Valentine’s Day Clincher: Molten Chocolate Cake

February 7, 2010

Chocolate is a requisite for Valentine’s Day.  I still remember picking out chocolates in hopes of winning the heart of my third grade crush, Anya. Unfortunately for me, another boy was competing for Anya’s heart, and he shrewdly took credit for my act of love. Oh the agony! I despondently watched as he proclaimed himself her “Secret Admirer.”
While it didn’t exactly work out as planned, there’s no denying the aphrodisiacal powers of chocolate. So when you’re planning a dinner date for V-Day, dessert is a huge consideration. And while there’s no denying the romantic allure of posh dessert spots like Finale or Burdicks, they can be a little draining on the wallet.

The solution—make it yourself. It’s cheaper and far more rewarding. Spending money on a girl will make her blush, spending time on a girl will make her purr. Girls love it when you take them to a swanky restaurant, but if you slave over a good dessert, you’ll have her eating out of the palm of your hand. But guess what? You don’t even have to slave over the dessert. So for all those guys out there with ladies to impress; it’s easy to do, just follow these steps.

Step 1: Cut a hole in a box

Just kidding. I highly doubt you’ll score many ladies with that sort of gift. Here’s a better option.

First, you should invite a girl out to dinner. You can either take her to a restaurant (Sushi or Tapas are options that strike a nice balance between informal and fancy). If you’re a little more confident in your cooking skills, get some pasta from Dave’s Fresh and dine at home/dorm. If it’s a first date though, I’d keep it in neutral territory, like a restaurant.

Step 2: Prepare dessert yourself. A mediocre meal can be remedied with a phenomenal dessert. This final course is the clincher, which is why you should make it yourself. She’ll appreciate the fact that you made it yourself, and best of all—it’s a guaranteed way to get her back to your place.

You should make either the chocolate soufflé or the molten chocolate cake. Both desserts are flashy enough to wow her and easy enough to keep your pre-date day stress free. And best of all, these desserts can both be made ahead of time. Just make them right before you go and place them refrigerator. When you get back, put them in the oven and bake them and voila! Hot, freshly baked dessert! The last thing you want to be doing when you bring her home is fretting over the dessert in the kitchen. By prepping everything beforehand, all you have to do when you get back is put it in the oven. What you decided to do after dessert is all up to you.

If you wanna make the Soufflé…
I detailed this one in the soufflé post, so just click here for that recipe

If you wanna make the molten chocolate cake…

Molten Chocolate Cake
(adapted from New York Times recipe, which in turn was taken from “Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef” by Mark Bittman and Jean-Georges Vongerichten)

INGREDIENTS
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, plus more to butter the molds
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons flour, plus more for dusting

METHOD

1. Beat together the eggs, yolks, and sugar with a whisk or electric beater until light and thick.

2.) In a double boiler (Saucepan of simmering water with a bowl on top), melt chocolate and butter together until the chocolate is almost completely melted.

2. Pour in the egg mixture, then quickly beat in the flour, just until combined.

3. Butter and lightly flour 2 8-ounce molds, custard cups, or ramekins. Tap out the excess flour, then butter and flour them again. Divide the batter among the molds.

(At this point you can refrigerate the desserts until you are ready to eat, for up to several hours; however, you must bring them back to room temperature before baking.)

4. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bake the molds on a tray for about 11 minutes; the center will still be quite soft, but the sides should be set.

5. Once baked, take ramekins out of oven. Immediately place a serving plate on top  of the ramekin. Acting quickly, flip ramekin/plate over. The cake should unmold itself onto the plate. Serve immediately.

Ps: It’s good with vanilla ice cream and a couple of sliced strawberries.

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Chocolate Soufflé

September 3, 2009

Hey, Soufflé

Sorry to have been out of commission for the past couple of days. I had a few things going on, but I hope to churn out three more posts before I take that giant leap back into the collegiate world on Sunday. Don’t worry, I’ll still be flogging at Tufts, probably two or three times a week. But enough about boring logistics—let’s talk food!

I came to a startling realization the other day. I have no blog entries about chocolate! The absence of chocolate is even more upsetting given the overwhelming number of dessert posts. The only thing remotely chocolaty on this blog is the mint chocolate chip ice cream, and that doesn’t really count. So for all the chocoholics out there, please accept this post as a token of my apologies.

So I figured we should start off with a bang. Chocolate Soufflés! “Soufflé” literally means “puffed up” in French, and it is one of the most decadent desserts you can serve. So many post-dinner sweets are flour-based. Honestly, practically every homemade dessert I’ve been served this summer has been a cake. And I’ve been craving a soufflé ever since I read Julia Child’s musings on Gran Mariner varieties in her memoir a couple of weeks ago. When soufflés began to show up in my dreams, I knew that I just had to make one.

The recipe I follow is absurdly easy. Featured on the New York Times’ Minimalist column, this recipe is both foolproof and delicious. Unlike many soufflés, no roux is needed. A roux is a mixture of butter and flour that is the base to most savory soufflés. Even these roux-based soufflés are pretty straightforward. If you know how to whip and fold egg whites, then you know how to make a soufflé. That’s the most difficult part.

On that note, check out this quick tutorial in egg white whipping if you are unfamiliar with the technique or want to know more about the process than you ever really wanted to…Whipping the whites

All this ballyhoo on egg whites leaves the poor little egg yolks in the dust. But they are just as important to the soufflé! The yolks, along with some granulated sugar, are the foundation to a good soufflé. The yolks and the sugar have to be whipped until they are a pale yellow. At this point, they will be quite thick, dropping from the beaters in a continuous stream. The ribbon should be visible even once it falls back into the base (see photo above). From here, I added two ounces of bittersweet chocolate that I fretfully melted in the microwave. As long as you’re careful, microwaves are fine, but double boilers significantly reduce the risk of burning the chocolate. When microwaving chocolate, use a low power setting (like 50 percent) and remove it before all the chocolate melts. Stir the bowl until all the tiny pieces of unmelted chocolate have been combined. The difference between luscious and burnt is a matter of seconds when you’re dealing with a microwave. Just keep you’re eye on the bowl as you microwave and you’ll be fine. Once these are combined, you’ve got your base. Now for the whites!

This the way the described ribbon should fall

This the way the described ribbon should fall

I whipped my whites with the cream of tartar and the pinch of salt, and once the whites reached soft peaks, I began to gradually add the sugar. Soon, I had glossy stiff peaks, like clouds in a bowl.

Stiff Peaks

Stiff Peaks

After whipping the whites, I took a scoop and fully blended them into the base. You don’t have to be delicate with this particular scoopful, just mix it until fully combined. Once this is done, carefully fold in the rest of the whites into the chocolate. Folding is another technique that is integral to the soufflé-making process.

Carefully folding egg whites into the chocolate base

Carefully folding egg whites into the chocolate base

Whipped egg whites are always folded into the contents of the other bowl; I’ve never seen it done the other way (i.e. adding mixture to egg whites). Folding allows you to incorporate the whites without losing their airiness. Bad folding will totally undo all the work you put into whipping the whites. To fold, use a spatula to scoop the batter over the whites. Never press down as this crush the little air bubbles inside the albumen. Gently do this until the whites are moderately incorporated. It’s more important to maintain the airiness than totally blending the mixture. A small swirl of white won’t kill your dish.

I decided to use small ramekins for individual soufflés rather than one big one, because who can truthfully say they enjoy sharing? After about seventeen minutes in the oven, the poofed up soufflés were practically jumping out of their ramekins in excitement. You know if a soufflé is done if it begins to crack along the top. They began to lose their loft about minute after getting pulled out of the oven, so make sure to serve it immediately. Don’t do what I did and take it out of the oven and take photos of it for a minute before bringing it to the table.

sinks quick, so get it to the table

Chocolate Soufflé (makes two servings—two individual ones or one big one)
Recipe courtesy of Mark Bittman of the New York Times, The Minimalist
Ingredients
About 1 tablespoon butter for dish
1/3 cup sugar, plus some for dish
3 eggs, separated
2 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, melted (carefully done in a microwave-safe bowl, as described above)
Pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 2-cup or one 4-cup soufflé or other deep baking dish(es). Just take some butter and rub it around the dish with wax paper, or you can hold the stick of butter in your hand like a pen and rub it around the dishes. Sprinkle each dish with sugar, invert it and tap to remove excess sugar.

2. In a large bowl beat the egg yolks with all but 1 tablespoon sugar until light in color and very thick; the mixture will fall in a ribbon from beaters when it is ready. Mix in the melted chocolate until well combined; set aside.

3. Wash beaters well, then beat egg whites in smaller bowl with salt and cream of tartar until whites hold soft peaks; continue to beat, gradually adding the remaining tablespoon sugar, until they are very stiff and glossy. Stir a good spoonful of whites thoroughly into egg yolk mixture to lighten it; then fold in remaining whites, using a rubber spatula. Transfer to the prepared soufflé dish(es).
NOTE: At this point you can cover and refrigerate the uncooked soufflés for a couple of hours. If you’re hosting a dinner party, you can make this right before the guests arrive and then bake it towards the end of dinner. That way, you can dine with your guests!

4. Bake until center is nearly set, 15-20 minutes for individual soufflés and 25 to 35 minutes for a single large soufflé. It will be done when the top has a few cracks on top. Try not to open the oven door too much. Serve immediately.

NOTE ON THE DONENESS OF A SOUFFLE:
Some people like their soufflés totally dry, which results in a longer-lasting loft. If you want yours this way, then you could test for doneness the same way as you would a cake—the reliable toothpick test. If you’re like me, then you enjoy your soufflés a little on the softer side. A little gooey in the center, these “medium rare” ones don’t puff up as much and sink a little more quickly. It’s all personal preference, but either way you’ve got a winner on your hands.Yum!