As on most grey days in Paris, a deep internal conflict was taking up most of my energy. I looked up from my book and watched the raindrops pile up on the living room window of our apartment. Swelling and colliding with each other, they grew unsustainably large before rolling down the pane of glass and dropping to the slick, grey streets below.
On weekends when the city’s clouds feel dispiriting, seeing a movie in the Quartier Latin is an effective way to lure myself outside. There were plenty of matinee screenings to choose from and I considered seeing The Misfits but ultimately gave in to the undeniable draw of Casablanca (for the fourth time).
Gentle drizzle fell on my face as I left the unkept raspberry pink entryway of my apartment building. Although it had been a struggle to convince myself to step outside, my efforts were instantly rewarded. The beautiful scene confirmed the cliché—Paris really is one of the few cities that look better in the rain.
I took my usual route towards the metro with my headphones on and quickly forgot about the umbrella I had dutifully stashed in my purse. I soon reached the entrance to the metro and bopped happily down the stairs.
As I arrived at the platform, I heard sharp beeps signaling closing metro doors above the chorus of “This Old Heart Of Mine.” I slowed my pace before becoming emboldened a second later. Things seemed to be going my way, why not test my luck? The mechanical doors slid into place as my right foot left the platform. The black edges of the doors caught my shoulders and I thought of the unfortunate souls who had gone before me.
In some cities, doors open automatically if a person has been trapped. Not so in Paris. Seconds after I realized I had been caught, five fellow passengers were already at work, either pulling on my arms or leaning into the doors to allow the second half of my torso to pass.
After being rescued from an untimely death, I clumsily uttered my thanks to the compartment before scuttling off to a different section of the train. My embarrassment faded and was replaced by relief for the unshakable constancy of my world. I smiled to myself in the more anonymous crowd. As I see it, Parisians will always help strangers clear the metro doors, Casablanca will forever be the best movie to see on a rainy Saturday and moelleux aux chocolat will never renounce its rightful place as a jewel in the crown of French cuisine.
This cake is the more elegant equivalent of a pan of brownies. Whipped egg whites give this rich chocolate cake a light texture and caramelized almonds with fleur de sel draw out its intense flavor.
Moelleux au Chocolat:
Adapted from a Marmiton recipe.
Makes one 20-22cm cake (6 people).
Moelleux au Chocolat
200g dark chocolate
8g baking powder
- Preheat oven to 180°C.
- Butter and flour the baking tin.
Melt chocolate over low heat in a saucepan, stirring frequently so the chocolate does not burn.
Remove from heat and stir in butter. Then stir in flour and baking powder.
Separate the egg yolks and egg whites in two bowls. Pour half of the sugar into the egg yolks and whisk vigorously until color lightens. Add the egg yolks to the chocolate mixture.
Whisk egg whites to soft peaks and add remaining sugar (little by little) until firm peaks form.
Fold egg whites into the chocolate mixture gently until well combined.
- Immediately pour into baking tin and bake for about 35 minutes.
- Allow to cool before unmolding.
Caramelized Almonds with Fleur de Sel
1 tbsp unsalted butter
2-3 generous sprinkles of fleur de sel
- Place a piece of greased parchment paper (use butter or a neutral oil) on a heat-resistant surface (I used a large wooden cutting board).
- Heat sugar and butter in a saucepan, stirring frequently.
- Once the sugar has dissolved, continue stirring until the sugar has reached a deep, golden brown color.
- Add the almonds and continue stirring. The relatively cool temperature of the almonds will cause the mixture to solidify somewhat but after a few minutes of stirring the sugar crystals will liquify again.
- When the golden caramel coats the almonds evenly, sprinkle two generous pinches of fleur de sel over the mixture while stirring.
- Pour onto parchment paper (I recommend pouring down the center of the paper in a straight line for a thinner layer of caramel).
- Add another pinch of fleur de sel.
- Allow to cool and then cut into chunks and decorate cake.