My friend Cristin came over for a cheese & chocolate-filled dinner on New Year's Eve. After the marathon of cooking that comprised the week of Christmas, I wasn't quite ready to do a full-scale four-course dinner, so I decided on something a bit simpler. I left out the meat course, and instead settled on a browned-butter butternut squash risotto (recipe to follow shortly), molten chocolate cakes, and an oozy, champagne-friendly Brillat-Savarin to finish.
I promise details on the risotto and the cheese, but first, the cakes. These cakes, based on Jean-Georges Vongerichten's iconic version (What dessert better defines the 1990s?), are pretty much the easiest dessert in the history of the world. You melt chocolate and add it to eggs beaten with sugar, then spike it with a bit of vanilla and espresso. Oh, and, there are two teaspoons of flour in there, too. Yes, just two teaspoons.
The cakes bake at a high temperature (450°F) for just a couple of minutes, and then they're ready to go. They're best when served with some lightly whipped cream, but they do pretty well on their own, too. And since they take about 15 minutes total to whip up, they work as a mid-week treat as well as a dinner party finale.
Molten Chocolate Cakes
Adapted from Jean-Georges Vongerichten & Mark Bittman
You can use any kind of custard cup, ramekin or mold for these cakes; my favorite cookware for these are the fluted brioche molds I picked up in Paris last year!
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for molds
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting molds
4 ounces very good bittersweet chocolate
2 large whole eggs
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Butter and lightly flour four 4-ounce molds, ramekins, or custard cups. Tap out excess flour; butter and flour them again, and set aside. (Don't skimp on this - you definitely need to double-grease and flour these.
Gently melt the butter and chocolate together in the top of a double boiler (You can fashion one yourself using a heatproof bowl and a pan of simmering water.). Heat until the chocolate has almost completely melted, then stir to combine evenly. Cool slightly.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using a hand-held mixer and a medium bowl), beat together eggs, yolks, and sugar until light and thick. Add melted chocolate mixture, and beat to combine. Quickly beat in flour, espresso powder and vanilla until just combined. Divide batter evenly among the molds.
(At this point, you can refrigerate the cakes until an hour before you're ready to bake them off. Just cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to a day. Remove from the fridge about an hour before you're ready to bake them.)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place filled molds on a rimmed baking sheet, and bake until the sides have set but the centers remain soft, 4 to 6 minutes.
Invert each mold onto a plate, and let rest 10 seconds. Unmold by lifting up one corner of the mold; the cake will fall out easily onto the plate. Serve immediately.
Serves four; easily divides to feed fewer or multiplies to feed more.