Chocolate fondant. The dessert worth waiting for, and practically the only menu option that warrants its very own time slot. As far more complicated and time consuming dishes sail forth from a restaurant kitchen, this simple little pudding sits smugly alongside instructions to ‘please allow 15 minutes’, tempting us with its decadence yet teasing us with the time delay. Proof, it would seem, that good things come to those who wait.
In actual fact this simple little dessert can be made very easily by the home cook. Timing, as suggested above, is key, but once you’ve mastered that it couldn’t be easier to whip up a batch of these delicate, decadent desserts, their centre soft and sunken, encased in a wall of mousse-like cake and oozing thick hot puddles of chocolate lava. With much of the theatre of a soufflé, but without the associated performance anxiety of rising to the occasion, the fondant has become a firm favourite with dinner party hosts and Valentine’s Day diners around the world, hoping to impress their guests with a tried and tested formula of seductive chocolate success.
These perfect little puddings are so entrenched in our consciousness it would seem they’ve been around forever. In fact, this classic of French cuisine was only discovered thirty years ago, when triple Michelin starred chef Michel Bras created a dessert with a frozen chocolate ganache centre. His application for a patent on this molten-middled cake never came through – as evident from the dish’s appearance on menus the world over. Bad news for Bras, but brilliant for the millions of chocolate lovers everywhere who might otherwise never have tasted the beauty of this simple little cake.
Discovering the history of the chocolate fondant took me on a little trip down memory lane. Cast your mind back fifteen years or so to a warm summer’s day in Southern France. A much littler loaf, on the cusp of her teenage years and about as fussy and obstinate as this transitional age might suggest, is sitting at a dining table in Michel Bras’ restaurant of the same name. While her parents and older brother explore a menu of multiple courses, cooing in delight over unidentified jus of this and sous-vide of that, this fussy little loaf lover is presented with just two simple dishes to satisfy her suspicious – and (oh the horror) vegetarian – persuasions; a salad comprising over fifty different herbs, vegetables and flowers, and the most beautiful, elegant mushroom tart you may ever have seen, laid out on a slab of granite and sprinkled with edible flowers.
I’m not particularly proud of this moment. Fussiness with food was something of a theme in my younger years, and looking back now as a fully blown food fanatic, I can hardly believe I refused to even try so many incredible dishes. This is three Michelin stars we’re talking about. Three. But you live and learn from your mistakes, and it could be argued that a journey of culinary discovery is perhaps more rewarding than the life of someone who has simply always enjoyed every single thing placed in front of them. You could even argue that my younger self displayed a somewhat acute understanding of this maestro’s menu, picking – as I did – his signature dish, the gargouillou. Perhaps I’m talking rubbish. But there’s also the possibility that, without really knowing it, this was the beginning of a longer lasting affair with food.
Nowadays I’d love the opportunity to return to that restaurant, to sample the menu in full and appreciate Bras’ cooking in all its extraordinary glory. But until that time comes, I’ll make do with recreating a dish that celebrates his genius at its most basic, something that would have appealed to my younger fussier self, but still hits all the right buttons in a more grown up, chocolate loving me. So here it is, the chocolate fondant or moelleux au chocolat. Velvety, smooth and utterly luxurious. Enjoy.
Chocolate fondant puddings (barely adapted from a Jamie magazine recipe)
175g good quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
25g salted butter, at room temperature
75g golden caster sugar
2 large free range eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
25g plain flour
Place a baking sheet in the oven and preheat to 200 degrees C. Butter 4 x 160ml pudding moulds and line the bases with discs of baking paper. If you don’t have pudding moulds, ramekins will do.
Melt the chocolate pieces over a bain marie, then set aside to cool slightly.
Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and slightly fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time then add the vanilla and a pinch of salt. Stir in the flour until just combined, then gently mix in the melted chocolate. The mixture should thicken at this stage.
Divide between your prepared moulds and bake on the preheated baking sheet for 8 – 10 minutes. Turn out straight away and eat with a big dollop of ice cream – I served mine with homemade caramel praline ice cream (pictured).
The uncooked batter also keeps well in the fridge making these perfect dinner party desserts. If cooking from cold allow an extra 2 minutes i.e. increase cooking time to 10 – 12 minutes. Once you’ve made them a couple of times you’ll know exactly how you like them, and can adjust timing accordingly for a slightly more molten or firmer pudding.
Once you’ve mastered a basic chocolate fondant the world is your oyster in terms of flavours combinations. Freeze 4 teaspoons of dulce de leche mixed with a little sea salt then pop into the centre of the uncooked batter for a salted caramel version, add crushed hazelnuts or peanuts for caramel nut, throw in raspberries, cherries or blackberries for a fruity twist or add 25ml cooled espresso, orange juice or liqueur of your choice. If adding the extra liquid, you’ll need to use an extra 25g flour to balance this out. I’ve also got my eye on a peanut butter version…if it’s a success I’ll pop it on the blog in due course. Watch this space.