December 2007

Technique: Sous Vide Chocolate Cake
Chef Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake – San Francisco, CA
Adapted by StarChefs

Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake in San Francisco is known for eschewing the boundaries between sweet and savory – not just in flavor, but technique as well. Imagine a dessert recipe formatted the way a meat cook might prep a lamb belly: pre-cook in a vacuum bag low and slow, then portion, chill down overnight, and heat to order the next day. But this isn’t a lamb belly. It’s a chocolate cake.

Falkner starts out fairly traditionally, melting together the butter and chocolate and, in the meantime, cooking the sugar to soft ball and beating the egg whites on low for an Italian meringue. But read the recipe all the way through and you’ll see it’s not the oven that she’s preheating, it’s the thermal circulator. And it gets better: once the cake reaches a certain core temperature, it’s kept chilled until service when it’s microwave-d to order. That means a warm, fluffy, freshly “baked” cake on each plate.

Step 1: Melt chocolate and butter

Step 2: Make an Italian meringue

Step 3: Make a pate a bombe with brown sugar and combine with chocolate-butter mixture

Step 4: Fold meringue into chocolate mixture and divide in vacuum bags

Step 5: Cook in thermal circulator set at 71°C at setting 1.5 until core temperature reaches 65°C

Step 6: Chill and portion

Step 7: To serve, microwave to order for 30-45 seconds or until set

Elizabeth Falkner's The Sting: A Lashing of Numbing Exotic Spiced Fluid with a Rush of Warm Chocolate on StarChefs.comThe Sting: A Lashing of Numbing Exotic Spiced Fluid with a Rush of Warm Chocolate
Chef Elizabeth Falkner of Citizen Cake – San Francisco, CA
Adapted by

Yield: 10 Servings


  • 4 ounce cocoa nibs
  • 2 ounces Turbinado sugar
  • 1 ounce fleur de sel

    Pineapple Shot:
  • 2 pineapples, chopped
  • ½ cup brown sugar (up to a cup, to taste)
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 4 Hunan chilies
  • 5 pieces star anise
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cloves
  • 2 Tablespoons Tasmanian peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 Tablespoon Schezwan peppercorns
  • 1 Tablespoon Cubeb peppercorns
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • Xanthan gum
  • Lime juice, to taste
  • Passion fruit juice, to taste
  • Cassia oil, to taste

    Juniper Sauce:
  • 2½ cups water
  • 8 juniper berries
  • Sugar to taste
  • 4 grams agar-agar

    Tonka Bean Ice Cream:
  • 230 grams Trimoline (inverted sugar)
  • 230 grams sucanant (evaporated cane sugar)
  • 40 ounces cream
  • 40 ounces milk
  • 1 tonka bean
  • 8 grams guar gum

    Broken Chocolate Cake:
  • 1½ pounds dark chocolate
  • 6 ounces butter
  • 8 ounces sugar
  • 12 ounces egg whites
  • 7½ ounces egg yolks
  • 8 ounces brown sugar

For the Cocoa-Sel:
Combine the cocoa nibs, sugar, and fleur de sel in a food processor until they break down to even-sized grains.

For the Pineapple Shot:
Preheat oven to 275°F. Mix the pineapple and brown sugar and roast until medium-soft, approximately 20 to 30 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large pan over medium, add the canola oil and toast the Hunan chilies, star anise, coriander seeds, cloves, peppercorns and vanilla bean for several minutes until the oil is infused. Add the infused oil to the pineapple and continue to braise for 30 minutes. Puree the mixture in a Vita-Prep and strain through a chinois, then combine the puree with xanthan gum over medium heat and bring to a boil. Puree with immersion blender. Remove from the heat and finish with lime juice, passion fruit juice, and cassia oil to taste.          

For the Juniper Sauce:         
In a medium pot over medium heat, infuse the water with juniper and sugar. Once infused, add the agar-agar and boil for 2-3 minutes. Allow to cool and set, then blend the juniper gel with extra water in a Vita-Prep until it reaches sauce consistency.            
For the Tonka Bean Ice Cream:
Over medium heat, dissolve the sugars in the milk and cream. Add the tonka bean, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat. Add the guar gum to the mixture and blend with an immersion blender. Chill the ice cream overnight and spin for service with a Pacojet.

For the Broken Chocolate Cake:     
Melt the chocolate and butter together. In a small pot, heat the sugar with a small amount of water until it reaches soft ball. Gradually pour hot sugar into whisking egg whites to form an Italian meringue. Whisk until medium peaks form and the meringue is room temperature. Combine the egg yolks and brown sugar until sugar is fully dissolved, add the melted chocolate, and fold into the Italian meringue until just mixed.
Preheat thermal circulator regulated water bath to 71ºC. Divide the batter into four 8x12 Cryovac® bags and Cryovac® at setting 1-1.5. Cook at 71ºC until the cakes’ internal temperature reaches 65ºC. Chill and portion to 1.5 ounces servings. Microwave to order for 30-45 seconds until set and fluffy and sprinkle with Cocoa-Sel to order           

To Assemble and Serve:
Serve a piece of Broken Chocolate Cake with Juniper Sauce, Tonka Bean Ice Cream, and a Pineapple Shot in a shot glass on the side.