The rules of cake engagement

The rule is a bossy know-it-all. Consider the speed limit, stop sign or recommended daily allowance. Well intentioned. But exasperating. Who wouldn't rather drive 80, unfettered, while singlehandedly dispatching the chocolate cake?

The rule roosts everywhere. No parking. No texting. No cash. No fats. No carbs. No high waists or low riders. Who can keep up?

Even dinner hour, sweet spot in the rule-bound day, seems to be knuckling under. Not that I've got anything against napkin on lap or try one bite. But the strict diet is strictly beyond my ken. Who's got the fortitude?

My father-in-law. He visited last spring break. He brought along his adherence to the rules of kosher. And the rules-within-rules that govern kosher-for- Passover. I did my best to comply. Which is to say I let him do all the cooking.

Eventually I offered to make dessert. He read me his restrictions: No flour, no butter, no cream. Which put me in direct opposition to my own principles, which call for flour, butter and cream in almost everything.

I reformatted an old favorite, swapping ground almonds for flour, and vegetable oil for butter and cream. The simple chocolate cake turned out simply delicious. Proving that some rules rule. Like that reformatted old favorite: Sometimes, less is more.

Leah Eskin is a Tribune special contributor. Nothing cake Prep: 20 minutes Bake: 40 minutes Makes: 12 servings Handy when flour, butter and cream are contraindicated. For kosher or kosher-for-Passover compliance, check the rules with your rabbi. 12 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened!) chocolate 2/3 cup vegetable oil 3/4 cup sugar 5 eggs, separated 1/3 cup almond meal Kosher for Passover confectioners' sugar Melt: Break up chocolate and settle in a large heavy saucepan along with the oil. Melt. Cool slightly. Mix: Stir in sugar. Stir in egg yolks. Stir in almond meal. Fluff: Beat egg whites just until they form firm peaks. Fold: Stir one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate batter. Gently and thoroughly fold in remaining whites. Bake: Pour batter into a lightly oiled 9 1/2-inch springform pan set on a baking sheet. Slide onto the middle rack of a 350-degree oven. Bake until firm and springy, 25-30 minutes. Cool. Release. Dust with confectioners' sugar. Voila! Provenance: Adapted from my old standby, almost-perfect chocolate cake.

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