Sunday, September 24, 2006

Le Biscuit de Chocolat Coulant

Molten chocolate cake, utterly ubiquitous in many a restaurant menu. And for good reason - few things are bigger crowd-pleasers and make for better pupil-dilating menu hyperbole. If you've been seduced by sexy menuspeak into eating more than your fair share of the at best moist and certainly not molten, you now probably avoid ordering it. The molten chocolate cake being essentially underbaked cake batter, you know all it takes is a split-second of inattention in the kitchen for the stuff to go from oozing to overdone.

Yet, when actually molten, I know of no other dessert as capable of making most adults as gleeful as children...there's something about that self-saucing pudding-ness that's immensely satisfying. Much as with risotto, molten chocolate cake is one recipe with which the home cook has the advantage over the harried restaurant kitchen minion. Chances are, one's not struggling to cope with a flurry of order tickets and one's attention is less likely to wander, thus ensuring an ideal mi-cuit state of runniness.

However, if you happen like me to have the attention span of a gnat, a part-baked moelleux au chocolat may not prove goof-proof. You may have to take the results-guaranteed approach. Such as that for Michel Bras' biscuit de chocolat coulant, which seekers of 3 Michelin-starred thrills will intone is the oft imitated, never bettered original, first created in 1981 and interpreted in endlessly brilliant variants since then at the legendary inn in Laguiole, Southwest France. Sure, the approach is a tad more finicky, requiring the stirring of two separate components rather than one and an extra bowl to wash up- a ganache, which you freeze into squat little cylinders, to be enveloped within a cake batter, which you pipe into the individual metal ring molds (of greater depth and diameter than the ganache cylinders) to completely surround the ganache.

Once baked (from frozen), the ganache liquefies into bittersweet nectar, dammed by a shell of soft cake with a delicately crisp crust. Once pierced with spoon, the cake languidly discharges its molten heart of darkness - interactive installation art on a plate, surely.

The recipe can be found in The Notebooks of Michel Bras: Desserts. With line-drawings and a pithy style (this ostensibly being conceived of as a "notebook") in lieu of photographs and lengthy instructions (which you'd probably expect for recipes of a fairly complex nature) it's neither desserts-for-dummies, nor does it claim to be. Nonetheless, of the recipes I've attempted, measurements are precise to the last gram and temperatures accurate, although I've on occasion had to adjust baking times - not because of erroneous instructions, but because many of the recipes specify the use of molds (with given dimensions) and the dimensions of mine differ slightly. But more importantly, the book gives a very insipiring insight into the thought processes and emotions behind Michel Bras' divine compositions, masterly orchestrations of flavours, textures and temperatures in quest of sensorial delight, replete with charming, often whimsical, presentation - sweet fuel for the reader's own flights of fancy, promising to evoke a childlike wonderment both in the means and the end.

Back to the cake. Topped with a scoop of ice-cream, you couldn't be happier. And as the snow white melts and spills unto warm ebony depths, all ooze and puddle, you can't help but fleetingly glimpse its muse - the wintry horizons of the austere Aubrac plateau. And if you ask me, lazy uncoordinated urban dweller that I am, le biscuit de chocolat coulant presents all the après-ski chalet cosiness sans the hassle of a cross-country ski trip, and much, much more fun.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really like the photos that you take and your writtings. It always gives me motivation on wanting to read more to write better.
Cheers, have a good week :)

9:29 pm, September 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That looks really good! I was just looking for a molten chocolate cake recipe this week! ur pictures definitely are a huge motivation for me to make one.

10:11 pm, September 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've had failed attempts (with the ganache center too)... it's always really rich, moist and baked. And you made it successfully (of course!). It looks insanely divine! What a way to end the week! Congratulations on another well assembled gastronomic creation!

10:16 pm, September 24, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It does seem like this cake is ubiquitious. Jean Georges Vongerichten was my first. I recall when it first burst on to the chocolate scene simple, elegant and somewhat magical. When I learned that le truc was to 'underbake' I was somewhat saddened. After several attempts I realized its magic is in the timing! Well done J.

1:26 am, September 25, 2006  
Blogger Cathy said...

Oh Jocelyn! Ubiquitous or not, I have yet to taste a molten chocolate cake (or even an attempt at one). Now your words and pictures have unleashed a craving in me that cannot be denied! I may have to acquire another cookbook ;)

3:50 am, September 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of my favorite chocolate cakes! Gorgeous J, as usual! Look at this running chocolate!

3:52 am, September 25, 2006  
Blogger Scott at Real Epicurean said...

My wife would absolutely love this, since she seems to be addicted to chocolate deserts!

Absolutely beautiful!

4:33 am, September 25, 2006  
Blogger Orchidea said...

Oh my God! That is so delicious... perfect!

4:34 am, September 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I imagine that it would be like tasting Christmas in September. Thrilling, unbelievable and most rewarding!

5:07 am, September 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This sounds way better than any of the molten chocolate cakes I've ever eaten. It has a very interesting method that I'm dieing to try now!

10:42 am, September 25, 2006  
Blogger Tongue in Cheek Antiques said...

please tell me...coming to your blog I cannot gain weight? right?

12:20 pm, September 25, 2006  
Blogger Parisbreakfasts said...

I seem to have been asleep at the wheel and missed several posts :(
This is so exquisite J, words fail me. I love the way you contrast transparent and reflective surfaces with opacity..Your textures are to die for. The desserts - well I'm only allowing myself to see them abstractly. That is it. Too lush to imagine being in the same room with them.

12:39 pm, September 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ooooh, gorgeous! that looks divine - the presentation is knocking me flat! the way the chocolate is ooozing towards me, yum!

2:48 pm, September 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That looks fabulous, it's made my mouth water. Fantastic site.

5:18 pm, September 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, my God! That looks so tempting, J! I love Molten Chocolate Cake but never attempted it at home. It spells difficult to me :)

You make it look so effortless. Just look at that sauce ooze out. Oh, yum!

6:26 pm, September 25, 2006  
Blogger Krithika said...

This looks so good ! I was almost tempted to grab a fork :-) Great pics as always

9:06 pm, September 25, 2006  
Blogger Veron said...

ooh, looks beautiful J. I just baked one variant this weekend of the undercooked cake batter myself but I'm willing to try this version in the quest for the best chocolate dessert ! Here is my version with the recipe....

11:19 pm, September 25, 2006  
Blogger Alpineberry Mary said...

Just absolutely wonderful! Michel Bras would be proud.

3:05 am, September 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am about to lick my monitor.

4:39 am, September 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Simply amazing - I've seen this trick with the ganache before, and I really should give it a try...

6:22 am, September 26, 2006  
Blogger Unknown said...

i think this version sounds so much better than the undercooked batter version... wonder when I'll be brave enough to try this?

1:21 pm, September 26, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi J, what luscious words and images - I'm in awe that you actually managed to capture that fleeting moment when the molten chocolate just begins to gush out of its confines... Beautiful!

And though I highly doubt you have the attention span of a gnat, I agree that this brilliantly simple method of guaranteeing a molten center should be the standard recipe. I sure know a lot of restaurants that could benefit from being told about it...

10:55 pm, September 26, 2006  
Blogger sooishi said...

il est magnifique!
Très réussi

11:12 pm, September 27, 2006  

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