Saturday, January 5, 2008

JFI Chocolate

Chocolate…the elixir of the gods…I wonder who was the intrepid south American explorer who first discovered the cacao bean, who thought of curing it and how someone thought of adding some sweetness to it…Whoever came up with each of these should be awarded the Nobel prize for science – or gastronomy if there is such a thing. A simple bite of chocolate is enough to make you forget the tiff you had with your better one-third, the argument with the boss, your weight loss struggles…a whiff of that warm chocolatey smell, which somehow exudes decadence and luxury, and you’re in another world altogether.

All the more reason for welcoming Jihva for ingredients’s January theme of chocolate. I thought I was in heaven!

I have tons of chocolate recipes but for a blogging challenge, I always like to try out something new. Last month when my BFF was in town, she visited the re-opened Olive in Delhi, and came back raving about their chocolate cakes with melting chocolate inside. Now this is one dish which I had always wanted to make, it seemed like such an interesting challenge. I have to admit, I don’t exactly shine as a baker, because I often get either the timing or the temperature setting wrong – or, even more infuriating, my temperamental oven decides to screw up one of the two things for me. Give me a bog-standard cake or muffin and it’s easy-peasy but the more complex cakes are always a little like Russian Roulette. But, since I was feeling like taking a gamble, I thought I could try out a melting chocolate dessert.

I remembered having drooled over a recipe for something like this in Nigella Lawson’s Domestic Goddess, so I pulled the book out, and the minute I read the title of the cakes, I was hooked. How can anyone resist any dessert which has the words molten and chocolate entwined? So I gathered all my gumption and said, ok, this is one I’m not going to screw up. The photographs of it, perhaps, possibly and probably ( I did, as you will see), but the actual dish, no. And the best is that the dish seems so complex everyone stares at you as if you have a cordon blue halo when you produce it.

This has to be, honestly, one of the best desserts I’ve ever had. Because, like the best chocolate desserts, it’s meant to be eaten hot, fresh from the oven. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a chocolate mousse if that’s the only chocolate dessert on the menu, but frankly chocolate mousses are all wrong. Mousses are light, airy, flirty little things, not meant to be weighted down with the serious elegance or sensuous decadence of chocolate. They are meant to have a little tango with fruit – a mango, perhaps, or strawberries. Mousses are like chiffon, summery and floaty.

Chocolate, on the other hand, is inherently sinful, like silk and brocade and velvet. It’s meant to be serious and rich and to induce reverence. You can’t play with chocolate, at least, not the best quality chocolate. You have to luxuriate in it, to soak in the heady lushness of the experience. Chocolate desserts have to be melt-in-the-mouth, and to do justice to the food of the gods, to be warm and gooey and aromatic…

My in-laws were visiting for the first time since the New Year began, so I decided to serve this after dinner on Saturday. Of course, my temperamental oven kicked in right away by switching itself off 2 minutes into the 12 minute baking time, which meant I had raw batter right when everyone was waiting, bouche béant, for the treat I had been promising all evening. I have probably not watched my new-born children with as much anxiety as I did the oven the second time I set it on to bake my little baby cakes. And of course, being me, I couldn’t resist foozling around with the recipe so I added a teaspoon of chilli powder which added a nice kick and back of the throat heat to the molten-ness of the cakes. Thankfully, I made up some extra batter, so tomorrow I get to relish this all over again, only without the added stress of having to get it right in front of my in-laws – and I’m already mulling over the possibility of adding some Frangelico to take the wicked up a notch! Mmm…PS. Have I thanked you for picking chocolate for the theme?

Molten Chocolate Babycakes
350 grams best quality dark chocolate, softened
150 gms caster sugar
50 gms good butter ( try and get French butter if possible), softened
1 tsp vanilla - or Frangelico/ Godiva, maybe even Tia Maria - or Cointreau...Drambuie...ok, now I'm drooling all over again!
50 gms flour ( Nigella recommends Italian 00 which I don’t know what it is – I just used plain maida)
4 eggs
Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C ( if baking right away).
Grease 6 pudding cups ( I used aluminum muffin cups, not having any other kind to hand, but am immediately inspired to invest in ceramic ramekins, since I think the possibility of making these on a regular basis is quite high) and line the bottoms with baking sheet.
Cream the butter and sugar together.
Add the eggs and the salt and beat together.
Add the vanilla and the flour and blend together well.
Scrape in the softened chocolate ( try not to be greedy enough to leave lots behind in the bowl so you can lick it off all by yourself!) and blend the batter well together.
Pour into the pudding pans and pop into the oven for 10 minutes.
If not baking these immediately, you can make the batter ahead of time and keep it in the fridge. In that case, keep the timer at 12 minutes for the baking process.
As soon as it’s done – the tops will look done, but don’t pop in a knife to check, the inside will be wet unlike a conventional cake – take out of the oven and invert onto individual dessert plates or shallow bowls.

Nigella recommends serving this with whipped cream, crème fraiche or icecream. Even a garnish of fresh strawberries would go well with the dessert. But I personally felt nothing – but nothing – at all was needed with this dessert, it was perfect all by itself. Maybe I could have decorated the plate a bit, and I might do, if serving at a party, but this was my first time and I was too anxious to photograph them ( as usual the photos do not do justice to the yum-ness - they are crap!), and then to dive into the delectation before it cooled down.
Also, NB – asbestos hands – or double layer of oven mitts – will help, because you have to serve this fast, while the pudding cups are still burning hot.

Note to self, and readers - if you invest in nice looking and good quality ramekins, you can forget all about the fiddling around inverting the babycakes onto a plate business and simply serve it right out of the ramekins you baked in. This is a double blessing - first because no ouchies burning your fingers while inverting cakes and so on, and second, because the cake can turn out more molten than you thought or planned on ( they did for me), and so when you're inverting, the molten chocolate goops out all over the plate.


Pelicano said...

Your write-up was wonderful; I came to the end with a start because I forgot where I was sitting! But I must agree with you: your cooking deserves better photos... :-D But I am not one to talk as I have yet to read my manual to find out what my camera is truly capable of. I keep getting "helpful hints" from the Click crew but so far have ignored every one!
I've eaten lava/molten cake just once, and it was divine- quite worthy of the chocolate. Chiles with chocolate eh? What's not to love?! Nice job.

bird's eye view said...

Thanks pelicano, can;t think of a better compliment. And you're right about the truly dreadful photographs. Not an excuse but I end up doing most of my cooking at night, after I'm home from work and the kids are asleep, and have to photograph in artificial light which for some reason never seems bright enough to my camera. that said, I'm going to buy a new camera soon and hope that that makes up for my inadequacies as a photographer!

bird's eye view said...

PS. pelicano - do try making this one, it's pretty simple and seems so complicated to your guests when you serve it! and yummy too.

Passionate baker...& beyond said...

LOve the sound of this one. I'm seriously thinking of buying ramekins too...what with pana cottas ruling my life! You are in urgaon right? I saw a nice set at Tarini in Phase 4 the other day! I made molten toblerone cake sthe other day...only problem being that there was no one home to serve immediately...& by the time we had them, the molten was history! You are right....natural daylight makes the best photos. I have an ancient contraption, but it's the day light that does the magic!