Chocolate-Prune Cake

chocolate cake

A while back, there was a spate of books about how to ‘sneak’ ingredients that are ‘healthy’ into food for your kids, to trick them into eating better. (Raymond Sokolov wrote an excellent rebuttal to that.) And recently there have been a few books written about how kids in France eat, and behave, better than their counterparts elsewhere. I can’t really comment on them in-depth because I haven’t read the books, but I do know two things from my own observations.

One is that no matter how – or where – kids are raised, the proof of the pudding is how they behave once they are all grown up. In fact, the worst insult you can say to a French person is to call them mal élevé, or “badly raised.” And speaking from experience, I don’t recommend calling someone that—unless you are prepared to deal with the consequences!

butterchocolate cake
chocolate cake - egg yolkssalted butter caramel sauce

The second observation is that yes, it’s true that French kids do eat what adults do, and they don’t make a fuss about it. I was recently at a local crêperie and the family next to us was feeding their small children blood sausage, which I would venture to say might be a tough sell to most kids in America.

(Someone I know recently asked me for a restaurant recommendation for a family who was traveling to Paris with two well-behaved kids to France, and my advice was to take them anywhere they would eat themselves.)

Prunes are another tough sell there as well. However the French have the most wonderful Pruneaux d’Agen, which are tender, sweet, and slightly spicy at the same time, and no one has a problem eating them or using them in savory cooking, like Duck with Prunes.

Prunes also make them excellent candidates to be buried in a cake made with lots of with dark chocolate. I marinated the prunes in rum then stirred them into the warm chocolate.

Paris chocolate cake carrier

Once cooled, the cake made its way across Paris, to a dinner party, and not one person asked what was in the cake as I was slicing and serving it. Even as adults, the French don’t ask twenty questions in restaurants or if they’re guests at dinner parties, possibly the result of being raised to eat everything that’s offered.

When one of the prune bits fell out, someone exclaimed how much they loved prunes – and he then had seconds, and thirds. Of course, a warm, rich puddle of salted butter caramel sauce (from my Paris book) helped it go down, and by the end, the hostess asked me if she could keep the rest of the uneaten sauce. Being bien élevé, or well-raised, of course, I said yes.

chocolate cake chocolate cake

Chocolate-Prune Cake

One 9-inch (23 cm) cake, 10 to 12 servings

Feel free to swap out another dried fruit for the prunes (sometimes called “dried plums”), such as figs, cherries, or apricots, although do give the prunes a try they have a wonderful affinity to dark chocolate. You can also use another liquor, such as port, red wine, or bourbon. For those avoiding alcohol, black tea makes a good substitute, especially one that’s flavored with black currants.

For the prunes:

6 ounces (170 g) pitted prunes, diced in small pieces
1/3 cup (80 ml) rum, or another liquor (see headnote)
1 tablespoon sugar

For the cake:

  • 12 ounces (340 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 12 tablespoons (6 ounces, 170 g) unsalted butter, cubed
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • large pinch of salt
  • 3 tablespoons sugar

Additional soft butter and flour, or cocoa powder, for preparing the pan

1. Simmer the prunes with the rum and 1 tablespoon of sugar in a small saucepan for a few minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand until cool.

2. To make the cake, preheat the oven to 325ºF (165ºC).

3. Butter a 9-inch (23cm) springform pan. Dust the inside with flour or cocoa powder, and tap out any excess.

4. In a large bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and stir in the prunes and any liquid left in the pan.

5. Stir the egg yolks into the chocolate mixture.

6. In a separate bowl, or using a stand mixer, whip the egg whites with the salt until they begin to hold soft peaks. Continue whipping, adding the 3 tablespoons of sugar, one tablespoon at a time, until the whites hold their shape when you lift the whip.

7. Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture thoroughly, then fold in the remaining egg whites just until no streaks of whites are visible. Don’t overfold.

8. Bake the cake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the cake feels set close to the edges of the pan but the center is still rather soft to the touch and moist-looking. Let cool.

Serving: This cake is very moist, which makes it a bit challenging to get a clean slice out of it. Run a thin knife around the cake to loosen it from the pan and remove the springform mold. Dip the knife in very hot water then wipe the blade dry and use it to slice the cake, dipping the knife in the hot water and wiping it off between each cut.

Storage: This cake can be made up to three days in advance, and stored at room temperature. It can also be frozen for up to two months.

Related Links and Recipes

French Chocolate Mousse Cake

Julia Child’s Chocolate Mousse

The Easiest Chocolate Ice Cream Recipe

Poached Prunes and Kumquats

Chocolate Biscotti

Bringing Up Bebé (Amazon)

French Kids Eat Everything (Amazon)

The Truth About French Parenting (The Atlantic)

French Children Don’t Throw Food (When People Are Watching) (I Am Carla Bruni’s Neighbor)


  • Made this last night, it was delicious and seems even better after dinner tonight. Next time will try with creme de cassis as a substitute for the rum, because there definitely will be a next time. Thanks, David.

  • Being a pastry chef and living in Paris, I’d just like to wish you happy St. Honore Day. I just read that St. Honore is the patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs and today is his Feast Day in France :)

  • Oh my yum. My youngest son cannot have any refined sugar or grains right now, which can make it tricky for us to enjoy things like birthday parties and donut hour after church as a family, so I’ve started stashing treats he can have in the freezer so I always have something on hand to bring to those events (works perfectly!). I made this cake today with a few substitutions: simmered the prunes in fruit juice and 2 TBL honey, used 8 oz unsweetened chocolate (extra honey with the prunes made up for the lack of sugar in the chocolate), and replaced the sugar in the egg whites with honey as well. I baked it in a square pan (8×8 I think, maybe 9×9) where the bottom pops out, then cut it into squares almost like brownies. I sneaked a square as soon as it was cool – super moist, super chocolately, super delicious! The rest will be individually wrapped in the freezer for pop-in-the-diaper-bag treats. Thank you for the great base recipe!!

    • Sounds great! The only problem with unsweetened chocolate is that it isn’t so smooth, so the honey was a very good idea, to help keep it moist. Thanks for sharing the variation ~

  • While I ordinarily would never mix chocolate with fruit — just not my thing — when I saw this post I knew I had to try it. I once read about prunes dipped in milk chocolate (Polish, I believe) and the idea grew on me. Made it this afternoon and the trial slice was quite divine. Thank you, David. !

  • The Swiss have a prune tart that is wonderful—I can’t quite remember the name. I’ve never understood why Americans are so tetchy about prunes, so much so that American corporations have to rebrand them as dried plums and sell them individually wrapped.
    Can’t wait to try this cake sometime soon.

  • Weighing in about children and food: my eldest was a picky eater. Nothing to do w/ me, she’d rather go hungry than eat something “wrong”. She too was raised w/ a “this is your dinner, I’m not making anything else” approach. There were times she would rather go eat cold tofu out of the fridge, than her supper. Turns out she was inordinately sensitive to texture, but this isn’t something she was able to figure out until older. And…..her ideas of “wrong” clearly were not the same as mine (cold tofu?)

    If they’d rather go hungry than eat……there’s not a lot a parent can do.

    As an adult, she’s quite an adventursome eater.

  • Do the prunes merge into the cake when baked or are they distinct pieces of fruit? Can’t tell from the (beautiful) photos.

  • Oh David… I love how the cakes I most desire are the ones that are gluten free! Thank you. This one’s bookmarked for le weekend.

    On a side note – my 18month old son has always eaten the same food as me, and he loves trying new stuff. Devoured broccoli and pan fried mackrel for lunch. Makes me so proud, but I must say I take much of my inspiration from the French.

  • Love prunes, chocolate, and dried fruit and chocolate combinations, so without even tasting it, I know I’m going to love the slice that I’m just about to cut from this cake that I baked this afternoon. Very easy recipe but elegant! I have a suggestion about the photos you post. I’m an experienced cook but when it comes to baking, there are a few nuances that I think stump quite a few cooks. For example, I find it difficult to know how much to fold in egg whites. Your photos are all beautiful but when there’s a difficult step, please post a picture of that too!

  • Also weighing in on picky eating – I was born in India and grew up in the US and the younger generation of my family is generally more appreciative of vegetables, probably because Indians are masters at them. I still laugh at finding my 5yo niece happily eating a whole wheat chappati with bitter gourd – probably the only vegetable I won’t eat. But my point was that it’s still a spectrum and my nephew is a battle. Same family rules, same fabulous home cooking, but he’s definitely on the adhd/ asperger/ sensitive spectrum somewhere.

    The other thing about Sokolov’s article – beef cheeks and lemongrass ice cream is not the worry, the worry is kale, cauliflower, and beets. Most of the women I know who are “sneaking” vegetables into the meal – are aiming for the husband as much as the children.

    • I would say that I grew up being just a regular eater. My mother made us ‘regular’ food and I don’t recall her going out of her way to adjust what we ate as a family (although I remember my sister wouldn’t eat Rice-A-Roni). We had vegetables with meals and there were no wrinkled-noses at having to eat them. But I do know some picky eaters and living in France, at restaurants, menus will usually say something like “Pièce de boeuf” (piece of beef) – and visitors will want to know what cut of meat it is, how it’s cooked, what comes with it, if there’s a sauce, and if so, if it can go on the side. (Now it seems normal to get a steak with ‘sauce on the side’ in Paris, because I think because even diet-conscious Parisians are wary of it!) But French people usually just take what they’re given and don’t ask questions.

  • Just a thought, but have you tried cutting the cake (and similar sticky cakes) with a plastic knife? I read this trick somewhere, and it really works. I’ve never come across a chef’s version but I use a sturdy ‘picnic’ one to good effect.

  • I don’t believe in hiding prunes or beans in cake to trick someone into eating healthy ingredients, but I do believe in prunes and chocolate. Such a delicious combination! My grandfather always used to give us boxes of Italian chocolate covered prunes at Christmas and I loved them! I’m a big fan of Nigella’s prune brownies too. Can’t wait to try this cake.

  • I made this late last night, as it has been nagging at me since you posted. I used (very dry) dates and bourbon, a little extra to rehydrate the dates. This cake is amazing. My partner is very weird and does not like things that are “too rich”, so this cake is all for me!

  • Made this today just as you directed. It is amazing! I lined my pan with parchment to help with release and dusted with cocoa powder. We had it with a bit of creme fraiche that we had on hand for another recipe. I bet it would also be great with dried cherries and kirsch.

  • I love prunes! I think I’m the only person I know who does. My favorite meatloaf recipe calls for prunes, I found it on Epicurious, everyone loves it but I never tell them there are prunes in it until after the meal : ) Thank you so much for this recipe!

  • Mmmmm I may have to try this soon.

    I read part of the book about how French children are better behaved and all most fell off my chair laughing. The author should come hang out with me, listen to the horror stories from my husband (a teacher) for a few days and then revise.

  • I made this cake for a Sunday dinner at a friend’s, and my wife made the Salted Butter Caramel sauce. At wife’s suggestion we served it with French vanilla ice cream.
    A very diverse group (geezers, picky teens, a young Indian lady) all devoured it.

    I couldn’t believe the recipe that a 9″ cake would feed 12, but now I understand: this is a very rich dessert. The ice cream was a perfect match.

    This recipe goes into the Favorites file. Thank you, David

  • I just love how you traveled with your cake – wrapped up in a tea towel. I have a few fancy gadgets to carry baked goods, but I love your casual-elegant, and easy to clean strategy.
    Also – dead on about the mal-élevé insult. It can only be made worse with “espèce de” in front.

  • I just finished a warm slice of chocolate-prune cake (with a scoop of fresh ginger ice cream) and it was absolute heaven! I had never tried prunes with chocolate before – they are truly a perfect match. The prunes form tender pockets of tanginess amidst the most perfect flourless chocolate cake. (I actually halved the recipe due to a prune shortage – I only had 4 ounces – and baked it in an 8″ pan.) The ice cream made a delightfully refreshing accompaniment (I’ve posted it on my site). Thank you, thank you, thank you for another simple, elegant, and exciting recipe, David – you are my hero!