The Chocolate Cake Recipe I Found on a Men’s Room Wall

cake

I was having dinner at Racines a few weeks ago, and excused myself during the meal to run upstairs and use the facilities. While up there, I had a few minutes to stare at the wall in front of me, which was covered with pictures and pages of text from various books. One page stopped me mid-moment, it was are recipe for something called Gâteau Zoë.

It was a pretty simple-looking recipe and when I finished up and went back downstairs, I noticed it on the menu, so we ordered it. And it was delicious! Because I’m a terrible journalist and never seem to carry either at the same time—and obviously, inspiration can strike in the most unlikeliest of places…at the most unlikeliest of times—I ran back up to the bathroom to jot it down.

They must’ve thought I had a problem, or perhaps not, since Americans are famous for our need to go to the bathroom. (I swear, these people have the most amazing capacity for holding it in. Which is great since there’s never a line for the restroom at events, although the women seem to do it better than the men judging by the tell-tale trails in many nooks & crannies around town.)

But I didn’t care: I’ll do anything for a great chocolate cake recipe.

Even feign incontinence.

espresso springform

Unfortunately when I got home, in my excitement I realized I forgot to write down the correct amount of sugar in the recipe. Which is, for sure, the nail in-the-coffin for my fledgling career as a journalist. Rule number one is to always carry a notepad and a pen.

Speaking of rules, in the previous post I did about Racines, a commenter mentioned that he’s had a less-than-cordial welcome when he went there to dine. He didn’t have a reservation and was hopeful he could get a bite to eat, but was turned away. And that was true the night we ate there: several non-French folks were turned away. Not because they weren’t French, but because they didn’t have reservations.

I, too, used to think some of the dining rules around here were archaic until I lived here for a while and understood them better. For one thing, restaurants here are small and dining rooms are often staffed by one or two people. At Racines, the owner is the waiter, host, busboy, and runner, so if you walk in at 9pm and the dining room is packed, he might not be so gracious.

butteringpan

There’s a few rules in France that I’ve learned to follow, that I wouldn’t have understood if I didn’t live here:

One is to make reservations. I used to think it was odd that if I showed up and there were empty tables, they wouldn’t seat me. In France, when you reserve a table in most restaurants, you have the table for the night. So those empty tables you see that are calling your name are often reserved. Thankfully in Paris, things aren’t so crazy and you can often get a table by calling that afternoon in all but the most sought-after joints. Seriously, you can often get an 8pm reservation at 7:45pm

egg yolks egg whites

Like small shops in Paris, it also helps to think of restaurants in Paris as someone’s home, where you’re considered a guest. You wouldn’t show up at someone’s house for dinner without calling first, would you? It’s not a better or worse arrangement than elsewhere. It’s just different than what we may be used to*—and that’s how it is.

(Racines has an online booking form, but I haven’t used it. I recently asked a French representative from Open Table how they’re doing in Paris, and he just laughed. “The restaurants here don’t want to give up any part of their reservation book,” he told me. “They want complete control of the dining room.” And sure enough, there are currently only ten restaurants listed on their site in Paris.)

A second thing to remember is to realize the folks are busy. In most restaurants in Paris, there aren’t hosts, a team of waiters, busboys buzzing around clearing plates and refilling water glasses, and runners rushing out the food. In moderate-sized places, there may be one or two waiters, or in the case of places like Racines or Le Severo, there may just be one person taking care of the whole dining room.

Imagine if you went to a similar-sized restaurant in New York or Los Angeles and there was only one person taking care of the whole dining room? People would flip out. I get a kick out of reading online restaurant reviews, when people say things like, “The waiters did not come by enough to refill our water glasses”, or “No one came to our table to see how everything was.”

I’m at the point now where I just want to be left alone, and don’t need busboys tripping over each other, sprinting across the dining room for a refill after I’ve taken a tiniest sip from my glass. I just want the waiter to take my order, bring me my food, and make sure the wine is flowing. If I need something else, I’m capable of asking. After all, I am an adult.

And third, restaurants often have categories and being France, each has its own peculiar, government-issued rules, such as if you can get wine by the carafe (some cafés apparently can only sell it by the glass), where the steak tartare has to be assembled (restaurants are supposed to mix it in full view of the diners), and what constitutes a wine bar.

A wine bar in France refers to any place that offers a selection of wines and notes the characteristics on a sign. Some places, like Le Verre Volé, are wine bars, but they can’t serve a glass of wine to anyone who’s not eating. So you can’t just stop in for a glass of wine. Which, admittedly, sucks, because I like that place and would love to stop in just for a drink.

cocoa in pan

The last rule to remember is perhaps the most important. And that is never, ever go into a restaurant or café just to use the bathroom. Even if it is under the guise of trying to get a recipe, unless you wanted to get ripped a new one, I don’t recommend trying it.

So, if I didn’t go back and sneak in the bathroom, how did I finally get that cake recipe?

When I was on the train to Provence at Thanksgiving to go olive picking, I picked up a food magazine at the gare and while flipping through it, came upon an article about Pierre Jancou. And there it was, his recipe for Gâteau de Zoë sans farine.

cake

Voilà!

With a recipe firmly in hand, I made the cake a few times, and decided that it was okay, but needed an all-American jolt of chocolate. So I dialed that up 50% (to 300g) and it was over-the-top great.

So you won’t find me loitering around rest rooms anymore, looking for recipes, which is probably much to the relief of all. (Although admittedly, I do seem to have better luck than a certain senator did.)

But I do want to get back to Racines. And when I do, I’m definitely going to make a reservation. And bring a pad and pencil, just in case.



UPDATE: I’ve reproduced the recipe and it’s in my book, Ready for Dessert.

109 comments

  • Haha, great story! I would have taken a photo of the recipe with my phone. Quicker! :)

  • Nice one, I always find it nice to see that each and every country has its own little quirks :-) Apart from that, the cake looks fantastic too!

    @Christy I don’t know, I would feel emberassed to take a picture in the loo, just imagine someone standing outside your cubicle and hearing the “click” of the camera oO

  • What a fabulous story. Looks rich and delicious. Are Americans really known for having to go the bathroom often? I wonder what causes the difference??

  • That’s hilarious that you found a recipe in the bathroom…I’m not too surprised though since you ARE in Paris. ; ) I’ll have to dig out my French dictionary to translate that recipe (it looks good!), my French is rusty. Thanks for sharing!

  • That certainly looks worth several trips to the bathroom,
    I too have found taking a quick photo of recipes with my phone saves having a pencil, never in the loo though, guess you’d have to grunt at the right moment!

  • I’m constantly in awe of the French ability to hold it. Is it genetic? Is it is taught at a very early age? How do they do it?
    Wish I had the same talent!

    Very, very good resto advice for visitors. And that cake looks scrumptious!

  • Hilarious! I think I figured out the french recipe (I do understand food words), just one question about adding what to what which way around: You add first the yolk mix and then the whipped whites to the chocolate mix, right?

  • Ditto on the phone idea. Hilarious place to find the recipe!

  • Thanks for the thoughts on using my cell phone camera, but I can’t figure out how to save and send photos with mine. And I don’t have five hours to spend in line at the France Telecom office to find out. (There are a lot of things around here like that…)

    But hey, don’t you like my scribbles?

    Hande: I will save my rant about recipes in some of the French food magazines for another day. This one, I added the beaten yolks to the chocolate mix, then the whites. Be sure to dial up the chocolate, like I did: I think the test kitchen must’ve taken the day off when they wrote this one up. Although that is his original recipe, as you can see from my frantic scribblings.

  • Oh how mean! All that big buildup, great story, funny asides and now you won’t put the recipe in English? Oh mean, mean, mean. You’re becoming too French, you mean thing.

  • Thank you David!
    PS: I almost always increase the amount of chocolate in a recipe, except yours! I was shocked when Nicky increased the amount of chocolate in one of my recipes, never thought that was possible. Will forever be a black spot in my baking history.

  • I can’t tell if you slipped in the etiquette advice in with the recipe, or slipped the recipe in with the etiquette! In any case, it’s true and useful. Rarely do restaurants here have a “host” waiting there with those little beepers to give out. Nor do they make you wait a second time after calling your beeper *cough* Cheesecake Factory *cough*

    The only way I’ve found to get around those no-reservation problems is to develop a relationship with the owners ;) and get there before 8pm…better 7:30pm. And eat fast. Sometimes they’ll slip you in before a later reservation.

  • My son has come to the conclusion that French people either: a) have no bladders at all, and that everything is just recycled through the body somehow, or b) their entire body consists of no other internal organs, just one vast, enormous-capacity bladder. He’s leaning toward b), as there ARE toilets available, so apparently they need them eventually.

    No matter what other advice you seek or listen to regarding visiting Paris, make sure this is at the top of the list:

    Make sure that you avail yourself of toilet facilities whenever you find them. Whether you have to go or not.

    Because the next one might not appear for a long, long time, and it’s better to keep ahead of things.

  • Your point on reservations being necessary is SO important. This is why my visiting friends don’t understand when I freak out when they want to just leave the option for dinner open. I want to scream NO PEOPLE YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!! We *must* reserve or we’ll be shut out! It really induces anxiety for me . . you’re right, though, that often, just calling on the way over will still work, but I always think that I have to figure out a few days ahead of time what (my friends and) I will be in the mood for four or five days hence . . .

  • My French is also minimal so I googled the recipe and clicked translate. My, my, my– it provided a very literal yet entertaining translation!

  • I have to disagree with you on the no-peeing in cafes… I’ve gotten away with it because I’m 22 and a girl and my French accent is pretty decent and usually I’m with other cute young girls. Aren’t cafes required by law to let you pee? Last time I was in one of those Mairie-sponsored metal cabines outside… well, let’s just say it was the last time.

    Also, sometimes you just have to put your pride aside and walk on in there like you know what you’re doing.

  • I really could read an entire book of these stories…so charming…an informative to boot! And I really love that you found the coveted recipe en route to an olive grove. Makes me want to move to France!

  • Can you help with petit café tres serré? I can get the petit café but not the tres serré. Thanks!

  • Hi,

    David what are those chocolately, crunchy looking bits on top of the finished product? They look delicious…..did you dust the mold with flour or cocoa? Would it make a huge difference? Thanks.

    Great story btw…..as usual :)

  • This is a really useful explanation of why reservations are so important. I never had any, because I’m so pathetic in my French that I can’t make a phone call. So in Paris I ate lunch out (no reservations!) and dinner in my apartment (this allowed me to buy all those lovely things in the shops).

    I can see, though, exactly why they’re so necessary. And it’s comforting to think that if I eventually learn to ask for a table I can expect it to be mine for the night. What a nice change *that* would be.

    Meanwhile – the bathroom thing is so funny. I found that there were bathrooms everywhere. Perhaps I’m just particularly bathroom-attuned. They were in museums, cafes, and shops. Of course, Mother and I stopped for a cafe creme or lunch about every 2 hours, so there was always a handy bathroom. But I guess I was lucky. It never seemed to me that there was a shortage of toilet space.

  • Are those cocoa nibs on top?

    And did you go with the coffee or the orange-flower water?

  • How many ounces or grams in a “tasse” of strong coffee?

    And your scribbles have something about H20 (a drop of orange water?) — was that your flourish?

  • All that and you’re not going to share the recipe? It looks so good. *sniff*

  • Man this was a great story and the cake looks great!

  • I’m salivating just by looking at this gorgeous cake. Could u please please translater into English so that I can try my hand at this delicious cake? Cheers

  • It is the bane of my NYC dining existence that many reservations must be made a month out, and yet another reason that I have grown to love eating at the bar.

    The cake looks great, but the story of how you found it is even better.

  • Love how you are inspired with each new blog entry, though this one seems to “take the cake” (sorry!). I have a similar recipe that also includes just a a couple of tablespoons of flour. What difference does the flour make?

    Your explanation about reservations is spot on. I finally discovered this for myself–it’s common courtesy to the restaurant even if you call 15-30 min. ahead of time and, if you live in Paris, it’s the first step to what might turn out to be a long term relationship. It’s so cool when you call a place and they recognize your voice. You’ve made it true “regular” status.

  • Great story! Amazing looking cake! I want a bite right now! That will be the next recipe I try…I’m thinkin it would be great for my Valentine’s dinner en famille! :)
    It’s great you have the perspective of having lived in France for a while that you now understand these subtleties that are just so often misunderstood by Americans travelling abroad. Thanks for pointing that out to help us all be better guests next time we visit (soon, I hope soon!).

  • other side of the river: A tasse of coffee “serre” (tight) is one strong espresso worth.

    Lisa (and Diana): I skipped the orange flower water and sprinkled the top with cocoa nibs, which were terrific.

    Dani & Barbra: What’s funny is that when I lived & worked in San Francisco, the only place I could go on my night off was Chez Panisse (which was always a difficult reservation to begin with), since I worked there and could get in.

    It’s funny to have to plan 2-3 months in advance where you want to eat, then call, only to be told; “We just have 5:30 or 11:45.”

    Nellie: Yes, if you’re a girl, or pregnant, you can sometimes get away with it. But a friend of mine got screamed at as she headed towards the restroom. So your days are numbered—and then I can say I told you so! ; )

  • David – Thanx for a fabulous story and such a wonderful explanation of Parisian culture. I LOVE that you can discover French scribbling texts from books and also recipes on bathroom walls! I really, really enjoy your blog…almost as much as your recipes!

  • This looks fabulous and I will try soon. This looks slightly similar to a chocolate loaf cake by Nigella Lawson which I actually like quite a lot but think could be slightly more elegant or “mature” tasting.

    I wish I could find recipes on restaurant bathroom walls!

  • If anyone has translated this, would they please post it or send it to me? It looks delicious. Babelfish made it even more confusing.

  • daveed daid : I’m at the point now where I just want to be left alone, and don’t need busboys tripping over each other, sprinting across the dining room for a refill after I’ve taken a tiniest sip from my glass. I just want the waiter to take my order, bring me my food, and make sure the wine is flowing. If I need something else, I’m capable of asking. After all, I am an adult.

    hahahaha :D
    Congratulations, you’re a real french customer :)

    I remember once in a crêperie near my appartment a nice buttered galette I was trying to enjoy as it deserved… but I couldn’t because the owner of the place could’nt help talking to me, chatting, asking questions and coming back again and again to see if everything was ok.
    It’s not a good customer service habit I think : I did not say a word about her annoying behavior, but I won’t go back there again, I mean EVER. (and it’s not because galettes are serious matter that need to be enjoyed in silence, even if this is partly true :D. And about galettes, how went yours ?)

  • david said on twitter : ” This Creativi-Tea I just brewed looks like someone slit their wrists over it. Needless to say, it’s not inspiring creativity ”

    hmm… seems that it IS inspiring at leat to be creative metaphoricaly :D

  • krysalia: Last time we stayed at a chambre d’hote (B & B), every morning while we were eating breakfast, the owners stood over the table the entire time talking to us the whole time. I am not pleasant first thing in the morning, and tried to ignore them. Romain, being bien élevé, talked to them.

    I know they were trying to be nice…but every day? It got a little much.

    I was thinking that bed & breakfast owners could make some extra money by charging 10 bucks if they promise not to come over and talk to you over breakfast. I’d gladly pay!

  • Thanks for the rules for dining! I lived in Dijon for a year but never went anywhere especially nice since I was a student. I always feel much more comfortable when I understand the norms/rules of wherever I am.

  • thank you for this post! you are delightful!

    I think I mostly have the recipe figured out, but was wondering if you could help me out with the size of the pan you used?

    and, from what I can gather, the center of the cake will a little liquid-y still after the cooking time? hmmm..that last sentence of the recipe is a tough one..

    Thanks!

  • Oh, I strongly agree : I would gladly pay, too !

    But I wouldn’t be as polite as Romain in that case, I think I would have said to them “heuuu ? CASSEZ-VOUS et ne revenez pas, en fait. Merci :)“, probably 5 to 10 minutes after they came at my table the second day. (in the morning, I’m not pleasant nor patient at all, but several days… uh, I won’t even try to imagine the challenge.)

    The sad thing is that those bed and breakfast owners were maybe doing this because of some other clients, complaining from being left alone. The restaurants and the hotels should have a sign for this, designed as “do not disturb” one.

  • I love the upload of your scribbled recipe.

  • David and chocolate! Of course it’s delicious! I mean the chocolate cake!
    Cheers,
    Elra

  • Can’t believe that senator didn’t use the old, “I’m just here for the recipes” line!

  • What a great story!

    How come all restaurants don’t post their recipes in the bathroom? I’ve been to a few where I’d love to have the recipe, and some places I’d like to flush it down the toilet.

  • Inspiration (and recipes) can come from anywhere!

  • What a fabulous thing to see your hand after only knowing your font. Beauty (and deliciousness) comes from all places, no?

  • I cannot believe but my high school French from 14 yrs ago is actually good enough to read the recipe.

  • Is that strawberry ice cream plated with that cake?

  • Oooh, will it go well with Fresh Ginger Ice Cream? I’d like to prepare some sort of cake to pair with the ice cream for a dinner party tonight. I just froze the ice cream this morning, and as my two-year old and I sat to clean out the freezing tub (at 8:30 a.m.), I had an interesting revelation–that stuff tastes very much like Fruit Loops!

  • Your posts always put a smile on my face. Too hilarious… every time. I love the last picture with the baked top and sexy crack. Also.. I’d like to take this opportunity to apologize for saying sexy crack on you lovely blog. My bad.

  • David,

    You’re killing me! I read your post today about the fab chocolate cake you had at Racines (sp?) and then I clicked the link to get the recipe, to make this weekend for a dinner a la France I’m doing for some dear friends. And of course, my worst nightmare, it was all in French!

    Did you translate in your head, or (my dream come true) translate it on paper?

    Either way, i really want to make it, but cannot do so until it’s in English! Dang it!

    Any chance you could oblige this Seattlite in need (I mean seriously, it’s 40 degrees here and raining its ass off….give a girl a break!) and send me the basic translation of the recipe?

    I would be forever grateful!

    Your biggest Emerald City admirer,

    Siiri

  • I love choclate and good chocolate cake is hard to top. We have had a similar recipe in our family since I was very young but I look forward to trying this!! Thanks, it looks lip-smackingly lekker!

  • *

    6 œufs bio = 6 eggs
    200 g de bon chocolat noir = 200 grams good dark chocolate
    120 g de beurre Bordier demi-sel = 120 grams Bordier 1/2 salt butter
    1 tasse de café très serré = 1 espresso worth of coffee
    80 g de sucre en poudre = 80 grams of powdered sugar

    * Préparation : 10min preparation time
    * Cuisson : 15min cooking time
    * Temps Total : 25min total time

    as for grams to cups at things like that : http://tinyurl.com/avwfsw
    *

  • OOPS! forgot the actual directions

    Préchauffez le four à th. 6-7/200°. preheat oven to 200 degrees Celsius (http://tinyurl.com/aug8xk)
    Séparez les jaunes d’œufs des blancs. Battez les jaunes et le sucre jusqu’à obtenir un mélange homogène. separate egg yolks and whites. mix yolks and sugar just enough to to be thoroughly mixed.
    Battez les blancs en neige bien ferme. beat egg whites til stiff peaks form
    Faites fondre le beurre avec le chocolat et le petit café très serré. mix (im assuming melt?) butter, chocolate and coffee together
    Incorporez le mélange jaunes-sucre et les blancs en neige, mélangez et versez le tout dans un moule à manqué beurré et fariné. fold yolks/sugar in with egg whites, mix in chocolate/butter/coffee. pour in buttered/floured pan
    Enfournez et faites-le cuire 15 mn. bake for 15 min
    Sortez le gâteau du four, le cœur doit être coulant. im actually not too sure on this one, but i think i means leave the cake to cool, as the center wont be completely cooked.

  • A demi-tasse cup for espresso holds 5 fluid oz. Would 1/2 cup strong coffee be enough for the measurement? Or does “tres serre” mean tighten to the cupful for the full 5oz? David…could ya, please, or am I mistaken and this was just supposed to be a story?

  • Yeah. That sounds like something I’d do as well. A recipe is a recipe, dude! Although, I have to admit that public bathrooms would be so much nicer if they just papered everything in book pages. Maybe that’s how I’ll decorate the kitchen next time around!

  • What a neat way to find a recipe! It looks great!

  • That cake looks incredible! I love how you intertwined prep pics with the story, it made the cake have a personality all its own!

    Thanks Jess for the translation.

  • My tactic in France was to find a brasserie and order a beer, then avail myself of the facilities. This of course is somewhat counter productive and can quickly get out of hand.

  • David,
    Does it really take a “few minutes” for you to do your business? (chuckle, chuckle)

    Thanks for such a simple, yet elegant dessert recipe – it is perfect for the upcoming “holiday”!

  • Of all the places to find a recipe!!! It’s my first time to hear of this:-)

  • Many public wc in Paris are always out of order. Have you ever used them? I found it also strange that they have opening and closing times during the day. In my country, loos are open 24 hours a day.I had to dine in a restaurant in order to use the loo.:-)

  • Jess, that’s right. Fondre is to melt–“Fondue” is melted. So if you’re having Fondue, you’re having melted. I love that.

    I think the last bit means that when you take it from the oven the center should still be a bit liquidy–not quite set, and it will set while cooling.

    And here’s my theory on the peeing.

    No one drinks water. When served “une carafe d’eau”, it’s puny, like a bud vase. We would often ask ours to be filled 3 or 4 times, and get glared at. No one understood (and everyone stared at) my Nalgene bottle filled with water. No one sweats in the summer. And their skin? Look closely. You’ll see it. Crepey, grey, non-elastic. They all look about 10 years older than they are. Even the teenagers.

    I found many a bathroom (and even clean on-the-street cabines), though they weren’t always up to American standards. I’d rather be hydrated and healthy. (And I didn’t need to purchase any of those weird soins either.)

  • Michelle: It does if I’m distracted!

    Michaela: Just don’t send it to a handwriting analyst-when I wrote it, I was pretty stressed, using a sink basin as a ‘desk’…

  • The recipe reminds me of Wolfgang Puck’s “Favorite Chocolate Cake” (which is delicious!).

  • This is strangely like a recipe I made perhaps 40 years ago in another life. Mine had the top depression filled with coffee flavored whipped cream and bittersweet chocolate curls… very good I may say. The cake is so delicate that it is recommended to leave it on the bottom part of the springform pan. It is so beautiful when all dressed up that I thought it should be presented with a flourish.

    So I put it, metal disk and all, on a footed cake plate and carried it into my dinner party. The disk started to slide and I lurched to try to stop it and it flew across the room and hit a guest in the head. It then ever so slowly (as I remember it) flipped over and fell cream down on the carpet. No one at that party has ever forgotten it.

  • Didn’t you make another flourless chocolate cake recipe in your first cookbook, “Room for Dessert”–your chocolate orbit cake???? I didn’t go back and look at it, but this certainly seems very similar.
    If you want to get more details on mobile phone operations, go to the mfrs’ web site and get an operating manual there–most phone sellers can’t be bothered, even here in the US, they’d rather just sell than tell details.

  • Attention to Jess and others re: recipe translation

    “sucre en poudre” is actually superfine crystal sugar, not powdered sugar (which is “sucre glacée)

  • hi david,
    have you heard of puerto cacao?
    http://www.puerto-cacao.fr/
    what do you think of their chocolates? am curious…:-) cheers.

  • Hi Maya: I haven’t been yet. I heard about it and it’s on my lo-o-o-ong list of places I need to hit : )

  • oh my! this is certainly an eye-catching title! :)

    Could we have the recipe in English, please? Thanks. :)

  • “Le coeur doit être coulant” => when you cut the cake the center will probably spill a little / need not to be hard at all, nearly uncooked, only hot.

  • Looks really good. I guess I could make this for my girlfriend’s birthday and not tell her where the recipe came from?

  • Dear David, Thanks a whole bunch for this beautiful recipe. I served it for lunch in my kinda restaurant, of which I’m kinda of a chef. Les clients ont adoré ! I could only grab the last piece when nobody was looking, and there’s nothing left for tonight. Tonight’s guests will have to do with my regular brownie… All the best to you and thank you for your blog.

  • My last trip to Paris in 9/08, I stopped in Cafe Mistral — near the Seine with a great view of Notre Dame — for a quick something to eat. But first I asked the waiter in my so-so french, where was the toilette. Well, he was insanely sweet to me and not realizing that I planned to stay and eat though fully realizing that my accent was American, he whispered to me in “franglais” that “I should hurry in and out and try not to be seen by his boss… It’s not like in America,” he cautioned.

    I laughed and answered him back that I wanted to stay and eat. He was delighted and maybe relieved that he didn’t need to “hide the bad American woman” (moi) from his boss.

    I ran all the way down the stairs to the toilette, only to quickly run back up to get a coin to open the door! The insanely sweet waiter was waiting at the top of the stairs with a coin ready in hand.

    As he handed me the coin, I asked him laughing… “So, my footsteps have an American accent too?”

    He said, “yes, like this!” and he began humming Star Spangled Banner.
    (tres cute, insanely sweet… !

  • Oh David, this post is brilliant on so many levels!!

    I love the serendipity of finding the recipe on the train. It is so poetic, and just proves that this recipe was meant to be yours to tweak to perfection, and share with the world.

    Thank you for every delicious little morsel of it. What an excellent read!

    It’s no wonder we all love you so…

    XOXOXOX,

    ~ Paula

  • The bathroom thing, is it because Americans drink more? When I went to the States I saw enormous soft drinks. In Europe the standard drink sizes are much smaller. So Americans are they all running around with “big gulp” or extra tall lattes all the time or is this just my impression?

  • This is a great story. So from now on, each time you make this chocolate cake, you’ll remember where and when you got the recipe. Excellent.

  • Anna — Yes, I think you have a point there about we Americans always running around with drinks — tons of coffee to go and you can get a soda to go just about any where… so,yes as a New Yorker, I’d agree with your impression!

  • Hello David,

    I found your site when I was looking for recipes for Blood Oranges. I must say that your Blood Orange Sorbet was out of this world! I work for a fertilizer company that makes and ships their product world wide. I had the owner try the Blood Orange Sorbet and he was in heaven. He very carefully placed the lid back on the container I used and said he has some very important people he wants to have taste that!!

    My question is this, I would love to make the chocolate cake from Racines, however I don’t speak French and do not understand the ingredients other, than coffe, chocolate, butter and eggs. I can see it is a spring form pan from your pictures, I don’t understand the temperature. Can you help me out with this recipe? Can you type it out in English. HEE HEE,, I really want to try it. What is 120 oz of bordiersotte? Or, 1 goute orange flower H2O? I know H2O is water, I can make out the orange but what is that, orange juice? If so how much?

    15 min tres charde, ( in the oven for 15 min, at what temp?

    I must be stupid, I don’t understand this.

    Please help me.

  • as they say, you find good things in the most unlikely places! great story!

  • What size pan did you use?
    Thanks,
    Michelle

  • The photos look appetizing as always and inspires me to make it. Before I saw the english translation of the recipe from some of your readers, I tried to translate each line of the food magazine’s recipe using google’s translator. I understood the translation except the last line that google translated to “Remove the cake from the oven, the heart must be flowing.” Could you please explain the last step? Should this cake be served warm from the oven? Many thanks.

    I thoroughly enjoyed your funny article and will never forget it. Can you really trust a bathroom recipe? Since you love it, I will make it tomorrow and add more chocolate as you suggested.

  • Cathy — No, beurre demi-sel is salted butter — beurre doux is unsalted.

  • Cathy, demi-sel is still salted butter, but I see where you were confused, after I RTFA. It says it’s salted, but the way it’s worded, you could easily misunderstand.

    Demi-sel is definitely salted — and is a little saltier, even, than US salted butter.

    Salee will rip your tongue out.

    Doux is unsalted.

    My favorite (for spreading on bread and things) is au sel de (insert name here) – as in Sel de Guerande, fleur de sel, etc. It’s butter with big crystals of salt in it — and adds this gorgeous crunchy-salty-sweet flavor to nearly everything. Don’t cook with it – it would definitely alter the flavor, and probably not in the right way.

  • I have only ever had the warmest of welcomes at Racines. I miss it hugely now I no longer live in Paris. Those salads… that lardo! One evening, eating with visiting friends, we even got a generous amount of wine and dessert for free courtesy of Pierre…perhaps due to our obvious enthusiasm for the place and its ethos, but really, it merits it! And I always felt as though I were eating at a friend’s house – well, almost.

    I of course also love the Gateau Zoë… I always meant to ask who this Zoë was! Any idea, David?

  • She came in through the bathroom window
    left a recipe on the wall
    I thank God she was in a hurry
    and she didn’t write it in the stall

  • I had to laugh at this “I get a kick out of reading online restaurant reviews, when people say things like, “The waiters did not come by enough to refill our water glasses”, or “No one came to our table to see how everything was.”
    I never in my whole life in France encountered restaurant staff who “checked how everything was” until I was 23, and then I vividly remember my friend’s father who was at the table saying after the woman (who was one of the owners of the restaurant) walked away “il y a deux choses que je ne supporte pas, la premiere c’est qu’on me demande “ca a ete?” dans un restaurant et la deuxieme c’est les gens dans l’ascenseur qui disent “bonne journee” en sortant.” I totally get the first one but think the second one is so funny and odd in its own way. My friend and I still laugh about that. Living in the US means I have to repress the urge to tell wait staff to go away when they come to the table repeatedly to “see how everything is.”

  • Hilda: Lol! I don’t think I’ve ever had a waiter come to the table to see “How ya all doing?” in France. Except at Chez Omar, because for some reason, they love Romain and we get the best service in the world there and the waiters love hanging out at our table.

    But every time you enter or exit an elevator (or doctor’s office, or just about anywhere else) you always greet everyone. We once got in a cab at night and Romain got in first, said the obligatory “Bon soir, monsieur.” But since I got in second, I didn’t think it was necessary. Boy, was I wrong! He stopped the cab, turned to me, and asked me why I hadn’t said, “Good evening.”

  • I made this yesterday and it turned out great. I divided the sugar and mixed half with the yolks and half into the whites after they started foaming. I used a 9″ cake pan that I buttered and floured. I let it cool in the pan and it released just fine. I used 320g of chocolate. Delicious and I love the texture.

  • This story was great! The 3 rules are great to keep in mind, especially since I might be going to Paris during the summer =)

  • Many of my recipes look similar to the one you wrote down in the bathroom. I have scraps of paper in my purse, car, on my desk that have recipes that I scribbled on them. At the time I write them down, I think there is no way I’ll forget this fantastic new recipe I found while reading magazines while waiting for my son to get two cavities filled.

    I should make a cookbook of all my partial recipes.

  • Only in France would you find a chocolate cake recipe written on a bathroom wall. On Valentine’s Day, this cake will be mine.

  • I tried out this as well, this last week, and found it quite easy to make – though the 15 minutes at 200C was too little for it, at least with my oven. I’ll try again either tomorrow or next week, with a few adjustments, and maybe post the recipe I ended up with :-)

  • to quote James Lipton in my best faux British accent…..uhhhummm…..”You sir are a delight!”

  • I loved reading your story and really loved reading your readers’ comments and efforts to guess what you had done with your cake. Would you be willing to post the recipe, as you did it, for all of us? Merci beaucoup!!

  • Hilarious post. One never know where they will find inspiration.

    Your dining tips are very useful. Unlike in America most restaurants here don’t turnover tables.

    I like eating my dinner in peace and not being rushed out the door.

  • Oh, lordy — I just came out of the oven and if the cooked cake tastes half as good as the batter, all will be right with the world.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • IT just came out of the oven. IT!

    LOL…

  • This cake is named after Pierre’s daughter, who lives in South Africa.

  • Made this last night – delicious and easy! Thanks for finding it not once but twice. I followed Jess’s translation (posted in the comments on 2/6) and it worked out beautifully. My wife loved it. 15 minutes at 400F was perfect; the nibs on top were a great addition; and the extra 100g of chocolate was definitely necessary (that’s about 10oz). The one thing I would do differently would be to make my espresso even stronger this time.