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Baking chocolate bourbon cake in Canton with a pal of Julia Child
We raid the Quick Bites larder for tips from master baker Nick Malgieri
This story is part of a special series.

Vivian Goodman
Julia Child once insisted he add whipped cream to a dessert and Nick wasn't going to argue.
Courtesy of Jennifer Wolfe Webb, Director, the Cucina at Gervasi Vineyard
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The Mayans were wrong about some things but not about chocolate. They considered it a gift from the gods. But baking with chocolate can be tricky, so
today we raid the Quick Bites larder for tips from a renowned chocolatier.

LISTEN: a second helping of Nick Malgieri's chocolate cake

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Nick Malgieri has baked with the best at the Waldorf Astoria and Windows on the World and as director of baking at New York’s Institute of Culinary Education. 

He recalls the finale of a dessert class with Julia Child. 

“I cut a piece and served it to Julia first, and she tasted it and she said, ‘This would be a lot better with some whipped cream.’"

Did he agree with her? 

“What could I do? We dropped everything and made some whipped cream.” 

"Chocolate," one of Malgieri’s 10 books, won a Julia Child cookbook award. 

“Chocolate’s been a big part of my life since birth. But aside from enjoying chocolate and loving it, since I started teaching, baking chocolate has been one of the things that people are always attracted to. So schedule a chocolate class and you know it’ll fill.”  

Go slow to avoid lumps
The first thing his students learn is how to melt chocolate without letting it get lumpy. It won’t go smoothly, he says, if you crank up the heat. 

“Sugar in chocolate and -- in milk and white chocolate, milk solids -- aren’t dissolved. They are just very finely ground up. And when the chocolate gets too hot, they can lump up.

"People say to me, ‘How do you get the lumps out of white chocolate when you’re trying to melt it?’ And they are very disappointed to find out the answer to the question is that they’ve put the lumps in themselves.”  

If you don’t want lumps, you heat it slowly. 

“The key to that is either to use a glass bowl and use the microwave -- only microwave for say 20 seconds at a time --  or bring a small pan of water to a boil, turn off the heat, and place a heat-proof bowl that has the chocolate in it over the hot water.... You can melt a couple of pounds of chocolate in a couple of minutes.” 

It doesn’t have to be the high-price brand
But what kind of chocolate is best for baking? 

“Don’t buy chocolate by price. The most expensive one is not necessarily the best one to use. Trust your judgment as far as taste is concerned. 

“Even if you go into a really ordinary supermarket, you’ll probably find a good six to eight brands of premium chocolate. And people always ask, ‘Should I use the French one? Should I use the Belgian one?’

"You have to taste them and see what you like.” 

For the chocolate bourbon cake we’re watching him make at Gervasi’s Cucina in Stark County, Malgieri uses bittersweet chocolate. He says even for those who prefer milk chocolate as candy, bittersweet works best in baking. 

“When you’re combining the chocolate with flour and sugar and butter and eggs and maybe further flavorings like vanilla or the bourbon -- as in the chocolate Bourbon cake -- the bitterness of the bittersweet chocolate is really no longer a question.” 

The technique
He lets us watch him at work. 

“First thing we’re going to do is cut up some butter and we’re going to melt it. So you see the butter only takes a couple of seconds to melt. Yeah, that’s getting a good sizzle there. OK. The heat is off.

"The chocolate goes in. We just give the pan a shake. I’m going to mix the flour and sugar together. And then by doing that, the grittiness of the sugar will break up any little lumps of flour. And then the eggs go right into the flour and sugar and then that gets whisked until smooth.”  
He warns that if you whisk too briskly for too long, the batter gets too much air in it and you ruin the texture. 

Another way he keeps the cake moist is adding dark brown sugar. That goes directly into the melted chocolate and butter. 

“And just whisk it around to the point where you no longer see any lumps of the brown sugar. Add the bourbon to the egg mixture and then scrape the chocolate and butter and brown sugar mixture right in. And then I’m going to put away the whisk and then just use my rubber spatula to stir this together smoothly. Smooth chocolaty batter. And there we have it! 

Alcohol content is minimal
OK for kids? 

“The amount of alcohol in the cake I don’t think is really significant, so that’s a judgment call on the part of parents.”  

They may just want to eat it all themselves. 

“Not all of the alcohol dissipates but enough so that it makes the flavor milder and that intrinsic sweetness of the bourbon can complement the flavor of the chocolate. It’s a great combination.”  

Nick Malgieri's newest book, “Nick Malgieri’s Bread,” includes a recipe for a flourless chocolate cake made with bread crumbs. 


The sweet, mellow flavor of Bourbon has a great affinity for chocolate.  Serve this unadorned cake with a little unsweetened whipped cream.

Makes one 8-inch cake, 8 to 10 servings 


  • 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
  • 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)
  • Pinch of salt
  • 5 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons best-quality Bourbon
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • Whipped cream for serving 
  • One 8-inch round 2-inch deep pan, buttered



  • Set a rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
  • Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat, allowing it to sizzle and get really hot.  Remove from heat, add chocolate and whisk smooth.
  • Whisk the sugar, granulated flour, and salt together and add all the eggs and Bourbon.  Whisk together smoothly.
  • Stir the brown sugar into the butter and chocolate mixture and stir into the batter.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake the cake for 25 minutes.
  • Cool the cake on a rack, then wrap and refrigerate it in the pan.
  • To serve the cake, remove it from the refrigerator and bring it to room temperature for 2 hours.  Invert to a platter and serve slices of the cake with whipped cream.
(Click image for larger view.)

Nick Malgieri uses an 8-inch pan for his Chocolate Bourbon Cake but he says you can also use the recipe for cupcakes.
(Jennifer Wolfe Webb, Director, the Cucina at Gervasi Vineyard)
Malgieri uses a spatula to mix the batter and does it gently so as not to put too much air into it.
Malgieri also made Chocolate Orange Walnut Tarts, Devils Food Cupcakes with Fluffy White Icing and more during his October 2013 visit to the Cucina at Gervasi Vineyard.
Malgieri says whether you use milk chocolate or dark chocolate depends on the recipe, but the bitterness of bittersweet chocolate doesn't come through when you add other sweet ingredients in baking.
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