In the advanced term of the Professional Diploma at Leiths we had a demonstration and follow up practical sessions on all things chocolate.  Our teacher and self-confessed chocolate-obsessive brought in a range of different chocolate bars for us to taste and compare before she began showing us the various techniques for tempering, moulding, decorating and shaping chocolate.  As part of this first part of the dem, she asked if there was anyone in the room who didn't like chocolate.  My lone hand was raised.  Cue sharp intake of breath from 47 other culinary students.

But I don't really like it.  It's too rich, it makes my throat ache, I feel sick after about three squares, whether it's Dairy Milk or organic, fair trade, 80% cocoa solids and hand crafted into perfect bars. I know that's unusual, perhaps especially for a chef who delights as much in pastry as cuisine, but it's true. 

Having said that, I WILL eat this chocolate torte. There is something about it.  It's light yet still hugely indulgent, it's not too sweet, but still nicely off set by some sharp fruit or berries.  It holds its own as a smart dessert for a dinner party but works just as well at the end of a family Sunday lunch when the table is littered with gravy drips and the dog is sitting hopefully next to you looking longingly at the last roast potato.

It also works.  EVERY TIME.

Here's the other thing.  Anyone who knows me will be certain that I am not particularly interested in the idea of choosing to cut out gluten.  But if you are cooking for someone who has made this choice, or is coeliac, this delicious torte might become your go-to too, as it is gluten free.  And if you use a good dairy free baking margarine, as I often do, it is dairy free too.  My Mum is delighted - she is allergic to milk products.

I often make the recipe just as it is,  but it's a good one for messing around with too.  For a Supper Club in September I tarted it up with the addition of some ground hazelnuts and it survived to tell the tale, but for a February version I decided to use my absolute favourite winter fruit - the beautiful blood orange.  

We had it for lunch with friends this weekend and it might be my favourite iteration of the torte so far.  I've included the basic recipe below and the variations to make this delicious, late winter, blood orange version too.  Let me know if you make it and tag #chappellandcaldwell on Instagram to share your version.

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Chocolate Torte with Blood Orange Compote

SERVES 8

Ingredients

  • 300g good quality dark chocolate.  I used Green and Blacks as it contains no dairy products.
  • 250g butter or dairy free baking margarine.  
  • 250g golden caster sugar
  • 5 eggs
  • 3 blood oranges.  I used Ippolito oranges from Sicily - currently available from Waitrose, but there are some other lovely varieties available on our local market in St. Albans at this time of year
  • 100g granulated sugar                                                                                                    
  • 100ml water

Method

  1. Grease and line the base of a 23cm spring-form cake tin.
  2. Preheat your oven to 200°C or 180°C if you have a fan oven.
  3. Break up the chocolate and cut the butter into cubes.  Melt butter and chocolate together gently in a bowl over some gently simmering water.  As soon as it is melted, stir to combine and create a rich, smooth mixture.  Allow to cool to blood temperature.
  4. Separate the eggs.
  5. In a roomy bowl, beat the yolks and caster sugar together using an electric whisk until they go very pale.
  6. If you are doing the blood orange version, add the zest of one orange to this mix.
  7. When the chocolate mix has cooled, gently beat this into the egg and sugar.
  8. Whisk the egg whites to form stiff peaks.  If you are using the same whisk as for the yolk mixture, wash the beaters very carefully first, to avoid any grease getting into the egg whites.
  9. Take one spoonful of the egg whites and stir into the chocolate, butter, sugar and yolk mix, to loosen it slightly.
  10. Fold in the remaining egg whites in 3 additions, using a metal spoon and trying to keep as much volume as possible. 
  11. Gently pour the mixture into your cake tin.
  12. Bake for between 35 and 45 minutes.
  13. The torte is ready when it has just a very gently wobble in the centre and springs back when lightly pressed.

For the blood orange compote

  1. Segment the oranges into bowl, retaining any juice.  Sprinkle one tablespoon of the granulated sugar over them to encourage further juice to be released.
  2. Gently melt the remaining sugar and the water together to form a syrup.  Stir only with the end of a wooden spoon to avoid crystalisation.
  3. When all the sugar has dissolved, turn up the heat and reduce the syrup by half.  
  4. Allow to cool a little and pour over the oranges and combine with their juice. 

When the torte has cooked, allow it to cool and then release from the tin.  

To serve, reheat the oranges and syrup until warm and pour over the torte.