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Warm Molten Chocolate Cakes

A double boiler cooks foods gently on the stovetop. Consisting of two nesting saucepans, double boilers are widely available, but a makeshift one is easy to assemble. Choose a saucepan and a heatproof bowl that rests securely in the top. Fill the saucepan with water to a depth of 1 to 2 inches. Once the bowl is placed atop the pan, the water must not touch it. Remember that boiling water bubbles up, so check the water level before setting the bowl in place. Bring the water to a boil, set the bowl in place, and reduce the heat so the water simmers gently.

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 6 Tbs. sugar
  • 2 Tbs. Dutch process cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1 tsp. finely grated orange zest (optional)
  • 3 egg whites, at room temperature
  • Crème anglaise for serving (see related recipe
     at left) (optional)

Directions:

Preheat an oven to 400°F. Lightly butter six 3/4-cup ramekins and dust with cocoa powder. Set the ramekins on a small baking sheet.

In the top pan of a double boiler, combine the chocolate and butter. Set the pan over but not touching barely simmering water in the bottom pan and melt the chocolate and butter, then whisk until the mixture is glossy and smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and salt. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks, 3 Tbs. of the sugar, the cocoa powder and the orange zest on medium-high speed until thick. Spoon the chocolate mixture into the yolk mixture and beat until well blended. The mixture will be very thick.

In a bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they are very foamy and thick. Sprinkle in the remaining 3 Tbs. sugar and increase the speed to high. Continue beating until firm, glossy peaks form. Spoon half of the beaten whites onto the chocolate mixture and whisk in until just blended. Add the remaining whites and stir gently until just blended. Spoon into the prepared ramekins, dividing evenly.

Bake the cakes until they are puffed and the tops are cracked, about 13 minutes. The inside of the cracks will look very wet. Remove from the oven and serve immediately in the ramekins. Or run the tip of a small knife around the inside of each ramekin to loosen the cake, then invert the cakes onto individual plates. Serve with a drizzle of crème anglaise. Serves 6.

Variation: If you would like your molten chocolate cakes to have crunchy bottoms and sides, dust the buttered ramekins with superfine sugar instead of with cocoa powder.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Collection Series, Dessert, by Abigail Johnson Dodge (Simon & Schuster, 2002).