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Chocolate : Bar Exam

April 22, 1993|RUTH REICHL | TIMES FOOD EDITOR

Recipes for chocolate concoctions are constantly admonishing you to buy the best chocolate you can find. That's all very well if you're using an ounce or two, but when you're baking a cake that calls for a half pound of chocolate, or more, it can turn into an expensive proposition. After all, Valrhona, the chocolate considered to be the best on the market, is almost $10 a bar in many specialty shops. Does it really make a difference?

To find out, The Times Test Kitchen recently baked six versions of this simple but elegant chocolate cake, using a different chocolate in each one. We chose this recipe because it is a dessert that uses very few ingredients and has a pure and intense chocolate flavor.

The results were astonishing.

We tasted the mixture before baking and again after it was baked. In each case we found that the taste of the different chocolates varied immensely and had a huge impact on the flavor of the final dessert. The variations were not merely in sweetness but in the very seasoning of the chocolates: Some tasted strongly of vanilla; some were neutral, some very sweet; some had a strongly roasted flavor.

But most importantly, we found that price was not the main consideration. In fact, we found that the price of chocolate is a whole story in itself: It can change dramatically depending upon where and in what quantity it is purchased. The Valrhona chocolate, which we bought in bulk at the gourmet outlet Van Rex in Culver City for the prices listed below, is sold in 8 3/4- ounce bars at one supermarket for $9.49. Since we purchased most of these chocolates in large quantities, the price of good old reliable Baker's chocolate, which we all buy in little boxes in the supermarket, seems uncharacteristically expensive.

Trader Joe's Pound Plus Bittersweet Chocolate

$2.39 for 17.6 ounces or 13 cents per ounce

Mouth-filling and deliciously intense chocolate flavor; not too sweet; lovely warm-brown color.

Valrhona Bittersweet Chocolate

$21.45 for 6.6 pounds or 20 cents per ounce; $2 for 3.5-ounce bar or 58 cents per ounce

Intensely chocolate; very grown-up flavor; wonderful warm roasted taste.

Guittard Bittersweet

$18.40 for 10 pounds or 12 cents per ounce

Slight sweetness and a strong vanilla flavor. Darkest chocolate of the group.

Baker's Semi-Sweet Chocolate

$2.67 for 8 ounces or 33 cents per ounce

Sweetest and most neutral tasting. Warm brown. Very American taste. This one made a sophisticated European cake taste like Mom's brownies.

Cacao Barry

$27 for 10 pounds or 17 cents per ounce; $8.03 for 2.2 pounds or 23 cents per ounce

Light brown color. Excellent flavor.

Ghirardelli

$16.49 for 10 pounds or 10 cents per ounce; $1.89 for 4 ounces or 47 cents per ounce

Burnt tobacco flavor. Color is on gray side.

This recipe comes from Patricia Wells' book, "Bistro Cooking" (Workman: $12.95). It's a wonderfully easy, very satisfying cake for those who like the taste of chocolate and do not want it to be masked by a lot of sugar or other flavors. The original recipe offers the option of using a deep, non-stick baking pan, but we suggest a springform pan as repeated tests have found that the cake is very difficult to remove from a regular cake pan.

MON GATEAU AU CHOCOLAT

12 ounces bittersweet chocolate

2/3 cup unsalted butter

3/4 cup granulated sugar

5 large eggs, separated

1/3 cup flour

2 teaspoons powdered sugar

Combine chocolate, butter and granulated sugar in top of double boiler placed over simmering water. Melt over medium heat, stirring until ingredients are blended. Set aside to cool.

Whisk egg yolks in large bowl. Whisk in cooled chocolate mixture. Whisk in flour.

Beat egg whites in large bowl just until firm peaks form. Do not overbeat. Add 1/3 egg whites to chocolate mixture and mix vigorously. Gently fold in remaining whites.

Pour batter into well-buttered 9 1/2-inch springform pan and bake at 350 degrees until cake is firm and springy, about 35 minutes.

Remove from oven and cool on rack several hours before unmolding. Dust with powdered sugar. Makes 12 servings.

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