Chocolate fondant probably started its culinary life as a mistake. What it is, really, is a little chocolate cake that hasn’t cooked all the way through. So this is cooking turned in on itself – that which is strictly to be avoided when making a proper chocolate cake becomes exactly what you try to do, with a high risk of messing it up, when you choose to make a chocolate fondant.
A cake that is all gooey in the middle, whether or not it has caved in, is deemed a flop. But a chocolate fondant that is not gooey in the middle, with the luscious chocolatey centre oozing out and insinuating itself onto the plate, is a disaster that will have the host and cook wincing and oh-&%$@ing and stomping about the kitchen like a chef who’s souffle hasn’t risen.
And it’s so easy to mess it up. Even a few seconds too long in the oven might be just enough to firm up the fondant’s centre. Making all this even more complicated is that recipes for chocolate fondant differ insanely.
Take these two examples, both of which I ended up inadvertently combining. One is by Jackie Cameron, the celebrated chef from Hartford House restaurant in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Her recipe calls for: 90g salted butter, 90g good quality chocolate, 39g cake flour, 39g white sugar, 2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk. After preparing the mix, it goes into moulds and is cooked in a 150° to 165° oven for 7 to 9 minutes.
As is my wont, I more or less followed her recipe but having put nine sections of the 100g Lindt 70% chocolate into the saucepan with the butter to melt, I couldn’t stop myself from flinging in the 10th section. (Each section weighs 10g, Daisy, try to keep up). So there was more chocolate in the mix, adding to the risk. This may be why after 10 minutes it wasn’t there yet, but it may have been that my oven is a crusty old bastard and had got out of bed on the wrong side that morning. It was just too cool.
Meanwhile, over at the BBC website, I had found a recipe for chocolate fondant but had mislaid the ingredients list. The method, though, called for cooking it in ramekins at 180° to 200° for 10 to 12 minutes. How’s that for a discrepancy? So having turned out one fondant, and not being quite happy with it, I upped the temperature to 180° and cooked a second one for 11 minutes. It turned out pretty well, but I had difficulty turning it out. So for the third one, having greased the inside of the ramekin, I sprinkled cocoa all over the inside, shook it out, poured the mixture in and popped it in the 180° oven for about 10 minutes, perhaps close to 11. This one was just right.
So, flip back a few paragraphs and preheat the oven to 180°. Melt 100g Lindt 70 cocoa% solids chocolate with 90g butter in a saucepan over a pot of very gently bubbling water, stirring until it is a luscious sauce. Remove. In a bowl, sift 40g cake flour with 40g caster sugar. In a second bowl (not too small), whisk the two eggs and extra yolk very lightly. A little at a time, stir in the melted chocolate mixture with a wooden spoon until it’s all combined. Fold the flour and sugar mix in. Spoon into ramekins that have been well greased and dusted with cocoa.
Pop into the 180° oven for 10 to 12 minutes, but keep an eye. If after 9 minutes or so a shiny crust has formed and the fondants are starting to come away from the edges – or when they are done if longer – remove from the oven and set aside. Once they’re all out, leave them for a minute and then work a slim flat knife gently around the edges, very carefully pushing a little away from the sides. Turn onto a serving plate. Nice served with a quenelle (turned out with a spoon dipped in hot water, Daisy) of ice cream.
For the best chocolate mousse, I turned to Julia Child via Paris-based food blogger Dave Lebovitz. As ever, I wikkeled it a little, serving it with a curl or two of candied orange.
Well before you’re ready to make the mousse, make some very strong coffee and leave it to cool. You only need 60ml so drink the rest.
Using the same method as for the fondant, make a chocolate sauce with 170g chocolate and 170g butter and remove from the heat to cool. In a bowl set over a pot of mildly simmering water, whisk 4 egg yolks, 170g caster sugar, 30ml rum (or brandy or whiskey) and 15ml cold water until the mixture has thickened (it will be like a runny custard). Remove and set the bowl on a larger container of ice and continue beating until it becomes very thick and cool. Now fold in the chocolate mixture.
Beat the four egg whites with a pinch of salt until it froths up, and once the mixture is starting to make soft peaks whisk in a tablespoon of sugar and beat until it’s stiff and siny, then add a half teaspoon of vanilla essence or vanilla extract. Fold this into the chocolate mixture a little at a time, spoon into cocktail glasses (I used martini). You can top it with whipped cream if you like, but merely a sprig of mint ‘for pretty’ would do.
The mousse is much safer than the fondant, but they’re equally yummy. But if making the fondant, rather take it out too soon than too late. But if you do botch it up, Daisy, smear them with icing, put on a brave smile and announce that you have made ‘individual chocolate cakes’. They won’t all buy it, but they’re not likely to call their host a liar.
First published in Weekend Argus August 2011