Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chocolate Fondant: Cake...? Brownie...? Heaven.

Forget everything you ever knew about chocolate cake. Leave your brownie recipes behind. Fudge? psh. Follow this pide piper of chocolate into a fluffy, yet dense chocolate luxury.
Its like laying your head on a firmly packed down pillow and still sinking just enough. But its your mouth. and chocolate.
Or biting into the deep chocolate flavor of fudge, but finding instead a truffle sitting lightly on your tongue
I'll admit that the recipe is slightly advanced, with two non-standard techniques for the usual box-cake lovers, but they are two skills that will really open up your recipe options in the future, leaving you will more fine deserts and more complicated palates of flavor.

200g baking chocolate, or about 7 oz
125g butter, 1/2 cup plus one tablespoon
150g sugar, or 3/4 cup
6 eggs separated
a tad bit of butter and flour for preparing the pan
a pinch of salt for beating the egg whites

a cakepan somewhere around 9x9 inches

*There is lots of wiggle room with the size/shape of your baking pan. I made a half recipe with a bread pan and it was perfect, I made one full recipe and put it in silicone muffin pans, which was great, and even made a half recipe in a 9x9, which was also great, though it made much thinner pieces. So play as you will, and just be conscious to take it out of the oven a few minutes early (really, just a few, once it passes the toothpick test) if it is spread thinner. 15 minutes did it for my half recipe, but my oven is really strong.

1. Take the eggs out of the fridge at least an hour ahead of time and let them warm to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 200ºC/390ºF and butter and flour the baking pan.

2. Double boil your chocolate and butter, melting until homogeneous. Set aside to cool.

How to: To melt chocolate, people-in-the-know use a double boiler, or a baine marie. It melts the chocolate without changing the liquid ratio. Not to mention, putting your chocolate straight in a pan on the stove will lead to a way-too-thick, gooey texture, often with lovely little chunks to boot.

Instead, heat a pot of water to a low simmer and find a bowl that fits nicely over top of the first, almost or just barely sealing the rim. Put your chocolate and butter in this second bowl. The french actually float their bowls in a low 2 or 3 inches of water, but if you try this be SURE that not a single drop of water gets over the sides of the bowl and into the chocolate! The steam from the heating water in the bottom bowl will heat the second, melting the chocolate gently. Melting the butter with the chocolate also gives you more room for error.

Remove the chocolate as soon as it is 90% melted, or so, and continue stirring. It will all smooth out nicely within a minute or two of pulling it off the heat, ensuring that you dont overcook it.

Alternatively, but not preferably, you can break the chocolate into small chunks, throw it in a microwave safe bowl and add a tablespoon of water per 100g of chocolate. Microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring vigorously with a fork after each 30 seconds until it is almost completely melted. Then stir till homogeneous. If you are using the microwave method, melt the butter and chocolate separately, mixing afterward.

3. Separate your eggs, placing the egg whites in a large bowl for step 3. Mix the sugar with the yolks and once well-blended, stir in the melted chocolate and butter.

4. Sprinkle a pinch of salt over the egg whites that you placed in the very large bowl and beat them into soft peaks, or into "snow" as the french call it.
How to: Annoyingly tiring for the arm, and kind of intimidating, but really not that hard if your bowl is big enough. This video (yes, I know its in french, but I am about to tell you the only important parts, and his method is simple and pretty to watch) is a great tutor. And after you learn the technique, you can use it in almost any other baking recipe you have if you want a lighter, fluffier texture! This is also THE secret to French Mousse...

It is important to use egg whites at room temperature. Sprinkle them with a pinch of fine salt (aka table salt), tilt your bowl with your non dominate hand so that the egg whites pool on one side, and begin beating with a whisk at a steady rhythm. Listen to the beat that develops in the video - it is a little slower than I was using when I failed at this method the first couple times. Not quite as vigorous as when you beat eggs for an omelet. Instead, it keeps the egg whites moving, but allows them to pool in the bottom between beats so that you get it all moving together. They should start forming fairly quickly.

There are two versions: soft peaks and stiff peaks. The only difference is that soft peaks form first, and if you keep going, stiff peaks form. If you keep going too far past stiff peaks it all starts to break down. Not good. To test, stop beating and using your whisk, use a scooping motion to lift some of the egg whites out of the bowl. If they barely hold onto the whisk and melt back into themselves in the bowl, its soft peaks. If they pull apart and hold a very distinct peaks, its stiff. Thats what she said.

If there is ANY liquid left in the bottom of the bowl, you are not done. Keep going. In fact, they shouldn't move at all if you turn the bowl upside down.

Alternatively, a hand mixer will do this for you in just a few seconds.

5. Whip the batter from step 3 into the egg whites, pour in the buttered and floured pan, and throw it in the oven for about 20 minutes.

Test to see if it is finished with the toothpick test: stick a toothpick, or a knife, in the middle (stuff is always more cooked around the edges) and if it comes out clean, the cake is done.5. LET THIS CAKE COOL for at least an hour! It puffs up majorly during cooking and you want it to sink way back down before cutting into it. You can see the cool shapes it made in my oval muffin pans when it sank down!

Our consensus was that the larger pans made for better desert because the outside gets flaky, but it is really the fluffy yet fudgy middle that is so amazing. Therefore, cutting squares out of a larger pan yields the perfect chunks of heaven.

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