breaking the bank for it.
Everyone loves this cake.
Happy baking Yolande T
Kati Hannigan says
Can you make this in a springform pan?
I THINK (emphasized because this kind of baking is not my specialty and I never tried) that you could try doing do as long as you tightly lined the outside of the springform pan with foil, to prevent leakage, either of batter out or water in. However, I would not leave it in the springform pan like you would a cheesecake when it comes out. I would follow the directions for removing the cake (and do note that stage might be trickier if your springform pan has taller sides, like 3 inches) because if you leave it in the pan I am concerned it would continue cooking more than it should on the bottom. Let me know if that didn’t make sense. And if you try, report back and let us know so others know in the future.