Special Guest - Brian's Chocolate Sinkholes

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Now that I'm on Naproxen, taken x-rays, icing my hands 3 times a day, and going in for physical therapy for my hands and wrists...I can't bake and got a sub! Just like Larry King has his Ryan Seacrest and Johnny had his Jay Leno, the Food Librarian needs a guest baker. And, of course, Brian is a true food librarian (currently at UCLA and soon moving to Stanford). Since he's a cataloger, I'm sure everything was way organized. Thanks Brian!

Guest blogger Brian here. The Food Librarian's poor wrists are in pain, so I offered to write something for the blog. Not just something: a chocolate-geology lesson!

As a thank you gift for being in their wedding, a couple of newlywed friends gave me a cookbook called Desserts That Have Killed Better Men Than Me. The title is its own moment of intrigue, but what hooked me was the chocolate very nearly oozing off the front cover photo. I needed that dessert. I had to make whatever gooey mess the photo depicted; it was not a question of "would I?" but of "when?"

Whether by luck or by ESP, I happened to open the book to the exact page I wanted: p. 60, the recipe for Chocolate Sinkholes. An auspicious beginning! But it took a little while until I could actually get started.

A couple of weekends ago, I went to the Food Librarian's beloved haunt Surfas because I needed custard cups (or, as they are properly called, ramekins) and wanted to buy some good chocolate for the recipe -- and didn't want to go to more than one store. Surfas also happens to be within minutes of home.

Fast-forward a week to when I finally had both the time and a cool enough apartment to make turning on my oven bearable, and it was sinkhole time.

Six ounces of Scharffen-Berger bittersweet chocolate (70 % cacao) melted together with a whole stick of butter seemed like the best possible start to a dessert.

It later became part of the best batter ever as the chocolate mixture was cooled to room temperature and combined with eggs, vanilla, flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. It sounds like your ordinary everyday baking ingredients: chocolate, eggs, flour, etc., but it was a case of the whole being more than the sum of its parts. (In fact, with some cream whipped in with the mixture it might well have become an amazing mousse.) It never hurts to use high-quality chocolate, either. Despite the sincere temptation to pour it all down my gullet, the batter (or enough of it) did make it into the ramekins, so it was soon headed for the oven.

But first, the key to the recipe: I had to place the filled ramekins in a baking dish, and then fill the dish with enough cold water to come up to about 1/3 the height of the sides of the ramekins. This is *the* essential step, as the water keeps the batter at the center of the cups liquefied instead of becoming cake-ified.

After 35 minutes at 325 F, the sinkholes achieved the necessary solidity on top. Just enough structure to belie a smoldering pit of molten chocolate awaiting unwitting victims. Mwahahaha.

Thanks to my thorough testing of the batter (yes, "testing," that's the ticket) I wasn't worried about flavor, but I did think the tops looked a little plain so I sprinkled on some powdered sugar.

Describing the taste would be like spoiling the end of a good movie, so I'll let the pictures do the talking. I will only say that they are far more dense and filling than they look.

Some notes: As a direct consequence of the water bath step, this dessert must be served immediately for maximum effect. The tops easily fissure and are likely to cave in as the cups start to cool, producing the sinkhole. While that's the name of the dessert, I'd like to think the idea is for the eater to open, or "fall into," the sinkhole with his spoon, rather than being presented with a dessert that would look like the chef screwed up. Although, the author suggests serving a scoop of ice cream in the sinkhole. So, if physics gets the better of you, the ice cream contingency seems like a worthwhile plan B. A couple of my sinkholes collapsed, but I didn't have any ice cream handy, and wanted to test a few things, so I didn't try it myself.

As I discovered in further tests, you cannot keep the sinkholes warm in the oven because the inner batter will eventually lose moisture and turn into a gooey cake (this is also why you should be very careful not to overcook the sinkholes). Equally, chilling the sinkholes in the fridge for any length of time is not only likely to cause cave-ins, but it seems to turn the whole product into a cakey, super-dense, very rich custard. Eating it cold isn't the worst option, but that's not the point of this recipe. I believe the point is the presentation, the chocolate geology lesson.

Still, you will probably waste your time if you make this recipe with something less than very fine chocolate. When you first melt that Scharffen-Berger (or Valhrona) the aroma will assure you that you've made a wise choice in splurging for the expensive stuff.

To sum up: make the sinkholes for a dinner party - during the dinner party - and serve right away.

Not sure what the copyright rules for recipes are, but someone has a copy of the recipe available online here.

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Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

What happened to your hands/wrists??? Are you okay? Did this just happen to you since I last saw you? I hope it wasn't because of all the chicken that you shredded for the Chinese Chicken Salad that you made for my baby shower...let me know. Hope you feel better soon! Rach

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