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Makes one 10-inch cake

This is the first fancy cake I ever attempted. It came from the celebrated graphic designer Milton Glaser, a friend and frequent diner at a restaurant near Woodstock, N.Y., where I worked. The rich and densely chocolate confection belonged to restaurateur George Lang’s Hungarian grandmother, Ilona (it was called Ilona cake). Glaser and Lang created Cafe des Artistes in New York City, where they served it.

CAKE

Butter (for the pan)
2cups walnuts
1cup sugar
5ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
¼cup water
6tablespoons unsalted butter, at room
temperature
8eggs, separated, at room temperature
¼teaspoon salt

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Butter a 10-inch springform pan with a removable base. Line the bottom with parchment cut to fit it. Butter the parchment. Cut out a 9-inch cardboard circle.

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2. In a food processor, combine the 2 cups walnuts and ¼ cup of the sugar. Pulse until very fine but not oily.

3. Bring a saucepan filled with 2 inches of water to a simmer. In a heatproof bowl that fits over the saucepan (but does not touch the water) combine the chocolate, the remaining ¾ cup sugar, and the ¼ cup water. Set it over the water and stir until the chocolate melts. Remove from the heat. Wipe the bottom of the bowl.

4. In an electric mixer set on medium speed, beat the butter until creamy. Add the yolks, one at a time, beating until the mixture is light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. With a rubber spatula, fold the melted chocolate and the walnuts into the batter. Transfer to a large bowl.

5. Thoroughly wash and dry the mixer bowl. Add the egg whites and salt and beat at medium speed until they form firm peaks. With a spatula, stir ¼ of the whites into the chocolate mixture. Fold in remaining whites until evenly combined. Transfer to pan and smooth the top.

6. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Set the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 2 hours, or until completely cool (the center of the cake sinks as it cools).

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7. Gently press down the edges of the cake to flatten them so that they are even with the center. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and release the rim. Remove the parchment and transfer the cake to the cardboard.

GLAZE

½cup heavy cream
1tablespoon light corn syrup
1tablespoon instant espresso
6ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2tablespoons butter
8extra walnut halves (for garnish)

1. Have on hand a rimmed baking sheet, an unopened 28-ounce can, and a metal offset spatula.

2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream, corn syrup, and espresso to a simmer. Add the chocolate and butter and push them into the hot cream to immerse them. Remove the pan from the heat. Leave for 5 minutes, or until the chocolate melts. Stir just until smooth.

3. In a small bowl, pour ½ cup of the glaze. Refrigerate for 10 minutes, or until cool and thick enough to spread. Leave the remaining glaze in the saucepan; do not stir.

4. Brush off as many loose crumbs as you can from the cake. Stir the refrigerated glaze. It should look like thick, spreadable frosting. Spread it into the cracks, then around the cake in a thin layer. This undercoat will not look beautiful, but it should be smooth. Refrigerate the cake for 10 minutes just to set the coating, but not chill the cake (cold cake will spoil the glaze).

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5. On the baking sheet, place the can. Center the cake on top of it. If the glaze has cooled, gently reheat it to about 90 degrees, stirring briefly until perfectly smooth and the consistency of heavy cream.

6. Pour the glaze on the top of the cake in the center. With a spatula, using 2 to 3 strokes, spread the glaze over the top and let it to run down the sides. Scoop up excess glaze with the spatula to touch up bare spots on the sides of the cake. Place the walnut halves evenly around the top edge. Leave to set for at least 20 minutes. Store and serve at room temperature.
Sally Pasley Vargas