I always thought my Warm Chocolate Cake was the richest tasting chocolate dessert I ever made but I knew it was only a matter of time before something else trumps it. And where else should that recipe come from but the brilliant chocolate book “Essence of Chocolate” by Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger. I find this book a wonderful resource for facts and tales regarding the origin and the making of chocolate. It describes the location and tropical climate required by the cacao trees to thrive and the problems encountered by its growers. The story of how Robert made chocolate in a small apartment is enough encouragement for me to try it on my own. Of course I don’t think I will start with fresh beans; I’m not even sure where I could obtain them. But grinding cocoa nibs with sugar to the consistency of paste and heating it to release the cocoa butter to complete the transformation into homemade chocolate have sparked visions of myself cackling over a cauldron of molten chocolate stirring away and inhaling the dizzying aroma of the resulting mixture. The pictures in the book alone are so totally worth its price; from the vivid photographs of the willowy cacao trees to the mouthwatering desserts created from its crop, you will come to appreciate the entire life cycle of a seemingly humble cacao fruit. As legends and lore have it, it was said that the pulp of the cacao fruit was what animals and humans first found useful. The bean has an astringent taste to it that could not be eaten as is, so it was discarded; this eventually led it to ferment (which is a necessary step for the cacao bean). Then as with the fate of other piles of scrap it was burned, thus accidentally releasing that heady aroma you associate with roasting chocolate. This led the humans to realize that if something smelled this good then it must taste fantastic too. Thank goodness for that discovery! If you are truly passionate about chocolate, having this book is a no-brainer. It is so well written that you are compelled to read the adventures of Steinberg and Scharffenberger as they struggled to get their enterprise off the ground and applaud them for their tenacity to forge ahead as other people discouraged them from fulfilling their passion. In just a few years they have become successful purveyors of high end chocolate known as Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, Inc.
Being a hot chocolate aficionado, I was deeply intrigued by the baked hot chocolate recipe. Perusing through the ingredient list, I knew this was not hot chocolate in the true sense but more of a pseudo-hot chocolate; nevertheless I decided that this would be the first recipe I was going to make from this book.
Baked Hot Chocolate
Adapted from “Essence of Chocolate” recipe by Heidi Friedlander, makes 4 servings
9 ounces 62% semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
4 large eggs
¼ cup granulated sugar
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Arrange four ovenproof cups or mugs or 8-ounce ramekins in a baking or roasting pan.
Place the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler set over gently simmering water and whisk occasionally until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from heat and set aside. Stir the eggs and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer set over the simmering water and stir until warm to the touch.
Place the bowl on the stand mixer and, using the whisk attachment, beat 3 to 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Remove from the mixer, and fold the eggs into the chocolate mixture until it is light and smooth.
Spoon the batter into the cups. Add enough very hot water to the baking pan to come halfway up the sides of the cups. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. The baked hot chocolates will be done when the tops lose their glossy finish. A wooden skewer inserted in the top will emerge but the batter toward the bottom of the cup will still be very moist.
Carefully remove the cups from the pan. The cakes can be served warm, at room temperature or covered and refrigerated for up to 1 day. To reheat, bring to room temperature and place into a preheated 350 °F over for 5 minutes or until warm.
Top with cocoa whipped cream if desired.
This chocolate dessert is an extremely decadent three layer extravaganza. The top layer is crusty almost soufflé like, the middle layer is like chocolate pudding and the last and bottom layer is very thick “liquidy” chocolate. This was almost too rich for me believe it or not; although I probably would not have thought so if I have not bombarded myself with sweets this past few days. I could not find a roasting pan that was deep enough to fill water half way up my mug but my 9x9x2 baking pan did pretty fine work. As with any chocolate dessert, raspberries are a perfect accompaniment.