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When it came to the quest for the best flourless chocolate cake, I balked. I mean, have you ever had a bad flourless chocolate cake? If you used the same chocolate across all the recipes, wouldn’t they essentially taste the same? What could possibly make one pile of butter, eggs and chocolate less delicious than another?
When others finally convinced me to embark on this bake off, I was glad I did. Between whipped egg whites, varying amounts of sugar, almond flour, cocoa and more–there are plenty of factors driving very different cake results. Let’s dive in!
METHODOLOGY // RESULTS // FACTORS // ANALYSIS // RECOMMENDATIONS
- 25 total tasters
- 5 cakes were baked fresh the day of tasting; 4 cakes were baked the night before as the recipe either specified the cake could be stored overnight or in some cases, would be even better after resting overnight
- All tasters ranked each cake on a scale from 0-10 for flavor, texture and overall as a whole
- All cakes were baked in a parchment-lined 9″ cake pan or springform pan
- Kirkland butter
- Trader Joe’s dark chocolate Pound Plus bar
- Trader Joe’s 72% Pound Plus bar
- Hershey’s special dark cocoa powder (Dutch process)
- Kirkland almond flour
- Snowville heavy cream
- Diamond kosher salt
- Imperial granulated and powdered sugar
PARTNER NOTE: I’m delighted to be partnering with Imperial Sugar on this bake off as I’ve consistently used their consistent, high-quality pure cane sugar products throughout my bake offs. Imperial Sugar is non-GMO verified, allergen free and gluten-free!
For more sweet inspiration, you can visit Imperial Sugar to find more than 4,000 expert-tested recipes, free downloadable vintage cookbooks, sugar scrubs and bath products at the Sugar Spa, and lots of helpful guides on their blog. You can also check out their Pinterest, You Tube, Instagram for even more recipe inspiration!
Here is a bake off where my tastebuds can whole-heartedly agree with the crowd pick (though I had some other favorites sprinkled throughout).
Interestingly, the cakes in this bake off typically fell into two main categories:
- Lighter, cakier and brownie-like: Richard Sax, Claire Saffitz, Alison Roman, America’s Test Kitchen
- Dense and fudgy: Cake by Courtney, Dorie Greenspan, Handle the Heat
The results reflect that this crowd generally had a preference for the lighter, brownie-like cakes. However, there were many tasters that praised cakes that fell in the dense and fudgy category as exactly what they imagine flourless chocolate cake to be and their #1 pick. I think Trish slid into first place as a perfect balance between the two categories and thus the most widely crowd-pleasing texture.
As always, I think each recipe would be enthusiastically demolished if served as a standalone dessert, so don’t be too skeptical of the lower ranked picks! I always recommend you read through the entire post to see which cake sounds the best to you.
When it came down to choosing flourless chocolate cake recipes to include, I was very concerned that they would all taste the same–hence my introduction of chocolate tortes. Besides the inclusion of almond flour in America’s Test Kitchen and Claire Saffitz, I also included a recipe without sugar (Rose Levy Beranbaum), with whipped egg whites vs. whole eggs and more. Below we’ll discuss some of the different factors and the ones that I think made the biggest difference.
- Fat type: Virtually all recipes used 100% butter except for Alison Roman (oil and butter) and Claire Saffitz (all oil!). One of my most shocking revelations from this bake off was how much I liked Claire’s cake despite zero butter. I felt sure the lack of butter would affect the flavor, but I couldn’t tell the difference! I also preferred the more moist texture of her cake vs. the similar recipes from Richard Sax and Alison Roman, which I think was due in part from the oil. Ultimately, my takeaway here is: if you’re short on butter, try a neutral oil in its place. The powerful chocolate flavor will easily help compensate for any lost flavor.
- Whipped eggs: Nearly half the recipes called for whipped egg whites while the other half simply called for mixing in whole eggs. There was a very clear divide in texture between the two techniques. As you’d expect, whipped whites leads to an airy, almost foamy, crackly-topped cake. Mixed whole eggs leads to shorter cakes with a dense, fudge-like texture. It’s truly a matter of personal preference on what texture you prefer. I found the cakes with whipped whites had a slightly diluted (but still perfectly present) chocolate flavor in contrast to the very intense flavor of the cakes with mixed whole eggs.
- Almond flour: In ATK, it was very clear that the 2 cups of almond flour added a cake-like structure and nutty texture to the cake. However, in Claire’s cake (with just 1/2 cup), it almost melted into the cake and it was hard to distinguish any graininess compared to other cakes. I think almond flour is a great ingredient to consider if you want a cake with slightly more body and structure.
- Sugar: Most recipes mixed sugar into the butter/chocolate mixture or into the whipped egg whites for a meringue, but there were two interesting exceptions. The first: Rose’s cake, which omits sugar entirely. With just butter, chocolate and whipped whole eggs, Rose’s cake had the smoothest, softest texture–like chocolate mousse. I believe that sugar typically helps stabilize the structure of whipped egg whites, which helps explain why Rose’s texture was so different. (I didn’t notice a big difference in the flavor compared to other cakes as the chocolate dominates.) The second: Cake by Courtney, which makes a sugar syrup that gets added to the butter and chocolate. I think this technique is mostly to melt any sugar granules and to help melt the butter/chocolate without a microwave. I’m not sure it was any different from the typical method.
- Cocoa: What does adding cocoa to a flourless chocolate cake do? Unfortunately, I don’t have a clear conclusion. It’s used in ATK and Alison Roman (both of which I found to be slightly drier cakes, but probably due to other factors). It’s also used in Handle the Heat, which is supremely moist. Perhaps it slightly enhances the flavor, but there’s so much chocolate in each recipe that it’s hard to tell.
Flourless Chocolate Cake FAQ
Flourless chocolate cakes are typically made with just chocolate, butter and eggs while torta caprese adds almond flour for a more robust structure.
In both cakes, the egg whites are typically whipped to provide natural leavening to the cake. Sometimes other ingredients like sugar, baking powder, cocoa powder, salt and vanilla may be added.
Although these two cake styles are somewhat different, they’re similar enough that I decided to include a few torta caprese-style recipes for variation. I was curious what the differences would be like side-by-side!
The traditional leavener in a flourless chocolate cake is the whipped egg whites. Some recipes also whip the yolks for a more stable batter. However, some cakes add baking powder for extra lift. I also tested one recipe that uses whipped heavy cream, which serves a similar purpose to the whipped egg whites.
Beating egg whites used to be my nemesis–I would always hold my breath and hope for perfectly glossy, stiff peaks instead of sad, soupy whites. Here are my tips for perfectly whipped egg whites:
1. Start with a clean, dry bowl and beaters: any fat or grease will prevent the whites from whipping up correctly
2. Make sure no egg yolk gets into the whites: for the same reason as above
3. Use 1/8 tsp cream of tartar per 1 egg white: Cream of tartar lowers the pH of the egg foam, helping to create a more stable foam. Even if the recipe doesn’t call for it, you can always add this for security. You can also sub the same amount of lemon juice or vinegar for the cream of tartar.
4. Use fresh egg whites: If you have these on hand, fresh whites will always whip up faster! Some people recommend letting egg whites sit out at room temperature as warmer whites will whip faster, but I find this isn’t necessary–your beaters will quickly help warm them to temp.
5. Start low before increasing speed: When whipping egg whites, start on a lower speed for the first few minutes before increasing the speed. This will create more even bubbles and ultimately, a more stable egg foam.
Troubleshooting tip: If you end up with soupy egg whites that won’t hold a peak no matter how long you beat them, it’s likely that some fat contaminated the eggs and you may need to start over. If you’re making a flourless chocolate cake, I personally would go ahead and use the soupy whites unless you’re really set on an airy-textured cake. It will affect the texture, but all that means is you’ll just end up with a more fudgy and deliciously dense cake.
From my research, yes. There seems to be no technical difference in chocolate melted in the microwave instead of a double boiler. The only downside of the microwave is the potential for scorching. It’s always best to microwave chocolate (or, in many recipes’ cases, chocolate and butter) for 30 second increments to avoid scorching.
Something that you like eating! The main flavor of the cake will be of the chocolate you bake with. I think the Pound Plus bars from Trader Joe’s are a great deal and taste great. If you have a preferred chocolate chip or chocolate bar, use it!
A Tip for People with Small Kitchens
When baking at my sister’s house, she didn’t have a stand mixer but her partner had this KitchenAid immersion blender with a whisk (and food processor attachment). It quickly became my new favorite kitchen item for several reasons:
- It’s cordless, so it’s easy to move around with in the kitchen.
- It’s so much more convenient than pulling out my stand mixer to whip egg whites.
- It’s extremely efficient! I was able to whip egg whites to stiff peaks in just a few minutes.
To be transparent, the downsides in my eyes include (1) you can’t charge and use it at the same time (but as long as you’re charged beforehand, it should be fine) and (2) there’s only one speed so everything gets whipped on HIGH. But these are minor downsides for the convenience in my eyes.
I’m planning to buy one when I’m back in NYC because this will be an amazing space saver in my apartment and just wanted to share! This is 100% not sponsored and just my own opinion–but this is an affiliate link to the mixer if you’re interested in picking up one for yourself or a baker in your life.
Analysis of the Best Flourless Chocolate Cakes
America’s Test Kitchen: a nutty, slightly gritty, full-bodied, lightly chocolatey cake
ATK’s torta caprese is an Italian flourless chocolate cake that contains almonds. This cake uses a whopping 2 cups of almond flour! It also whips both the egg whites AND yolks to create “strong stable egg foams’ to lighten the batter and prevent it from collapsing. It was also one of two recipes to include cocoa powder.
Sure enough, the techniques created one of the thickest, heftiest cakes with no collapsing in the center like others. This cake almost had a foamy lightness with noticeable graininess from the almond flour. The chocolate flavor felt quite diluted in this one (probably due to the higher ratio of almond flour and relatively low amount of chocolate). While it was somewhat fudgy under the crackly matte lid, it still gave the impression of a lighter brownie. This was one of my least favorites of the group–but would be delicious if you’re looking for a lighter chocolate almond cake.
- I liked how light it was. Its lightness however made it a bit dry. Flavor was great.
- Cakey and moist, which is nice, but not as decadent as I’d look for in a flourless choc cake
- Brownie like texture. Lacking flavor and depth of the chocolate. Nice sugar crust. Feels a little “oily”
- What I imagine a very standard chocolate almond flour cake to be. Feels very cooks illustrated 1990s somehow.
- Dry, cakey/crumbly, a bit flat. Not how I imagine flourless cake to be
Alison Roman (via Bon Appetit): a silky, brownie-like cake that’s slightly drier with an airy density
This is a stated riff on Richard Sax’s renowned recipe. Alison slightly increases the amount of chocolate and reduces the sugar while adding salt and vanilla. I was mainly interested to see how the addition of 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and cocoa powder would affect the cake.
Ultimately, you could definitely tell this cake was related to the Richard Sax cake with its poofy, crackly sugar-crusted top and fallen middle. The flavor felt very similar to the Sax cake but with a slight edge thanks to the salt and vanilla. Texturally, the main difference was that it felt a tiny bit drier. While the cakey texture is smooth, the slight dryness adds an almost chalky feel to the texture. Overall, a solid cake but wasn’t overly memorable in the landscape of other cakes.
- Ultimate favorite, really good flavor, airy, not too fudgy, not just chocolate flavor and more cake like
- The touch of salt was nice. The texture detracted a bit from the flavor. It was a bit more dry than the others.
- Nice soft crumble but a little dry. Crispy top is good though.
- Very cake-like. Almost more like a light brownie
- Reminds me of cake [America’s Test Kitchen]. This is drier/cakier, less fudgy. Flavor is flat and lacking complexity
Dorie Greenspan: a dual-layered cake with a dense, bittersweet bottom and a meltingly smooth lid
Dorie’s Lisbon chocolate cake is inspired by the cake from Landeau Chocolate cafe in Lisbon. She describes it as a dense brownie-like cake covered in a whipped chocolate ganache. Her recreation includes a 1/3 cup of cocoa powder, cornstarch and cold whole eggs. No egg whipping is required as Dorie mixes whole eggs into the batter (with a tiny bit of baking powder for lift). The ganache is simply melted chocolate and heavy cream that gets whipped with additional whipped cream folded in. Note: I completely forgot to cover the cake with the finishing touch of cocoa powder!
Although this cake came out worryingly thin compared to the other cakes, the added ganache made for a stunning presentation. The flourless cake was dense and deeply chocolatey with a slight bite. I thought it paired beautifully with the sweeter and lighter creamy ganache layer that melts away in your mouth. While some tasters found the ganache slightly too bitter, this was one of my favorites. I do think the instructions for the ganache are cumbersome (you have to stir the ganache every 10 minutes as it chills in the fridge), but overall, it felt worth it. I’ll likely return to this cake for a show stopper dessert!
- My favorite so far! Fudgy but still had some “crumb” to it, which I appreciate in a flourless cake. Nice crackly top. Loved the bittersweet flavor. 10/10!
- Just perfect blend of good, strong taste, ample fudginess, and real structure. Best cake of them all!
- The dual layer thing is mind blowing. It gives the fudgy on top and cakey on bottom, really nice.
- This one was super interesting due to the two layers (light whipped ganache on top?). But the topping was a little too bitter. I actually prefer the bottom by itself!
- Texture was a little mushy for me. The top is nice and smooth, but it’s problematic how easily it falls apart
Rose Levy Beranbaum: a soft, mousse-like cake with deep chocolate flavor
Rose’s chocolate oblivion torte is just three ingredients: chocolate, butter, eggs. Despite the short ingredient list, this recipe is somewhat finicky: you must heat the eggs and whip them until they’re tripled in volume. The eggs get folded into the melted chocolate and butter and then baked briefly in a water bath–first without foil, then covered. Then it must cool and be refrigerated until firm (at least 3 hours)–but then you need to bring it up to temp to enjoy. Note: she calls for chocolate “no higher than 62%–I used Trader Joe’s dark chocolate Pound Plus bar and I’m not quite sure what percentage that is. So this may have been slightly darker than intended!
As promised by Rose (“it is most moussey and delicious at room temperature), this cake had the most incredibly silky, meltingly soft texture. Imagine pure bittersweet chocolate that was transformed from bar to mousse form. It’s hard to call this a cake as there is virtually no crumb to it–just structured mousse on a plate. It’s pure decadence and I couldn’t stop eating it. If you want rich, silky, decadent deliciousness (without feeling like you’re eating a straight candy bar), this is it.
- Soft, dense but not heavy. Delicious
- Dense and creamy, melts in your mouth. Great flavor, more fudge like than cake like.
- Fudgy but def a higher content of dark / semi sweet. It’s like a fudgicle in cake form.
- Too dense, almost fudge like. Melts in your mouth. Like the strong chocolate flavor but because it is so dense it can be too much after a couple of bites
- Overall felt very oily and could of use more sweetness
Cake by Courtney: like firm whipped ganache, embodied
Courtney’s recipe is at first notable for its impressive amount of chocolate (18 oz) and eggs (7 whole eggs). She also uses a simple syrup that helps melt the chocolate and butter. This was another recipe that doesn’t require any beating of the eggs–simply mixing them into the melted chocolate mixture. (Note: be sure to mix in your eggs completely, lest you end up with some cooked whites in your cake.) She also calls for a water bath to help the cake cook evenly and add moisture so the cake doesn’t crack.
As to be expected with such a high percentage of chocolate, this cake felt like actual fudge. The generous amount of ingredients leads to a dense and tall cake that is so decadent and rich! I truly don’t know how else to describe it besides a slice of bittersweet fudge. The salt and vanilla add a lovely balance to the dark chocolate. This is one that I could only eat a small piece of because it is so intensely chocolatey. A number of tasters called this cake exactly what they want in a flourless chocolate cake!
- Rich and delicious, maybe a bit too heavy but overall what I think of when I want a rich flourless chocolate cake
- Very velvety mouthfeel, intensely fudge-like. Incredible!
- Strong dark chocolate flavor. Although it is very dense it has a nice texture. Not a fan of fudge like cake but can be a good option for those that prefer that texture
- If you want to eat a chocolate bar, but softer – this is the delicious cake for you. The texture is so extremely fudgy, it is hard to call it cake
- Fudgy, dark, rich, dense. Delicious, but a little intense, would want a small portion. Almost too dense and fudgy to call it a cake.
Handle the Heat: like firm whipped ganache, embodied
Like Dorie, Tessa incorporates a good amount of cocoa powder into her cake. Her recipe is somewhat similar to Dorie’s but with an extra egg yolk, espresso powder, and slightly more chocolate, cocoa and sugar. The most interesting characteristic of this recipe? No whipped egg whites, but Tessa folds in whipped heavy cream for lift.
This cake feels essentially like a slab of firm whipped ganache. It’s very buttery with lovely notes of espresso that adds to the a robust richness. The texture is extraordinarily smooth and silky to the point where it barely reads as cake. I think it’s nearly a perfect midway point between Rose’s uber-soft mousse cake and Courtney’s very fudgy cake. It has mousse-y qualities while still remaining structured and intensely chocolate-y.
- Fudgy, smooth, soft without being dense or heavy. exactly what I’d want in a rich flourless cake
- Loved the texture and flavor. Seemed like the coffee enhanced the flavor which was amazing. Loved it.
- Best texture so far- dense but not too fudgy- still felt like it had a little tiny bit of lift to it. Wish it was a tiny bit less sweet or else it would be 10/10
- Very good chocolate flavor, but a little too dense
- Super sweet, coffee flavor, fudge was almost custardy. Way too sweet
Claire Saffitz: a spongy and airy yet moist, rich brownie-like cake
Claire uses very similar ratios to Richard Sax’s cake, but she reduces the sugar and swaps butter for oil. She also adds salt, vanilla and amaretto (which I omitted) along with 1/2 cup of almond flour (making this into a torta caprese).
This cake is far airer than denser versions like Cake by Courtney or Handle the Heat. It’s almost spongy in a delightfully chocolatey way. The lower ratio of almond flour keeps this from being as grainy as America’s Test Kitchen. To me, this felt like a more moist version of Richard Sax and Alison Roman. I was truly shocked that the oil in this cake didn’t seem to affect the flavor, which remains unflinchingly chocolatey (though not as deeply as others). I agree with tasters who called this the most brownie like–this is the one that I could easily eat the most of. One of my favorites!
- #1 hands down. My favorite dessert is a fudgy brownie and this is like a giant brownie. I’d have a hard time refraining myself from eating an entire pan. It melts in your mouth, perfect crumb.
- Loved it! Almost like a brownie. Texture is perfect, crumb is tight but still melts in your mouth. Flavor is strong but not overpowering. Would be perfect by itself or with a spiced whipped cream or ice cream
- My favorite! Not overly dense and great flavor, amazing texture
- Most brownie like. Airy, not too heavy, could use more flavor
- Very soft, nice crumb, but overall not the decadent recipe I’d go to for a flourless chic cake experience
- Feels like a Godiva box brownie mix. Texture a bit cakey. Not a lot of depth.
Richard Sax: a crackly-topped, airy yet deeply chocolatey cake
Food52 compares Richard’s cake to Rose’s oblivion torte and notes that he uses half the amount of chocolate and butter to her same amount of eggs. While Rose whips whole eggs, Richard uses the more typical version of whipped egg whites and sugar to create a meringue that gets folded into the batter. (Note: I did omit the optional cognac and orange zest). This creates a souffle-like cake that intentionally collapses in the center.
Because this is such a popular recipe that many have riffed upon, I think many will recognize this as what they expect a flourless chocolate cake to be. An amazing bittersweet chocolate flavor permeates the slightly airy, cakey texture. This feels like the silky, non-gritty version of America’s Test Kitchen but with a deeper chocolate flavor. While I personally found this to be a little dry in contrast to Claire’s denser, moister cake, many tasters loved how this struck the right balance between being dense but not overly fudgy.
- Very balanced chocolate flavor with some hints of coffee. Nice crumb and not too dense. Very balanced cake!
- Best balance to me of fudgey, soft, sweet, not too moist. I want to eat it for breakfast with tea.
- My #3, brownie meets mousse, giving me dense pavlova vibes (in a great way)
- Like [America’s Test Kitchen] but with a smoother texture. LOVE the fudginess, and chocolate is more nuanced.
- Light consistency, too much air and weird flavor like it has too much cocoa powder
Trish DeSeine: a smooth and silky but not overly dense, richly chocolate-y cake
Trish calls the taste and texture of this a “cooked, intensely flavored chocolate mousse.” It calls for almost equal amount of butter, dark chocolate, sugar and eggs (slightly more eggs). Frustratingly for gluten-free folks, it calls for just 1 tablespoon of flour (though you could easily omit this or use cornstarch instead). Trish’s recipe was also perhaps the least fussy as you simply melt the butter and chocolate together, then stir in the sugar and eggs (no whipping!).
It’s easy to see why this cake has achieved such fanfare–it’s deeply dark and chocolatey. For me, it strikes the perfect balance between a mousse and a cake–kind of like a mix between Handle the Heat and Claire Saffitz. While it might look quite fudgy in the photos, it actually feels quite light and has a delightful texture that melts in your mouth. She suggests making it the day before to let the flavors develop and I can attest that the flavors are AMAZING.
- This is my ideal chocolate flourless torte! I’m not sure how it could get better. Maybe it could be a TAD less fudgey, but I prefer a fudgey torte. The flavor is deep, rich, and more complex than the others. Love this one.
- Very soft and gooey which was nice, but unexpected. I think I’d try a brownie recipe if I wanted the gooey factor, instead of looking to a cake for that. Enjoyable though
- Tied for favorite. Best flavor. A softer, less dense example out of the firm/fudgy options.
- Super smooth, fudge like, nutty aftertaste
- Great for flavor but too dense and dark… I couldn’t take more than a bite
Best Flourless Chocolate Cake Recommendations
Erika’s picks: Claire Saffitz, Trish DeSeine, Dorie Greenspan
Best ultra-fudgy, rich and dense cake: Cake by Courtney, Handle the Heat
Best lighter, airy cakes: Richard Sax, Claire Saffitz, Alison Roman
Best soft and fudgy cake: Rose Levy Beranbaum
Best bang for your buck (least amount of chocolate used): Trish DeSeine (at just 200g or less than 8oz)
Thank you for including one of my most loves flourless chocolate cakes. What fabulous study and reviews!
Love this Bake-off so much! So happy you explained the difference between a Torte Caprese and a flourless CC. Thanks Erika!
SO excited to try! I love how many different variations you tested.
I think the Cake by Courtney recipe has a broken link. Here’s where I found it for those who are looking: https://cakebycourtney.com/flourless-chocolate-cake/