This week was a first for me: I ventured into the "desserts" section of the Top Chef Cookbook. I don't really have too much of a sweet tooth, so that wasn't my first stop, but now, several weeks in, I decided to give it a try. I went with Hung's Molten Chocolate cakes, because I had to wonder (assuming I made them correctly) how that could possibly be a wrong choice. And indeed, I was right, the cakes were great, but what made them even better was all of the "accoutrements" that went along side the cakes — the vanilla/almond crème fraiche, the raspberry coulis, the almond nougatine tuiles, and the fresh mint.
The Raspberry Coulis:
Making the raspberry coulis was really simple. All I had to do was put fresh raspberries, some sugar and lemon juice in a food processor and puree until smooth.
Then I passed the puree through a fine-mesh sieve so that all the seeds would be left behind.
This is such an easy way to make a beautiful raspberry sauce, which can be used for more things than just for these cakes - it can be used to add a classy touch to ice cream and pound cake!
This, at least in my opinion, is what crème fraiche should be - a slightly denser and just ever so subtlety sour version of whipped cream. Sure, they have "crème fraiche" that comes in plastic in the grocery stores, but that stuff just tastes like very thick sour cream. This crème fraiche tastes like "the real thing" to me - whatever that means - well to me, that means it tastes "French."
Again, it's simple. Just whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form.
Then add a few tablespoons of packaged crème fraiche.
It is also standard to add vanilla extract and sugar.
This recipe also calls for almond extract.
Once these ingredients have been added, you use your electric hand mixer again, and beat until the cream has thickened and medium peaks form.
(The crème fraiche should be refrigerated until ready to serve with the molten cakes.)The Almond Nougatine Tuiles:
These were not "hard" to make per se, but definitely most difficult aspect of the dessert. The cookie (or tuile) batter is simply a mixture of butter, light corn syrup, and confectioners' sugar.
These ingredients get whisked together to form a viscous syrup in a sauce pan, and the slivered almonds are then added.
Now the "tricky" part comes. The syrup must be dropped in small teaspoonfuls 3 inches apart on baking sheets covered with silicone mats (called "Silpats") - the silicone mats ensure that the surface is non-stick and makes it easier to remove the tuiles when they are done, because the mats are flexible. It is important to keep the spoonfuls 3 inches apart because this syrup really spreads out when it bakes.
When the tuiles are done, they will have turned into golden brown translucent cookies - kind of like almond brittle.
After the tuiles have cooled a bit, they should be patted with paper towels to remove the excess butter. When removing the tuiles from the pan, some may break, but that's OK.
The Molten Chocolate Mini-Cakes:
I've always been afraid of making molten chocolate cakes, even though I've been told by many people that they are not hard. This recipe proved that to be true. They were so easy. First you have to melt the bittersweet chocolate and butter together. The recipe suggested using a double boiler, but I (having seen a French woman do this to make an amazing chocolate mousse) have learned that you can just as easily melt chocolate, without scorching it, in the microwave. Just put the chocolate (and in this case, the butter too) in a microwavable bowl and put in the microwave at the lowest or second to lowest power setting for at least ten minutes (depending on the amount of chocolate, of course).
This method is much simpler than the double boiler method. My only regret was that the bowl I chose was barely big enough, but I was careful and had a steady hand, so there was no spillage.
Then in a large bowl, I used the electric hand beater again (I washed it) to beat together the eggs and egg yolks until frothy.
Then I added the sugar and continued to beat until the mixture about doubled in volume.
Then I beat in the two tablespoons of flour.
At this point, all I had to do was add the chocolate/butter mixture and mix until blended.
The recipe called for using individual muffin cups of ramekins, but I used a 12-muffin non-stick (but still buttered) muffin pan, and the recipe came out fine. I filled the muffin pan so the batter came close to, but not quite to, the top, and baked for 11 minutes.
When the mini-cakes were done - the sides were set but the middles were still soft - I took them out of the oven.
I ran a small knife around each of the cakes to loosen them, and then turned them all out onto a plastic board.
Plating the Dessert:
This was simple, but really lets you be a bit of an artist. First place a chocolate cake on a dessert plate. Then spoon some of the raspberry coulis beside the cake. Then place some crème fraiche on top of the cake and to the side. Gently "plant" a tuile or two in the dollop of crème fraiche that is to the side of the cake. Finally, garnish the plate with fresh strawberries and mint leaves.
How to Make this Already Fabulous Dessert Even Better:
I seriously don't know what to say here - it was basically perfect. Personally, the second time around, I probably would not have put the almond extract in the crème fraiche because although I love almonds, I don't like the intense almond flavor that can be found in almond extract and marzipan - but that's just personal taste.
Final Word on this Dish:
This was a restaurant quality uber-classy dessert that also satisfies everyone's base need for chocolate. One of the things that made the dish so satisfying was how well it played on contrasts. The chocolate cakes were rich and dense but not too sweet. The crème fraiche had some weight to it, but was cool and light compared to the cake. The raspberry coulis was both sweet and tangy at the same time. The tuiles added additional color contrast, as well as texture. Finally, the freshness of the raspberries and the mint (yes the mint should be eaten - it's not just garnish) brought a particular brightness to the dessert.
Homemade Confectioners' Sugar
I never buy confectioners' sugar. Why? Well, the truth is that it's not a "staple" and most recipes (like this one) only call for a couple of spoonfuls of it, and then what do you do with the rest of the box? So I make it! All you have to do is take regular granulated sugar and grind it up in a coffee grinder.
In fact, I use my coffee grinder as a spice mill as well. Just about the only thing I don't grind in the coffee grinder is coffee! (First of all, those cheap "whirly" coffee grinders are supposedly awful for grinding coffee beans. Coffee aficionados will tell you that you need a higher quality more expensive coffee grinder. Second, I actually don't drink a lot of coffee, so I threw my coffee maker out a long time ago, but kept the cheap grinder!)
Derivation of "Tuiles"
In French, the word "tuile" actually means "tile" — like ceramic tiles or roof tiles. The brittle and delicate quality of the cookies likens them to fine tiles.