One of the most seductive qualities of chocolate is that it melts at precisely body temperature. Pop a square of the good stuff in your mouth and, as your brain’s pleasure centre floods with dopamine, a textural experience unlike that imparted by any other food takes place on your tongue. Rich, smooth and creamy, melting chocolate lingers long after flatter flavours have died away, creating a mouthfeel that is utterly unique.
Hands up if you’ve ever been disappointed by a slice of chocolate cake? Eating with your eyes, a cake can appear utterly irresistible, the dark sponge promising deep chocolate flavour, only to deliver an experience that is dry and at best, underwhelming. Icing can help, adding some textural contrast to the layers, but if a chocolate cake hasn’t been made well, the buttery icing can sometimes simply add a cloying sweetness which you really don’t want.
One of the reasons I think chocolate cake often fails to deliver is the difference between chocolate as a cake, and chocolate in its pure, unadulterated form. The sensory experience of eating chocolate is one so familiar that when we see, smell or taste it, we expect that smooth, lingering, luscious mouthfeel to accompany it by default. When we describe something as ‘melt in the mouth’, nothing achieves this quite so accurately as a piece of chocolate.
Which is why discovering new ways to deliver chocolate in dessert form is an obsession of many a chef and home cook. We want to recreate that magical melting mouthfeel while at the same time experiencing more than just a simple slab of chocolate. Mousse comes pretty close – smooth, silken but possibly a touch too thick, and while chocolate ice cream is almost there, the fact that it is cold puts it one step away from that perfect melting chocolate moment. For me, the answer is chocolate fondant.
This perennially popular restaurant and dinner party dish is just that for a reason. I first blogged a version inspired by a Jamie Oliver recipe here, and since then have served it on several occasions– it’s easy to prepare, can sit in the fridge while you enjoy your main meal and delivers delicious results. There’s just something about plunging your spoon through the delicate cakey outside into a rich, gooey, melting middle that will put a smile on pretty much anyone’s face. Chocolate that melts in your mouth? This is it.
But there’s always room for improvement, and when I spotted a recipe for fondants in my Paul A. Young recipe book, I decided to give them a go. Paul is something of a Willy Wonka when it comes to chocolate, and the magical explosion of molten lava that explodes from these little beauties does not disappoint. As an added indulgence, an infused white chocolate ganache is baked into the middle of the fondant, resulting less in a soft, oozing middle than a full on cascade of melted chocolate when you break the pudding open.
Paul’s original recipe is for a white chocolate and basil ganache centre, but I’ve adapted it here for a fondant pudding take on an after dinner mint. The chocolate pudding itself is rich yet surprisingly light, the delicate edges giving way to the softest of centres, the core of which holds a lovely little ball of just-melted ganache. It’s perfect served with a big dollop of cold vanilla ice cream, the contrast of hot and cold, creamy and fudgy as satisfying as any dessert I’ve ever made. And you get the melted chocolate mouthfeel that everyone loves so much. Job done.
Mint Chocolate Fondant Puddings (adapted from Adventures with Chocolate)
For the white mint chocolate ganache
100ml double cream
15g picked mint leaves
200g white chocolate, finely chopped
Put the cream and mint leaves in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat, cover and set aside to infuse for an hour.
Place your chopped white chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Strain the liquid mixture, then return to the saucepan and bring back to a simmer. Pour the minty cream over your white chocolate and whisk well until combined.
Pour into a small plastic container and pop in the fridge to set for about one hour. Once set, make teaspoon sized balls of ganache and refrigerate on a plate until needed.
n.b. This recipe makes more ganache than you will need, but I imagine trying to bring much smaller quantities of cream to the boil would be tricky. And a little leftover ganache usually manages to find a home.
For the fondant puddings
85g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
75g good quality dark chocolate, chopped
3 medium free range eggs
75g golden caster sugar
70g plain flour
Grease four dariole moulds or ramekins with a little butter, then line the bottom of each with a circle of baking parchment.
Melt the butter in a pan over a low heat, then add the dark chocolate and stir until melted. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
Whisk together the eggs and sugar gently – you don’t want to overmix – then whisk in the chocolate and butter mixture. Add the flour and salt and fold until combined and the mixture is smooth.
Pour the chocolate batter into your prepared moulds until each is one third full, then cover and refrigerate until firm – about 30 minutes.
Remove from the fridge and place a single ball of white chocolate ganache in the middle of each mould. Distribute the remaining chocolate batter evenly into the four moulds, then cover and return to the fridge for at least one hour.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Bake the fondants on a baking tray in the middle of the oven for 9 minutes.
Remove from the oven, carefully invert one fondant over a plate and lift the mould off. Peel away the baking parchment, repeat the process with the remaining puddings, then serve immediately with large scoops of cold ice cream.