Monday, May 30, 2016

The Power of Suggestion
What’s cooking? Molten Chocolate Cake

I’m so easily led. Our gourmet group met last week, and my course was the dessert. The theme was “something Asian,” which had me stumped for a while. Then an internet search yielded a recipe for a flourless chocolate cake with Chinese five-spice powder. That sounded good, and I figured I could serve some green tea ice cream with it.

Kitchen Goddess note: Five-spice powder is a warm and fragrant spice blend often found in Asian cooking, especially Chinese cuisine. Finely ground from fennel seed, Chinese cinnamon (milder than the cassia cinnamon generally available in the U.S), star anise, clove, and Sichuan pepper, the mix is most often used on all kinds of meats. But I’ve incorporated it in a breakfast dish of steel-cut oats, a fabulous cranberry sauce made with pinot noir, and this chocolate cake. The flavor is occasionally described as “haunting.” The Sichuan peppers are hard to come by [read: expensive], so they’re often left out of commercial blends. The mix from Penzey’s uses cassia cinnamon, and ginger instead of the pepper; Central Market in Austin offers five-spice powder in the bulk baking aisle, using cassia cinnamon and black pepper instead of the Sichuan.

I sent along the description of my dessert to our fearless leader, a highly organized guy who assembles the menu into a lovely document with photos and all. But I didn’t have a photo of what I wanted to do, and he really likes having photos, so he found one on his own – an individual-sized chocolate cake with a small scoop of ice cream next to it. (This guy isn’t just well organized – he’s resourceful, and relentless. Reminding me a bit of the Kitchen Goddess, only with better technical skills.) As it happens – and because I am the Kitchen Goddess – I could tell that the cake in the photo was a molten chocolate cake, which is a totally different texture than what I had planned to make. Ha! I said to myself. Then Hmmm... Then Mmmmm... The more I looked at his photo, the more I wanted what he had pictured. So I revised my plan, put the five-spice powder into Jean-George Vongerichten’s molten chocolate cake recipe, and that’s what I served.

This is why I often ask the waiter in a restaurant to take my order last. Unless I’m completely sure of what I want to eat, I’m very often swayed by what others at the table order. So if I say I’ll have the chicken, and the next person orders the filet of sole, I start thinking, Well, that sounds really good. Maybe better than the chicken. And before I know it, I’m saying, “Oh waiter, I’ve changed my mind. I’ll have the sole, too.”

And then I go through the same routine with each person around the table, unless someone orders steak, which I can usually pass.

The problem is that I mentally taste each dish, and if I start by tasting the chicken, well, then, by the time the next person orders the sole, I’ve pretty much done with mentally eating the chicken and am ready for something else. It’s a curse.

In the end, the molten chocolate cake with five-spice powder was extremely yummy. My good buddy, Jean-George (we’ve never met, but I just know we’d be friends if we did) – who is credited with inventing the concept – appears in a video on The New York Times website, in which he makes said cake faster than... well, pretty darn fast. And the concept is incredibly simple. No ball of chocolate truffle to insert into the dough. Instead, the trick is not to cook it long, and because there’s precious little flour in the mix, the uncooked insides are just rich, gooey chocolate. Also no icing, though you may want to sprinkle powdered sugar on top. Was it a success? Let me just say that the whole table went quiet as everyone cut gently into their cakes.

With only a few ingredients, the recipe is ripe for adding a bit of flavoring, as I did. But you could instead add cinnamon or candied ginger or espresso powder or orange liqueur or nothing – whatever strikes your fancy. Garnish with some fat raspberries or a sprig of mint, or whipped cream. Or green tea ice cream, which was a divine combo – as long as you like green tea. (My post with Green Tea Ice Cream will be coming up soon. Be patient.)

Today’s Brilliant Idea

One of the few issues you face in serving molten chocolate cakes is the problem of getting them out of the very hot ramekins and onto the plate. If you’ve adequately greased and floured the ramekins, all you have to do is put a plate on top of one and turn it over. But that means picking them up, and you can’t wait until they cool. The Kitchen Goddess has more than once burned her fingers in this process. But in my wanderings around the web, I came across Kitchen Conundrums with Thomas Joseph, on He suggests wrapping the business ends of tongs with paper towels, secured by rubber bands, at which point you can easily pick up a hot ramekin and invert it without hurting yourself. The internet is a wonderful place.

The Cake

With all these distractions, I don’t want you to miss the point of this post, which is to make this cake. OMG, you will not find another dessert that is simultaneously this mouth-watering and easy to make. It’s so popular in Jean-George’s restaurants, he says they make thousands each day. So even if you don’t trust the Kitchen Goddess (what??!!), you can trust all those customers. It’ll take more time on your first try, but on my third time making this recipe, the longest part of the process was waiting for my oven to get to 450º. Seriously. And then the little darlings cook in only 7-8 minutes!

Molten Chocolate Cake

Adapted from Jean-George Vongerichten, as seen in The New York Times.

Makes 4 cakes.

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
4 ounces unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering the molds*
2 large eggs
2 yolks from large eggs
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour, plus extra for flouring the molds*
Optional flavorings: 1¼ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder, or 1¼ teaspoon cinnamon
Garnishes (any combination of these): powdered sugar, mint sprig, raspberries, ice cream, whipped cream

Special equipment: four 6-ounce molds or ramekins, buttered and floured or sprayed with Baker’s Joy.

*Kitchen Goddess note: You can save yourself time and a pain in the neck by purchasing a can of Baker’s Joy, a calorie-free non-stick baking spray with flour. Spray it on the insides of your molds, and in seconds, you are ready to roll.

Start by melting the butter and chocolate together in a saucepan or medium-sized bowl. You can do this using a double boiler with hot water, or a bowl set over a saucepan of hot water, or you can melt the butter in the microwave and stir the chocolate into it until the chocolate is completely melted. Or if, like the Kitchen Goddess, you are blessed with an induction stovetop, you can put the butter and chocolate into a saucepan on the “Melt” setting and wait for technology to do its work. However you make it happen, stir together the melted butter and chocolate until well blended, and set aside.

Put the whole eggs and the egg yolks into a mixing bowl with the sugar, and beat or whisk the mixture until it becomes lighter and thickens. If you are using a stand mixer, this will take about a minute and a half on the second highest speed setting.

Stir the flour and any optional flavoring you choose into the chocolate/butter mix, and slowly pour the egg/sugar mixture into the chocolate, stirring or whisking constantly as you pour. Continue to stir the batter until the mixtures are well combined.

Pour the batter into the greased and floured molds, leaving a bit of room for the cakes to expand. At this point, you can bake them immediately, or you can cover the molds with cellophane wrap and refrigerate them for up to 3 hours. With the latter, just let them come back to room temperature (give them at least 30 minutes) before baking.

When you’re ready to bake, heat the oven to 450º. Put the molds or ramekins onto a rimmed baking sheet, and bake at 450º for 8 minutes. The Kitchen Goddess prefers to set the timer for 7 minutes, then check to see if the tops are set, and continue baking for another minute if they are not. It’s better to undercook these cakes than to overcook them, as they won’t be “molten” if they’re overcooked. The cakes are ready when the tops are barely set – that middle spot on the surface is no longer wet. The cake will still jiggle slightly.

Let the cakes sit for 1 minute before unmolding. To unmold, place a plate upside down on top of the mold, and invert the mold and plate together. Leave the mold in place for 10 seconds before lifting it off. Garnish with powdered sugar, whipped cream, ice cream, or a sprig of mint. Scatter raspberries around the plate. Serve immediately.

Coming up: Green Tea (Matcha) Ice Cream


  1. I love your tongs tip! Some cooks are just so smart! Glad you tested it out and it worked well for this recipe It's definitely a tip I'll file away for future use.

    1. Right -- I was amazed. And thrilled to stop burning my fingers!