This cake emerges from a century-old scandal of the past: the story of Rigó and Clara.
Rigó Jancsi, or “Johnny Rigó”, was a Hungarian Roma musician who played the violin with his orchestra. In a posh Paris restaurant frequented by the Belgian aristocrat Prince Joseph de Caraman-Chimay and his wife Princess Clara, Johnny first encountered Clara. Prince Joseph had married Clara Ward, a 16 year old American heiress, socialite, and true beauty who was the daughter of the wealthiest man in the Midwest, E.B Ward. Clara was said to be instantly fascinated by Rigó’s music but even more so mesmerized by his passionate black eyes. Sources say that Clara’s fascination led her to slip her diamond ring off her finger and slip onto Johnny’s pinky – a racy gesture even by French standards.
In December 1896, Prince Joseph sent a telegram to Clara’s family in the US, that simply said, ‘Gone with the Gypsy’. Clara had eloped with Rigó, leaving behind her husband and two children. The scandalous affair was widely talked about in the press where reports of Johnny leaving his wife and Clara her husband for each other were discussed.
They trekked their way to Hungary where they later married. Soon after in Budapest a cube-shaped chocolate cake called “ Rigó Jancsi” appeared in a nod to the scandal. Some sources say that Rigo masterminded this recipe with help; some say he bought this pastry for his love, Clara. No matter what they say, Rigo Jancsi had become a chocolate cake celebrating the romance of the violinist and the Princess.
If I left you here with the story of Rigó and Clara it would be like how Downton Abbey leaves us hanging on Christmas Night with its season finale. I won’t do that to you because I hate not knowing the end. Sources say that Clara and Johnny travelled together for a few years, with Clara teaching Johnny how to read and write. Soon after they were married they too were separated because of Johnny’s unfaithfulness. Both went their own way, with Johnny journeying to the United States and joining the Broadway orchestra in New York. Clara, known for her beauty and popularity, began posing for ‘poses plastiques‘ to earn her living. She went on to marry a Spanish waiter she met on a train but her true love – and her last husband- was an Italian station master of a railroad. Clara died at the young age of 43 in Padua, Italy.
The original recipe for this cake calls for a richer cake base and is to be served in little squares. My first taste of this cake was at the St. John’s Farmers Market a few years back and I remember how light and airy – yet rich – it had tasted. It was not hard to deconstruct the individual components. My version includes a butter-less chocolate sponge because I would rather cut out butter whenever I can. As you can see, the cake I made has nothing square about it because of my preference for a more rustic assembly that takes less precision and time. Nonetheless, the cake melts in your mouth and makes you realize how delicious “sin” can be.
The cake is also known as “Gypsy John” but I rather call it Rigó Jancsi. Rigó Jancsi has a ring to it that has the ability to transform a chocolate mousse cake into something else: more exotic, less ordinary, and more intriguing. A slice of Rigó Jancsi cannot be eaten without wondering about the “scandalous love affair” it will forever be linked with.
And, just like love, Rigó Jancsi should be served at room temperature.
Rigó Jancsi~ A traditional Hungarian and Viennese Celebration Cake
- Egg: 3
- Sugar: 2/3 cup
- Flour: 1/2 cup
- Coco Powder: 1/4 cup
- Pure Apricot Jam: 1 and 1/2 cup
- Rum: 2 Tbsp (optional) Not used in this recipe as all cakes I make NEEDS to be child friendly!
For Chocolate Mousse:
- Whipping Cram: 1 and 1/2 cup
- Sugar: 2 Tbsp
- Bittersweet Chocolate Chip: 1/2 cup
- Unsalted Butter: 1 Tbsp
For Chocolate Top:
- Bittersweet Chocolate Chip: 1 cup
- Unsalted Butter 1/4 cup
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Prepare a 9 inch cake tin (or a jelly roll pan) by lining with parchment paper.
- Whisk room temperature eggs and sugar together in an electric mixer until frothy and ribbon like consistency.
- Sieve flour and coco powder together.
- Slowly incorporate the flour/coco powder mixture into the egg mixture taking care not to over mix thereby deflating the air bubbles. Work quickly.
- Pour into prepared pan and let bake for 25 mins for round pan and 15 mins for jelly roll pan or until cake springs back when touched in the centre.
- Let cool.
- Slice cake in the middle and apply the warmed apricot jam (if using rum, mix with jam) in a thin layer on the two sides (cut sides of the cake for round tin) set aside.
- In a microwaveable bowl microwave the chocolate chips and the butter to melt. Check every 10 seconds to stir or else it can bun very easily.
- Thoroughly mix the chocolate till it reaches pudding like consistency. Cool slightly.
- Whip the cream wit he sugar till it becomes thick and yogurt like.
- Take a little bit of the cream and add it to the chocolate and mix it by hand throughly.
- Now add the chocolate mixture to the rest of the cream and beat slowly till it reaches a mousse like consistency. Be careful not to over beat.
- Mix the chocolate chips and butter the same way in the microwave.
- The mixture should be shiny and a loose.
- Place one portion of the cake on your serving platter with jam side up.
- Pour chocolate mousse and spread.
- It should be thick and high.
- Invert the other slice of cake with jam side down to the mousse.
- Pour the molten chocolate and spread on top.
- Let the chocolate set for half hour for easy slicing.
- Serve at room temperature.