Deep, Dark, Chocolate Mystery

Rich dark chocolate cake
The Deep, Dark Chocolate Mystery cake in Frances Schultz's California Cooking and southern Style is one of the superstar recipes by Chef Stephanie Valentine, who calls it her "secret weapon cake." The secret is the spicy hint of anise and the best quality chocolate possible. Photo Deboray Whitlaw Lewellyn

Love is a deep dark mystery…and chocolate. Hence this cake. But unlike the truly madly deeply  often messy love, this one freezes beautifully, so you can make it now to please you later…

If that sounded a bit risqué, okay, it’s almost Valentines Day and this calls for sexy chocolate. This is the chocolate you want, crave, desire, and deserve. This chocolate is rich, dark, creamy, hint of spicy,  and just-right-sweet. This chocolate is the kind that gives you a subtle shiver, then makes your toes curl, then… I better stop there. Gettin’ hot in here…

Chef Stephanie Valentine calls this her “secret weapon cake.” The mystery element is the hint of anise, via dark Sambuca, but you may substitute orange or coffee liqueur. Use the best chocolate. We like Valrhona. To make gluten-free, substitute almond flour for regular.

California Cooking and Southern Style

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Deep Dark Chocolate Mystery Cake
Serves: 10
The blend of licorice and chocolate is the deep and delicious mystery in this simplest and richest cake ever. Steph calls it her secret weapon and insists on the best quality chocolate, such as Vahlrona.
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Prep Time: 35 min
Prep Time
35 min
  1. 11 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  2. 6 ounces unsalted butter
  3. 6 eggs, separated
  4. ¾ cup light brown sugar
  5. 5 tablespoons flour, sifted
  6. ¼ cup black sambuca (or other) liqueur
  7. 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  8. ½ teaspoon salt
  9. Whipped cream, for serving
  1. Line the bottom of a 10-inch round springform pan* with parchment, butter and sugar the sides.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  3. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler, and set aside to cool.
  4. Beat the yolks with the sugar in a standing mixer until light in texture and color, about 5 minutes. Fold in the chocolate mixture, then gently fold in the flour. Add the Sambuca and the vanilla.
  5. Beat the egg whites and salt together just until stiff peaks form and fold 1/3 of the whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten, and then gently fold in the remaining whites.
  6. Pour into the prepared pan, spreading evenly. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
  7. Remove from the oven, cool for 10 minutes on a rack and then remove the sides of the pan to cool completely.
  8. Serve with whipped cream to which you’ve added a bit of liqueur and a little sugar.
  1. Black sambuca is more syrupy than its white counterpart, with a more intense anise flavor. You may substitute orange or coffee liqueur for the sambuca, and the cake can be made gluten-free by replacing the small amount of flour with an equal amount of almond flour.
  2. *If you don’t have a springform pan, bake in a 10-inch cake pan and allow to cool for 10 minutes before removing. To remove, run a knife around the edge, place a plate over the pan and invert the cake onto the plate. Place another plate on top of the cake and invert again to be right side up, and allow to cool completely.
Adapted from California Cooking and Southern Style
Adapted from California Cooking and Southern Style
Frances Schultz


  1. Mon dieu! Had my favorite patissier make this and it was terrific. He said it was incredibly easy too. He didn’t have Sambuca at hand so used Cointreau. Will try again soon with Sambuca. Five stars!

  2. My friends tell me that I make the best chocolate cake, so……., will the black sambuca make it better? I’m going to try.

    1. Do! And let me know what you think. I also sometimes add a bit of coffee and/or cinnamon to intensify the chocolate flavor – not enough to taste “coffee” or “cinnamon” but just the subtlest bit does do something to the chocolate. also If you’d like to share your recipe, I’d love to try it! Thanks for writing Dianne. x Frances

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