Dark Chocolate Almost-Flourless Cake

Dark Chocolate Cardamom Cake

*There are no spoilers for the novel, Goldfinch, here, i.e., nothing beyond what one would come to know about it from the Amazon précis or by reading the book jacket. But if you are like me, and do not want to know anything about the book at all (I don’t read the book jacket or the Amazon descriptor, I ask my literary touchstones – thanks Mars, Aleea and Ozzie, for names of novels), then look away.*

My paternal grandmother, Mader, died when I was only 16 years old.

She had hazel-almost-green eyes and could quote Shakespeare’s Richard II, As You Like It and The Tempest, the way I was expected to quote The Mill on the Floss for my IGCSEs.

She used to adore a dry sherry, but with age, she gave that up. She came to live with us for a bit in Nairobi, Kenya, from her home in Lahore.

Every afternoon, after I got back from school, she had two digestive biscuits and a few almonds with her elaichi chai; cardamom tea.

We both sat together on the terrace overlooking our vast garden, with my father’s beloved Easter lilies, which he had delicately tended to himself.

There was an avocado tree to the right of the white lilies which drooped a bit towards the left, casting some shade over the flowerbed.

Very often, I had an avocado after school, which our dear cook, Simon, sliced and sprinkled with a little bit of salt and handed to me with a glass of homemade passionfruit juice.

Mader thought avocado looked and tasted like soap.

We usually had some time together alone on the terrace before my father came home from work, while my mother played with my two younger sisters in the other side of the house.

I had lived with Mader in Lahore, on my own, without my parents, for two years between the ages of 13 and 15, so we were very close and I enjoyed this alone time with her.

It was precisely when I lived in Lahore with her that she had taught me how to speak Dari (my skills of which are fading) and make a Victoria sandwich.

My parents took Mader back to Pakistan after she passed away, while my sisters and I stayed with the Sodhis, our loving family friends, whom we always stayed with when my parents traveled.

They wanted to feed us all the time, perhaps in some way, this was meant to be therapeutic and their way of showing love for us three sisters during this difficult period.

In the morning, Aunty Bhupinder would make flaky, buttery parathas with jam, and at night, there would be thick, homemade yogurt served alongside spiced pilafs with three different types of lentil dishes and three more types of vegetables – braised, sautéed, fried. All sorts.

But I didn’t want to eat.

Food didn’t comfort me at the time.

I felt like Theo, the young boy in Goldfinch, angry that everyone is trying to shove food down my throat after I had lost someone I love, as if this nourishment was going to make me cry less at night on my pillow after everyone in the house was fast asleep.

I knew when Mader died that I never wanted to make a Victoria sandwich ever again.

It was the birthday of one of my dearest friends this past Friday – as well as Valentine’s Day – so my husband and I had a dinner party in our home.

As March approaches every year, the month when Mader passed away, I think about her a lot and how as I grow older I miss her more and more.

We never had a relationship of kissing and cuddling, the way I did with my maternal grandmother, but we were kindred spirits, perhaps made of the very same earth, as we say in Urdu, ek hi mitti ke bannay hain hum.

Even though I did not make a Victoria sandwich for my friend Darko, the meal I prepared reminded me of Mader, because it was just the sort of menu which would make her proud of me.

And if she thought I had screwed it up or it was subtoptimal and not very tasty, she would not have minced any words.

I remember making a béchamel-based casserole for her with some undercooked onions (I was only 14) and I was politely told that this aspect of the casserole was awful.

She was right, and I am glad she told me so.

Tough love – that was her style.

I am quite sure she would have preferred homemade vanilla ice cream with this chocolate cake, but the crème fraîche seemed to work.

Print Recipe Pin Recipe

Dark Chocolate Almost-Flourless Cake in the Pakistani Manner

Yield: 6
Author: Shayma Saadat


  • 10in springform pan
  • parchment paper
  • unsalted butter for greasing the sides of the springform


  • 6 cardamom pods
  • 250 g dark chocolate (I use a good 70% cocoa solids chocolate)
  • 200 g unsalted butter
  • 150 g granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground clove powder
  • 5 eggs
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt (if you're using table salt, I would add a mere ½ tsp)
  • 30 g unbleached flour

To decorate

  • dried, edible rose petals (optional)
  • handful unsalted pistachios, crushed to a dust (optional)


  • Pre-heat oven to 180C / 350F.
  • Butter the sides of your springform pan and line the base with parchment paper. Set aside.
  • Remove seeds from cardamom pods. Discard pods. Crush seeds in a pestle and mortar till it looks like dust. If you don’t have a pestle and mortar, wrap the seeds in a newspaper and crush with a rolling pin (or the base of your frying pan). Set aside.
  • Melt the dark chocolate, butter and sugar together in a saucepan over very low heat. This should take about 7-10 minutes. You may be tempted to turn the heat up, but this will only scorch your chocolate. Patience is key here (you can melt the mixture in a double boiler, too, if you like, but I wanted to use as few cooking vessels/utensils as possible – with an eighteen-month-old, even one extra pot is one too many). Stir occasionally, until the chocolate mixture is smooth. Be patient and vigilant. Turn off the heat, set the saucepan aside and allow to cool completely.
  • Once the chocolate mixture has cooled, transfer to a mixing bowl and add cardamom dust and ground clove powder. Whisk in the eggs, one by one. If you are using a stand or hand mixer, set the speed to medium. You will note that as you add more eggs, the egg and chocolate mixture will fluff up and resemble chocolate mousse.
  • Turn the mixer off and add salt and fold in flour by hand. Do not over mix.
  • Transfer into the springform pan and place in the middle of your oven for 40-45 minutes (ovens vary, so keep a vigilant eye on the cake after the 40-minute mark). When ready, your skewer/toothpick inserted in the middle will be very slightly damp, with a bit of the cake batter on it; that is fine. You don't want the cake to overcook and have a dry texture.
  • Remove from oven, and allow to cool in the springform at room temperature. Adorn with edible rose petals (if using) and crushed pistachios (if using). If you are not using either of the two, you can also simply dust the cake with some caster sugar.
  • Enjoy with crème fraîche on the side.

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  1. Hi Shayma,
    Really enjoyed the reading about your grandmother! Had two questions regarding the recipe:
    1. Are the eggs used with the whites or only the yolks?
    2. Can unbleached ‘bread’ flour be used for this recipe as well?
    Much love, Chayya.

    1. Dear Chayya, Thank you so much. You don’t separate the egg whites from the yolks; you use the whole egg. I would steer clear of using bread flour for this recipe. The main difference between bread flour and all-purpose/cake/pastry flour is essentially the protein content (which helps with the formation of gluten). The higher the protein content, the more stodgy the cake will be. Ideally, you want to use pastry or cake flour (7-9% protein content), but I used all-purpose flour (10-12%) and bread flour has protein content upwards of 14-16% – really high! Lemme know if you have any other questions. Lots of love. x

    1. Thank you, Nadia. I have read about 35% of it on my Kindle and am enjoying it, but right now I am reading about Theo and Boris – not my favourite part of the novel 🙂

  2. I really love your story telling style. It transports me to Lahore every time I read your blog. I would love to visit Lahore one day. Beautiful recipe and story as always. Not a big fan of chocolate but this looks easy and the spices must be making it extra special.

    1. Soma, Thank you so much – I hope that one day you can visit Lahore while I am there – and I would love to visit India – Kerala is first on my list because I love all that coconut milk they add to their curries. What sort of non-chocolate desserts or cakes do you like?

      1. I am not a big fan of cakes, I don’t know why. If at all I eat a cake, I like fruity flavor mixed with chocolate. Raspberry and chocolate combination is my favorite. Next choice nuts and chocolate. I am planning to make your cake but need a valid excuse. 😛 Kerala is on our list too. I heard it’s a beautiful place.

  3. s, i love reading about your mader. i remember the first ever piece of your writing i read was the tahchin. it was perhaps the first time i felt a real need to understand and record the histories of my grand parents. i love the stories of families of mixed heritage because they are so rich and diverse. there is so much poignancy in this post… xx

    1. Oops sorry! That did not get completely uploaded. This is a lovely and easy recipe for a delectable chocolate cake. I have already make one and is baking in the oven. However I have few questions.
      *What should the cake batter look like, in terms if texture? I had only 200gms of chocolate left and so I adjusted the recipe accordingly.
      *Also is it okay if there cracks on the cake? My cake already has some huge cracks. Wondering whether I was on the right track.
      Thank you once again for sharing your recipes alongwith beautiful memories of yore!

      1. Hi Zainab, Thank you for visiting my blog. The batter should look very thick and fluffy; like a chocolate mousse. The cake should not crack in the middle. Since you changed the proportions, it is hard for me to pinpoint what happened. Did you use a smaller cake pan? Hope it worked out in the end. All my best, S

  4. Amazingly touching story. Love the photo and the single candle hints that Darko is this 70 year old guy who “wants to have his cake and eat too”. But why not? Such a sumptuous and healthy cake comes once a year when somebody who loves you dearly decides to slog it out.

    Wonderful blog. Keep writing!!

    Gourmand…returning after a long interlude

  5. Hi Shayma,
    Well the cake batter was not mousse like, neither it was runny. It was just thick enough. But the cake turned out wonderful. I had spread chocolate ganache on top to hide the cracks ☺️ and topped it with roasted pistachios.
    I have tried so many other recipes but this one is just perfect! (though I am still wondering about the cracks) thanks once again Shayma.

  6. I could feel the emotions in your words. It was like a warm, indulgent journey from sweet memories to that scrumptious cake. Keep posting 🙂

  7. Hey Shayma,

    I made your chocolate cake yesterday but the sad part is I didn’t have a 10 inch pan and used my 8 inch instead. The cake collapsed in the bottom after cooling and cracked too. I don’t think I have over baked it. Using the wrong pan size wasn’t a wise decision I know, but do you have any recommendation if I use a 8inch/9 inch pan next time? I really liked the aroma of cardamom and cloves in it and the idea of pistachios. It was easy enough to make it too. I want to repeat it again but just want to make sure I get everything right. Thanks!

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