Tuesday 22 March 2016

The C word and the F word.... chocolate fondant pudding

Happy now?

It had to happen. Someone, someday was bound to ask for it. I suppose I should count myself lucky that it's taken this long.

Fondant - or as Greg Wallace insists FonDon' - has a bizarre reputation. Maybe it is just the MasterChef thing; the chocolate terminator of contestants; the dark destroyer of restaurant ambition. All it is really is a badly cooked sponge pudding. Badly cooked? Yes, because like all undercooked cakes it has a sticky centre. But when this comes in the form of chocolate goo, all's good.
Before the flood
The big secret is... they're not hard. You're probably groaning now yeah? "Not hard for YOU!" 
Ok, ok, caveat: making two isn't hard. You know, for the valentine meal with the single rose still in its garage plastic wrap? Making ten - that's an issue. It's a bit like fried fish fillets, or poached eggs - it is, bear with me - the timing is critical. A success is a matter of seconds. And by success we mean goo; the same amount of goo in each. But with ten puddings there must be a period of time between number one turning out and number ten. And if one should split... you'll need number eleven and a new plate. And I only have ten plates!

Of course, success only matters if we have to turn the puds out. If we left them in ramekins, there would be no such issue. So why do we burden ourselves with these expectations? I think mainly for cheffy pride: that it CAN be done so it SHOULD be done. Personally I think that philosophy is best expressed at the bottom of mountains. But no one seems to agree, so instead we have to find the exact moment when the walls of the pudding are baked thick enough to withstand a plate birth and the inside is thick enough not to burst its banks.
And the only way, the ONLY way to do this is by trial and error. Which is #1 reason why I don't like the CF. Waste. OK, so you get to eat the mistakes. But have you seen the size of me recently? I could do with fewer errors.

#2 is that unless you use excellent chocolate, the CF is a mediocre pudding at best. Luckily I have a large bag of Valrhona Guanaja - I opine one of the best in the world. It also needs a good dose of something light and creamy. The CF is a bit of a black hole.

Mentions of dark things brings me to #3. They are impossible to photograph properly, especially in kitchen light at night, which is when I tend to serve them. They absorb light. It took days of dedicated Photoshop work on these images to get them to a point where they don't look like there's just a hole in your screen.

And #4? You should make the pudding mix/batter just before baking. This is not a cook ahead dish. Yes, you can chill and even freeze the puds, but they will be denser out of the oven. For me, this means setting to work just after I've served the main meal instead of slumping against the counter and eyeing up my post prandial tequila.

#5. If you have to use a new oven, a different mould or, hell, even if the weather's changed, you have to do a new trial. Honestly, there's two minutes cooking time between a metal pudding tin and a ceramic ramekin. I suspect that's why the Mastercheffers fail; they've not had time to do a proper trial.

That said, they actually come together in about ten minutes and cook in about the same. Twenty minutes you will revisit, again and again... and again.

Be warned also: there's a lot of idiocy out there. Even Heston falls this time, with his frozen puck of mix inside blah, blah, blah. This recipe is unremarkable for a reason: it works... eventually.

Chocolate fondant pudding
Serves 10

Preheat your oven to 200°C and place a baking tray large enough to hold your moulds in the oven to warm up.

In a glass bowl over gently simmering water, melt 240g of unsalted butter with 240g of the best dark chocolate you can buy/afford. Once melted, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Butter well your moulds of choice, could be an 8cm ramekin or a small pudding bowl. I use both and they both hold 175ml of mix (you can test with water and a jug). Dust the insides liberally with dark cocoa powder.

Whisk (hopefully mechanically) together 4 eggs, 4 egg yolks and 240g of caster sugar until very light and fluffy. Pale and buoyant - like a debutante on a Nordic cruise. This will take at least five minutes. Gently fold in 100g of plain flour (or four tablespoons if you like but you've already got the scales out). Now equally gently, fold in the cooled chocolate/butter mix until it's streak free.

Fill up your moulds, allowing a 10% gap at the top for expansion. Place on the baking tray and cook for... well who knows? Something like 12 minutes for the tin, more like 14 for the ramekin. the only way to find out is to try. Seriously. You must do a trial. The tops should be firm and the sides just coming away from the mould. The other problem is quantity. Ten puds will take slightly longer than four. How many did you use on your trial? Not ten I bet.

Rules of thumb:
Metal is quicker.
Smaller is quicker.
Fewer is quicker.

Anyway, when yours do finally emerge, up end them as gently as possible onto your serving plate and leave for a few minutes. The steam build up inside will help loosen the puddings. They should simply slide out. If not, edge around, between tin and pudding with a thin blade. Bear in mind that they will keep cooking in the warm tins so some urgency is required. BUT don't shake them out, unless you want to serve hot chocolate splodge. You might think about a dusting a cocoa powder as they are not especially attractive things. Tribbles anyone? Don't go poking anything in the top will you?

Or, leave them in a ramekin and maybe enjoy your stress free dinner! If anyone complains, suggest they bring dessert next time. And insist on a spiral croquembouche.

Take to the table immediately and tell your guests to tuck in quickly. Serve with vanilla or creme fraiche ice cream or maybe some whipped mascarpone and cherries.

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