Bittersweet Chocolate Cake

Bittersweet chocolate cake, adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook. Almost a pound of chocolate, a dozen eggs, 2 cups of sugar, almost a pound of butter, a cup of flour.


  • 14 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, grated or broken into small pieces
  • 3 Tbsp water (or more if needed)
  • 12 eggs, separated
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoons grated orange peel
  • 3 1/2 sticks (3/4 lb plus 4 Tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup all purpose flour, sifted
  • Powdered sugar


1 Preheat oven to 325°F. Grease the sides and bottom of a 10-inch springform pan. Add a few tablespoons of sugar and gently shake so that all the sides and bottom of the pan are coated with sugar. Tap out excess sugar.

2 Beat egg yolks with the granulated sugar until they are thick and pale yellow and form a ribbon when they fall from the beater.

3 Place chocolate and 3 Tbsp of water in the top of a double boiler. Melt over simmering water, whisking until smooth. If the chocolate gets too thick, and looks like it will firm up, whisk in a tablespoon or more of water. Let cool slightly.

4 Fold the warm chocolate into the egg mixture. Stir in the softened butter. Stir in the grated orange peel. Fold in the sifted flour. Mix thoroughly but gently.

5 Beat egg whites until stiff. (See this wonderful explanation of whisking egg whites taken from La Bonne Cuisine de Madame Sant-Ange.) Stir a large spoonful of the chocolate mixture into the beaten egg whites. Mix well. Pour this mixture into the chocolate mixture, fold together gently, incorporating the whites completely. Be careful at this stage not to overmix.

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6 Turn batter into the springform pan. It will come close to the top of the pan. Set the pan on the middle rack of your oven and bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then remove the outer rim. Allow the cake to cool completely before removing the bottom of the pan. Refrigerate.

7 When ready to serve, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Makes 20 small, but quite rich, servings.

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  • Kim

    I love this cake but I hate making it! I’ve been making it for about 25 years. I add the water before the chocolate is put on the heat but, instead of adding more water when it stiffens and starts to seize I add butter from the 3 1/2 sticks. I learned the hard way that the butter works way better!
    I would like to see a video of someone making the chocolate pourable with water.

  • Beth

    This cake is amazing. I made it for my fiance’s birthday last year, and he ate most of it himself despite not being big on sweets.

    Getting the egg whites right can take a long time if you’re like me and have to do everything by hand, but it is SO worth the outcome. This is probably the best cake I’ve ever made. The orange adds that extra little oomph which pushes the flavor from delicious to perfect.

  • Becky

    Always good to meet another Valentine baby! ;) But I will not be waiting until my next birthday to make this cake… that would be just torturous.

    Though I have not made this recipe, I have made several others that call for melting chocolate with water and it always turns out fine. The trick is to melt them over a double boiler TOGETHER. If you melt the chocolate first, then add the water, you will have brown chunky concrete (trust me, I know). They must rise and fall in temperature at the same time.

  • Mick

    I’ve made this cake for years, since the SP cookbook was published. It’s great to see photos of it! Never knew if mine looked right since the origi recipe has no photo. Mine looks exactly like yours.

    It’s been my favorite chocolate cake since the 1980s.

    I do like the idea of swapping milk for the water, this batter is way stiff. I never feel like the whites Are folded in completely, leaving some light spots in the cake, but I’ve overfolded before and the result is too dense on the bottom and too airy on top.

    Anyway, it’s an awesome cake and thanks for the photos

  • Andrea

    I made this cake last weekend and here is my review: it was too difficult and not good enough for the amount of work involved. I used FIVE bowels and the recipe is incredibly hard to follow. Additionally, I think there are other easier and just-as-good flour-less cakes out there not to hassle with this complicated recipe. For taste, I didn’t think it was as rich as I would have liked considering it takes close to a pound of chocolate. Off to try the Chipotle Cake :)

  • lisa

    I don’t have a springform pan :-( What kind of adjustments should I make for a 13×9 pan or a 9 in. round pie pan? I also have a couple little loaf pans…any suggestions?

  • Sue

    I made this cake on Friday. I used a 9″ springform pan instead of a 10″, with no problem. I was sooooo worried about beating my egg whites. I’d never done it before and the advice link that was posted in this recipe was so specific that it made me nervous. Well, it worked out beautifully and my guests claimed that my cake was “restaurant” good and better than any cake they had ever made at home. I am delighted with this recipe! It’s dense and delicious without being overly sweet.

  • Sue

    Do you think I can pull this recipe off in a 9″ springform pan? I just got one for my birthday and would love to try it out.

    No idea. If you try it, please let us know how it turns out. ~Elise

  • Elizabeth

    I made this cake recently for a friend’s birthday. It was excellent, although not nearly as rich as we expected. I used a 12″ springform and should have shortened the cooking time 5-10 minutes, but it was still good. I had to warn people about the calories since most people wanted a 2nd piece.

    I used a metal bowl to mix the chocolate with the eggs, flour etc. When it started to get a little thick I just put the bowl over the already hot pan from the double boiler. It definitely seemed to help when I was mixing it. I used 70% bittersweet and I think 65% would have worked well too.

  • Pamela

    I was so excited when I saw this recipe, and tried it last weekend for a friend’s birthday. My cake spilled all over my oven, and took about 2 hours to bake. It tasted great and had a nice consistency, but the whole baking of it was just plain weird. Thoughts?

    The only thing I can think of on the cooking time is that if you opened the oven too often to check, that would slow down the cooking time. As for the spillage, perhaps the batter was just a little too close to the rim? ~Elise

  • Jill

    I think it’s a bit risky adding water to chocolate. It just might work and it just might not. I make a very similar cake to this recipe (without so many eggs–yikes) and to get perfectly melted chocolate every time, I first melt the butter in the microwave, then add the chocolate, stir and let sit for a few minutes until the chocolate melts completely. Chocolate has a very low melting temperature and I have used this method successfully dozens of times. It also eliminates the annoying melting-over-simmering-water step.

  • Charles

    Why not just add milk? It’s a lot easier to handle and the water makes the chocolate shrink anyway. I just made a marble cheesecake and had to do the same. Water + Hot chocolate = Shrinkage. Milk + Hot chocolate = delicious.

  • Elise

    Hi Colleen, if you don’t add water, as the chocolate cools, there is no way that it would be thin enough to mix in with the cake ingredients. And you can’t mix it in too hot or it will cook the eggs. I ended up mixing in at least a 1/3 cup of water to the chocolate when I made my cake because I let the chocolate cook too long and some of the moisture evaporated.

  • Colleen

    Terribly confused about adding water and chocolate!

    My good friend Robin and I rolled up our sleeves on Saturday night and set out with all the correct ingredients and good chocolate. We recoiled at the idea of adding water to chocolate and watched in horror as the smooth, shiny, rich and velvety chocolate instantly turned into the consistency and matte-finish of chocolate cake frosting when we added our 3 tbs water. What happened?

    The rest of the cake was so difficult (how can anyone delicately fold thick and lumpy chocolate masses into beautiful stiff egg whites)! We still baked it and it was still rich and delicious, but we know that its intended consistency was vastly different from the thick and dense cake we baked.

    Can someone please let us know what went wrong? Were we alone in this experience?

  • audrock

    This cake is excellent! I made it for my mom’s birthday because she is a chocolate lover. I felt it needed a little something extra (I must be crazy!) so I made a simple chocolate sauce to go over each piece. Sinful!

    Thanks for posting the recipe.

  • Miguel

    I tried this recipe this last weekend for a party of 10 people and everybody was deligthed. To my taste, it was a little dry (perhaps it was a little overcooked since I left the cake 8 minutes longer than recommended…). However I served the cake with vanilla ice cream and yogurth-blueberry – strawberry ice cream (both home made) and the result was great….
    I needed as much as 4 tablespoons of water to disolve the chocolate, and used 70% bittersweet chocolate…. Very tasty…. The addition of orange peel is a must. Next time I´ll try adding some walnuts to the batter…..