- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Chocolate cake should always be moist, but this recipe takes it a step further - the very center of the cake remains liquid so that when you dig into the cake a lovely pool of chocolaty sauce flows onto the plate.

Difficult to achieve, you say? Not really, the cake batter is about as complicated to prepare as a batch of brownies. The art of these little cakes is all in the baking, but let’s start at the beginning.

You’ll need seven metal, foil, porcelain or glass ramekins or custard cups with a 4-ounce ( 1/2 cup) capacity.

Chefs use pleated foil ones (not the cupcake papers with the foil reinforcement), and you see them all the time in take-out places with bread pudding or custard baked in them. Occasionally, you can find them in the supermarket displayed with the foil pie pans and other foil bakeware.

If you can’t find them, any 4-ounce ramekin - straight-sided is best - will do. Prepare the molds by letting a few tablespoons of butter get very soft - the consistency of mayonnaise.

Use a brush to coat the inside of each mold and the top rim with the butter, then shake in some flour. Rotate the ramekin so that the flour covers the whole buttered surface, then tap out the excess. Arrange the molds on a jellyroll pan.

After the batter is made, you need to fill the molds - the recipe makes seven cakes, so use all the batter for them.

Loosely cover the pan with plastic wrap and start to imagine how clever everyone will think you are when they see and taste these wonderful little cakes.

While you’re getting everything else ready for dinner, set out dessert plates near the stove. Have spoons and forks ready to pass around with the cakes.

Make the sauce and chill it (or get everything for the sauce ready and whip it up while the cakes are baking if you want to serve it warm). Later on, preheat the oven when you bring the main course to the table.

After you clear the main course, pop the cakes into the oven. After 7 or 8 minutes, check for signs of doneness - the top of each cake should be dull and dry looking except for about a 1/2-inch in the very center. Unmold a test cake and see how much is still liquid - only a generous tablespoon or so of batter in the very center of the cake should be liquid.

Use mitts to unmold the cakes to the center of the plates, pour a ladle of the sauce on each, and rush them to the table just in time to start basking in everyone’s praise. Be modest and say, “Oh, it’s nothing at all, just a little recipe I tore out of the paper.”

So here’s my parting gift: If you want the cakes to be perfect when you serve them to guests, make a test batch a few days before.

At 8 1/2 minutes, quickly open the oven, use mitts to grab one of the cakes and unmold it - it will probably be a thin baked shell and mostly liquid.

Unmold another one every 30 seconds until you get that perfect balance of mostly baked cake and a little liquid batter in the center. Every oven is different, but once you’ve tested them, you’ll know exactly how long they need to bake in yours.

Molten center chocolate cakes with creme anglaise

This is a wonderful make-ahead dessert. As long as everything to serve it is ready in advance, you may make the cake batter and fill the molds hours in advance - just bake them immediately before you intend to serve them. Makes 7 individual cakes.

5 ounces 70 percent bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 10 pieces

3 large eggs

3 large egg yolks

2/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour (spoon flour into dry-measure cup and level off)

Creme anglaise (recipe follows)

7 4-ounce aluminum foil molds or porcelain ramekins, buttered and floured

Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.

Half fill a saucepan with water and bring it to a boil. Turn off the heat. Combine chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl and place over hot water. Stir occasionally until melted.

Whisk eggs and yolks together in the bowl of an electric mixer. Whisk in sugar, then butter and chocolate mixture. Place on mixer and mix for a minute on medium speed. Remove the bowl and whisk in the flour by hand.

Fill the molds to within a quarter inch of the top. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes (unmold one to see how liquid it is), then unmold onto warm plates.

Serve with the sauce


1 cup heavy whipping cream

1 cup milk

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 vanilla bean, split down the length

5 large egg yolks

For the creme anglaise, combine the cream, milk, sugar and vanilla bean in a medium saucepan, and whisk to mix. Place over low heat and bring to a full, rolling boil. Meanwhile set a fine strainer over a clean glass or stainless steel bowl and place them near the burner where you are heating the liquids.

Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl to break them up. When the liquid boils, whisk about a third of it into the yolks. Return the liquid to a boil, and beginning to whisk before pouring, pour the yolk mixture into the boiling liquid. Whisk constantly until the cream thickens slightly - it won’t be very thick - most of the thickening occurs while it’s cooling, about 10 or 15 seconds after adding the yolks. Remove the pan from the heat, never ceasing to whisk.

Quickly strain the sauce into the prepared bowl. Remove the strainer and set it over the saucepan. Whisk the sauce continuously for about 30 seconds to cool it down so that it doesn’t scramble. Serve immediately or cover the bowl and refrigerate the creme anglaise.

• Nick Malgieri is the author of “Perfect Cakes” and “A Baker’s Tour” (HarperCollins) and “Perfect Light Desserts” (Morrow).

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