I received the new Scharffen Berger book, The Essence of Chocolate, last month and have been looking forward to trying a chocolate recipe for Valentine’s Day. The book’s images, stories and selection of great chocolate recipes are quite impressive. It has everything from fondue to three-bean chili (with cocoa, of course), all contributed by well known chefs like Thomas Keller, Elizabeth Faulkner, David Lebovitz, Alice Medrich and many more. It includes pictures of Scharffen Berger’s founders, John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg, out in the fields with cacao farmers, teaching us about the history of chocolate. They also confront the issue of the recent purchase by Hershey, which was an unexpected element in a book that could have easily avoided it. (Scharffenberger and Steinberg stated they believe Hershey’s interest in the company signals a new era of dark chocolate in America and that they will remain with the company.) Overall, I was impressed with the depth and beauty of the book.
After much debate (with myself) I decided to make Baked Hot Chocolate, a recipe contributed by Heidi Friedlander. The recipe starts out with the description, “Baked hot chocolate is almost like having three desserts in one – the top layer has just a hint of crispness, the center has the texture of warm chocolate pudding, and the bottom layer is just a shade thicker than the thickest hot chocolate you can imagine.”. I’m sold! That sounded like a dream come true, and I thought it would be a great Valentine’s Day dessert. Apparently I was not alone in my selection, and I read Veronica’s report on her experience with the recipe before I began.
The recipe’s ingredients are very simple: eggs, chocolate, butter and sugar. You begin by melting the chocolate and butter together, then warm the eggs and sugar and beat until “light and fluffy”. When I got to the part about beating the eggs, I realized I left my whisk attachment for my stand mixer at the Amai kitchen. This forced me to whisk the eggs with a hand mixer, although the recipe specifically calls for doing this in a stand mixer. After 12 minutes of whisking (the recipe calls for 3 to 5) my eggs were light in color, although not fluffy, but I decided it would be good enough. I folded the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture, and poured it into the cups. I guessed that I should divide it into 4 cups because of the serving size, but the recipe never actually says. I put the cups in a bain-marie and set it in the oven at 350F.
I checked on the cups after 15 minutes and to my surprise the batter hadn’t change AT ALL. I’ve never seen anything like it. It didn’t melt, it didn’t move, it didn’t bake. It looked exactly like I did when I put the cakes in the oven. I took one out and tried tasting it, and it was almost batter consistency. Of course it was good because chocolate is never really bad, but I knew something was wrong. I left it in the oven for another 20 minutes (40 minutes total) until the cakes seemed to bake enough to be eaten. Needless to say, what came out of the oven looked nothing like the picture or description in the book. Mine had a domed, cracked top, while the one in the picture was flat and almost smooth. The taste was dry and they did not have the layered hot chocolate/pudding/cake effect I was hoping for.
Although my first attempt at this recipe failed, I still believe it could be a good one and I want to retry it with the right tools. I think the reason for my failure was improperly whipped eggs. If anyone has a suggestion for what else I should try differently next time, please let me know. In the meantime, I will go back to dreaming about the other chocolate recipes in this very interesting book, and go to Plan B for Valentine’s Day – eating out. Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.
Baked Hot Chocolate
Contributed by Heidi Friedlander
9 ounces 62% semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
4 large eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Whipped cream (optional)
- Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Arrange four 1-cup ovenproof coffee cups or mugs or 8 oz 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 occassionally until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and set aside. Stir the eggs and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer then set over simmering water and stir until warm to the touch.
- Place the bowl on the stand mixer and, using the whisk attachment, beat for 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 clean, but 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 in a preheated 350F oven for 5 minutes, or until warm.
- Serve topped with a dollop of cocoa whipped cream.
Excerpted from THE ESSENCE OF CHOCOLATE by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg. Copyright 2006 Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, Inc. All rights reserved. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold.