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A HIDDEN SURPRISE FOR YOUR VALENTINE.

Byline: Natalie Haughton Daily News Food Editor

Chocolate has long been associated with Valentine's Day and seduction. And with its rich, luxurious qualities, what better way to flatter a sweetheart's fancy than by baking a warm chocolate cake that reveals a hidden surprise - luscious liquified chocolate - when you take a bite?

We're talking about those individual warm chocolate truffle cakes that are offered on upscale restaurant dessert menus. They are a dreamy indulgence - and for chocolate aficionados, sheer pleasure.

``If you want chocolate, this cake is probably the ultimate chocolate dessert - other than eating a piece of chocolate,'' noted Sherry Yard, pastry chef at Spago in West Hollywood.

``What's not to like? It's hot, gooey, chocolaty and sophisticated,'' added the chocolate fan, who said, ``the only thing that is running through my blood is chocolate and sugar.''

According to Janice Wald Henderson, senior editor of Chocolatier magazine and a Sherman Oaks resident, the dessert has peaked but is still very popular and consistently ordered in restaurants in Los Angeles, New York, Florida and elsewhere.

If you've never eaten the cake, you're in for a fabulous treat. Henderson describes the dessert as ``a very intense chocolate experience - a distinctive bittersweet chocolate taste. When this dessert is well-executed, there is an edge to it. It walks a fine line between sweet and bitter. Therefore, it's truly for those who adore chocolate. It's a very moist, very chocolaty, individual round cake that is usually served warm - and as you cut into the center, out oozes this thick, creamy chocolate liquid (like a warm truffle).''

Depending on how the cake is made - with a single batter or with a truffle in the middle of a cake batter - there can be little chocolate or lots, continued Henderson.

Timing in baking is everything.

Although the cakes - known by many names, including truffle cakes and Valrhona chocolate cakes - are no longer as chic and trendy as they were a decade ago, they have withstood the test of time and are now dessert menu mainstays in many upscale restaurants. In fact, in some, they remain the best-selling dessert and still garner the most kudos for pastry chefs. What started out as a trend is now an institution.

Who actually started the warm chocolate cake movement, and when, is uncertain. The genesis might well be French home cooking, but both Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who added a warm chocolate cake to the menu when he was at the Lafayette in the Drake Hotel (it's now a best seller at his French bistro, JoJo), and Jacques Torres, pastry chef at Le Cirque in New York, have been credited as the first to introduce the dessert in this country. According to Spago's Yard, Vongerichten is the one who called attention to the cake - and it took off like wildfire. Some restaurants began serving it with thyme syrup, bay leaf vanilla sauce - and with caramel cages, chocolate sauce and whipped cream, added Yard. The cake has since proliferated on menus throughout the country.

At JoJo in New York, the Chocolate Valrhona Cake with the meltingly warm bittersweet chocolate inside has been sold since the restaurant opened 5 1/2 years ago and sells at the rate of about 70 to 80 on weekend nights, said Chris Beischer, the restaurant's chef de cuisine. It outsells other desserts by more than three to one, even though it's loaded with fat. ``If we took it off the menu, the city would revolt,'' he added.

The Valrhona chocolate batter is prepared ahead and kept refrigerated, then baked five minutes in individual brioche-type molds when ordered, continued Beischer.

JoJo's uses just a single mixture for their cakes and underbakes them to get the liquidy effect. ``If you don't use the best ingredients, you have nothing, '' emphasized Beischer. The restaurant serves their version garnished with vanilla ice cream and leaf-shaped cookies.

At Spago, where the dessert has been served about six years, Yard, who inherited the cake recipe and makes separate truffles to bake in the middle of the cakes, noted that it is no longer one of the best sellers because of the large variety of selections on the dessert menu, including numerous other decadent chocolate choices.

The secret to making successful cakes, Yard said, is to avoid overwhipping the egg mixture. When you aerate the eggs too much, the cake becomes too delicate, breaks down and comes out flat, she continued.

Several recipes, some adapted and streamlined for the home kitchen, are included today. We had good results baking the desserts in individual souffle dishes or individual custard cups - and turning them out on individual serving plates. The combinations of ingredients in recipes vary, with some containing more chocolate, less flour and more butter than others, and some even separating the yolks and whites.

Garnishes also differ, with pastry chefs adding their own variations on the theme, ranging from chantilly creme to whipped cream to chocolate sauce to various flavors of ice cream, to fresh raspberries, raspberry coulis and tuile cookies of various shapes.

Henderson, a purist, prefers eating the cake garnished with whipped cream with a drop of vanilla and powdered sugar stirred in. Chocolate sauce is overkill, she said.

At Spago, the cakes are served with milk chocolate black currant tea-infused ice cream and clabber whipped cream - and vanilla sauce on the bottom of the plate with a chocolate piped design, noted Yard. Sometimes the cakes are gussied up with tuile cookie batter baked in interesting shapes.

For Valentine's Day, Yard suggests serving the cakes garnished with fresh raspberries sauteed in raspberry jam and raspberry port sauce.

This chocolate dessert, which Michael Schneider, editor in chief of Chocolatier magazine in New York, refers to as a performance-art dessert because it oozes and has movement when you cut into it, has led chefs to add other elements of surprise in a wide range of sophisticated desserts. ``Dessert is entertainment for anyone,'' noted Schneider. ``It fills and satisfies an emotional craving - and is indulgent, sinful and elicit. We eat this stuff because we want to feel good and be entertained.''

From Schneider's view there is now more to the molten or surprise dessert than just chocolate. Anything that has liquid and movement falls into the category. Schneider recalled a couple of new dessert creations with surprises that he sampled recently, including the Plaza Hotel's orange sorbet in a ginger parfait with a cassis coulis inside that spills out when you cut into it.

Another is a fresh peppermint ice cream bombe with dark chocolate syrup inside and a mint sauce around it.

Yard agreed that we're now seeing the creation of surprises in other desserts. For instance, at Spago, Yard is making mini free-standing citrus souffles with a mandarin orange surprise (mandarin orange segments with orange syrup) and a semifreddo nougat with a fraise des bois in syrup surprise inside (the outside is wrapped with a baked tuile).

But back to the warm chocolate truffle cake. Following are several recipe variations on the theme, easy enough to whip up for a special valentine. If you'd prefer taking your sweetheart out to sample the dessert, you can get delicious versions at Spago, Wolfgang Puck Cafe (various locations around the Valley and Los Angeles), Boxer in Los Angeles, Ca Del Sole in Universal City, Arnie Morton's in Beverly Hills, Moonlight Tango in Sherman Oaks and 2424 Pico in Los Angeles.

WARM CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE CAKE

(A Restaurant Replica version from Spago)

TRUFFLES:

3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate pieces (Spago uses Valrhona bittersweet chocolate) OR semisweet chocolate chips

1 tablespoon butter

3 tablespoons whipping cream

2 tablespoons Bailey's Irish Cream liqueur OR bourbon

CAKE BATTER:

6 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate OR 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) butter

3 eggs

3 egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup flour

1/3 cup chopped almonds (optional)

To make truffles, melt 3/4 cup chocolate pieces, 1 tablespoon butter and cream in top of double boiler over hot water or in a microwave-safe bowl in microwave oven on high (100 percent) power about 2 minutes or until melted and smooth when stirred. Stir in liqueur. Refrigerate until firm.

Using a melon ball scoop or very small scoop, make 8 truffle balls. Put on a plate and freeze until firm.

To make cake batter, melt 6 ounces chocolate and 1 1/2 sticks butter in a medium glass bowl in microwave oven on high power 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 minutes or until smooth and melted when stirred. Cool.

In a bowl of an electric mixer, beat eggs and egg yolks until frothy. Gradually add sugar and continue beating until mixture has almost tripled in volume and is thick, but is still yellow in color. Fold in flour. Then fold in cooled chocolate mixture until just combined.

Butter 8 individual 3- to 3 1/2-inch diameter souffle dishes or ramekins well. Fill each 1/3 full with chocolate mixture. Place 1 frozen chocolate truffle ball in center of chocolate mixture in each dish. Sprinkle each with some of chopped almonds. Divide remaining chocolate mixture evenly among the 8 dishes. These can be refrigerated at this time and baked just before serving.

Place cups on baking sheets. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven 12 to 15 minutes or until set but still soft and runny in middle. (Refrigerated ones will need 18 to 20 minutes.)

Serve in dishes topped with whipped cream or ice cream. Or let stand 5 minutes, then loosen and turn upside down on a serving plate. Serve immediately with hot fudge sauce and ice cream. Makes 8 servings.

WARM CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE CAKES

(A Restaurant Replica version from Wolfgang Puck Cafe).

8 ounces bittersweet OR semisweet chocolate

2 sticks (1/2 pound) butter

4 eggs

5 egg yolks

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour

Melt chocolate and butter in a 1-quart glass bowl in microwave oven on high (100 percent) power 1 1/2 to 2 minutes; stir until melted and smooth; cool.

In a medium bowl with an electric mixer on high speed, beat eggs, egg yolks and sugar until increased in volume, 5 to 8 minutes.

Beat in flour. Beat in cool chocolate-butter mixture.

Butter 9 or 10 (3/4 cup) individual souffle dishes (each about 3 inches in diameter) well. Spoon batter into dishes filling each 3/4 full (about 4 ounces).

Place dishes in a 10x15 inch jelly-roll pan (with sides).

Place in oven and pour 1/4-inch hot water into jelly-roll pan.

Bake in preheated 350-degree oven 17 to 20 minutes or until just barely set, but still soft in center. DO NOT OVERBAKE.

Cool slightly. Run a knife around inside edges of dishes. Unmold each cake upside down onto an individual dessert plate.

Serve warm with chocolate sauce, whipped cream and fresh raspberries or strawberries. Makes 9 to 10 servings.

CHOCOLATE TRUFFLE CAKE

(From Lissa Doumani, co-owner Terra Restaurant, St. Helena)

CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES:

5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup whipping cream

2 tablespoons Cognac

CHOCOLATE CAKE:

9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

18 tablespoons (2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter

5 large eggs

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 cup cornstarch, sifted

1 teaspoon vanilla

GARNISH:

Coffee ice cream

To make Chocolate Truffles, place chocolate in a medium bowl and melt in microwave oven on medium (50 percent) power 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 minutes.

In a small saucepan, bring cream and Cognac to a boil and whisk cream mixture into chocolate until smooth. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight until set.

After mixture is set, remove from refrigerator and form into 6 (1/2-inch) balls. Flatten truffles slightly into disks and refrigerate until ready to use. (Roll leftover truffle mixture into 1/2-inch balls and roll in cocoa powder. Stored in an airtight container, truffles will keep 2 weeks in refrigerator.)

To make Chocolate Cake, butter and sugar bottom and sides of 6 (8-ounce) ramekins and place on a baking sheet.

Place chocolate and butter in a medium bowl and melt in microwave oven on high (100 percent) power 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In another medium bowl, using a wire whisk, whisk together eggs and sugar until light in color. Whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture and gently fold in cornstarch. Add vanilla.

Fill each prepared ramekin 1/3 full. Place a truffle into center of each ramekin and cover with remaining batter filling ramekins 2/3 full.

Bake in preheated 325-degree oven 16 to 18 minutes or until cakes have formed a crust and are soft to touch. Place cakes on a wire rack and cool 5 minutes. Garnish with ice cream. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

From Chocolatier magazine, March 1997.

MOLTEN CHOCOLATE CAKE

This sinful dessert, developed with the help of two New York chefs, Jean-Georges Vongerichten of Jo-Jo and Wayne Nish owner of March, is a testament to our love affair with chocolate. In the center of these individual cakes are luscious liquefied truffles.

1/4 cup whipping cream

6 squares (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 1/2 squares (1 1/2 ounces) unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (no substitutions)

3 large eggs, at room temperature

3 large egg yolks, at room temperature

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon powdered sugar

Whipped cream OR vanilla ice cream and fresh raspberries, for garnish

For truffles, heat cream to boiling in a small saucepan. Remove from heat. Add 2 ounces chopped semisweet chocolate and stir until melted and smooth; cool 10 minutes. On a sheet of wax paper, shape truffle mixture into an 8-inch log. Wrap and refrigerate 3 hours or freeze 2 hours until firm. Cut crosswise into 8 equal pieces. (Can be made ahead. Wrap and refrigerate up to 24 hours.)

Butter and flour 8 (6-ounce) custard cups; tap to remove excess flour. Place on baking sheet.

For cake, melt remaining 4 ounces semisweet chocolate and unsweetened chocolate and butter in a medium microwave-safe bowl on high (100 percent) power 2 minutes; stir until completely melted and smooth. Cool to room temperature. (Or use a double boiler over simmering water, stirring occasionally. Cool.)

Combine eggs, egg yolks and granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl. Beat at high speed until mixture is thick and a ribbon forms when beaters are lifted, 8 to 10 minutes. Sift flour over egg mixture and fold in gently with a rubber spatula. Fold in cooled chocolate-butter mixture in 2 batches, just until blended.

Pour batter into prepared custard cups. Bake in preheated 400-degree oven 5 minutes. Remove from oven. With a spoon, quickly place 1 truffle on center of each cake (truffle will sink). Return to oven and bake 4 to 5 minutes more or until tops of cakes are dry and begin to pull away from sides of cups. Transfer cups to a wire rack and cool 5 minutes.

With a small, sharp knife, carefully loosen cakes from cups and invert onto 8 dessert plates. Stir powdered sugar lightly over tops. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream and fresh raspberries. Makes 8 servings.

From ``Ladies' Home Journal, 100 Great Dessert Recipes'' (Ladies' Home Journal Books).

WARM CHOCOLATE CAKE WITH A SOFT HEART

This rendition is shared by Marion Tse, pastry chef at San Francisco's Cypress Club.

3/4 cup (6 ounces) butter OR margarine

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (about 1 cup)

4 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

About 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

5 large eggs, separated

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 to 1 1/2 cups coffee ice cream

1/2 to 3/4 cup warm Chocolate Sauce (recipe follows OR use your favorite store-bought sauce)

Powdered sugar

In a 3- to 4-quart pan, combine butter and chocolate. Stir occasionally over low heat until melted and smooth.

Mix flour with 2 tablespoons cocoa.

In a large bowl, beat egg whites with a mixer on high speed until foamy. Gradually beat in granulated sugar, then beat until whites hold stiff, shiny peaks.

Stir liqueur, vanilla, egg yolks and cocoa mixture into chocolate-butter mixture, then stir in about 1/4 of egg whites. Fold remaining egg whites into chocolate mixture; leave no white streaks. Spoon batter equally into 8 (6-ounce) buttered ramekins (about 3/4-cup size). Set ramekins in a 10x15-inch jelly-roll pan.

Bake cakes in preheated 375-degree oven just until edges feel firm but centers are still soft when gently pressed, 11 to 12 minutes. Cool 5 minutes.

Invert each cake onto a separate plate and place a small scoop of ice cream alongside. Drizzle warm Chocolate Sauce over cake and plate, then sift powdered sugar and cocoa onto dessert. Serve at once. Makes 8 servings.

NOTE: If making ahead, cool cakes in baking dishes, then cover and chill up to 1 day. To reheat, bake, uncovered, in preheated 300-degree oven just until warm to touch, about 10 minutes. Or heat, 1 at a time, covered, in microwave oven on 50 percent power just until warm to touch, about 30 seconds.

CHOCOLATE SAUCE

4 ounces bittersweet OR semisweet chocolate, chopped (about 2/3 cup)

1/3 cup milk

2 tablespoons coffee-flavored liqueur

Melt chocolate in milk in a microwave oven or over low heat, stirring often until smooth. Stir in liqueur. Serve warm. Makes 3/4 cup.

From ``Sunset Recipe Annual 1997 Edition'' by the editors of Sunset Magazine and Sunset Books.

JO-JO'S INDIVIDUAL CHOCOLATE CAKES

Guests must leave room for this legendary dessert at Jo-Jo's restaurant in New York. The cake is served with vanilla ice cream and a decorative butter cookie leaf.

LEAF COOKIES:

6 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 large egg whites

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

2 teaspoons vanilla

CHOCOLATE CAKES:

Cocoa powder, for dusting

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

11 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons

3 large egg yolks, at room temperature

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

GARNISH:

Vanilla ice cream

Cocoa powder

For Leaf Cookies, line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a 4 1/2-quart mixing bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer using a wire whip attachment, combine granulated sugar and flour. Mix on medium speed until well combined, about 30 seconds.

While continuing to beat on medium speed, gradually add egg whites, melted butter and vanilla. Refrigerate batter at least 45 minutes before using.

Trace a leaf pattern onto a plastic coffee can (or similar) lid. Using an X-Acto knife or razor blade, cut out and discard the center. The outer rim of the lid will be used as a stencil for cookies. Place leaf stencil on prepared baking sheet. Fill stencil with a very thin layer of wafer batter, smoothing evenly with a small metal spatula, repeat this process with remaining batter.

Bake in center of preheated 350-degree oven 5 to 7 minutes or until set and golden.

For Chocolate Cakes, generously butter 12 (4-ounce) ramekins or scalloped metal molds. Dust insides with cocoa powder, tapping out excess. Set molds onto a large cookie sheet.

Melt chocolate and butter over a double boiler.

In a 4 1/2-quart bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer using a wire whip attachment, whip yolks, eggs and granulated sugar on medium speed until pale in color and light in texture, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour until well incorporated. Add melted chocolate and butter and beat 5 minutes on medium-low speed.

Pour batter into prepared molds, filling 2/3 full.

Bake in preheated 350-degree oven 12 to 15 minutes, until tops are just set. Centers will remain soft and runny. Serve immediately.

To serve, invert a mold onto an individual dessert plate and tap out cake. Garnish with 1 leaf cookie and 1 scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired. Dust cake and plate with cocoa powder. Makes 12 servings.

From Chocolatier magazine, December 1993.

WARM CHOCOLATE CAKE

(Adapted from March Restaurant, New York)

1/2 pound unsalted butter plus softened butter for greasing molds

1/2 cup all-purpose flour plus flour for preparing molds

3 1/4 ounces Mexican chocolate, chopped

4 3/4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, preferably Callebaut, chopped

2 1/2 teaspoons grated orange peel

4 large eggs

4 large egg yolks

1/2 cup sugar

Whipped cream

Brush 6 mini-bundt molds with soft butter and dust with flour.

Melt remaining butter with both chocolates and orange peel in a mixing bowl set over a pan of boiling water. Remove from heat and stir to combine. In a separate bowl, beat eggs, egg yolks and sugar together until they form a ribbon. Sift flour on top and fold in. Fold into chocolate in 2 portions.

Pour batter into prepared molds.

Bake in preheated 400-degree oven 6 minutes. Remove from oven, let stand 5 minutes, unmold. Serve with whipped cream. Makes 6 servings.

From The New York Times, Nov. 27, 1991.

CAPTION(S):

3 Photos

Photo: (1--2--Color) Spago garnishes warm chocolate truffle cakes in different ways according to the season - with raspberries in sauce, above, for Valentine's Day and with creme anglaise, chocolate sauce and whipped cream and cookies on other occasions.

(3) Sherry Yard, the pastry chef at Spago in West Hollywood, presents warm chocolate truffle cakes garnished two different ways.

Tom Mendoza/Daily News
COPYRIGHT 1997 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1997, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
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Date:Feb 12, 1997
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