Warm Little Chocolate Cakes with Soft Centers

This dessert should be illegal! Here's the idea if you can handle it: as you tuck into your own fudgy chocolate cake, the warm, unctuous, molten center oozes out and acts as a counterpoint to the delicate vanilla custard sauce. The best part is that the unbaked cakes can hold in the fridge all day (tightly covered in plastic wrap) until you are ready to bake them. Master this vanilla custard sauce, the French pastry classic known as crème anglaise, as it puts scores of beautiful desserts over the top.

Serves 6

TO DRINK: Ruby port or late-harvest Zinfandel

Instructions

To make the custard, in a saucepan over medium heat, warm the milk, sugar, and vanilla bean, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar. In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks to break them up, but don't make them foam. Whisk a little of the hot milk into the egg yolks to warm them. Return the eggs to the pan and cook the custard, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a spoon and reaches approximately 170°F. Test it by drawing your finger across the back of the spoon: if your finger leaves a trail in the custard, the custard has cooked to the right point. Immediately strain into a bowl and chill.

To make the cakes, preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter and flour 6 ramekins, 5 to 6 ounces each.

In the top of a double boiler over medium heat, heat the chocolate, butter, and Cognac, stirring until smooth and the chocolate and butter are melted. Set aside.

In a bowl, beat the granulated sugar and the 4 egg yolks until ribboned and light colored, 1 to 2 minutes. In another bowl, beat the 4 egg whites until stiff. Gently fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Sift the flour over the top and fold the flour and chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Evenly distribute the mixture among the prepared ramekins. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and bake until the cakes have risen and the tops just begin to crack, 10 to 12 minutes.

Immediately remove the ramekins from the oven and run a knife around the edges of the ramekins. Gently invert the ramekins onto 6 dessert plates. Spoon the custard sauce around the edges and dust the tops with confectioners' sugar. Garnish with raspberries and serve warm.

Ingredients

Custard
1 1/2 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped
3 large egg yolks

Cakes
9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Cognac or brandy
1/3 cup granulated sugar
4 large eggs, separated
3 tablespoons cake flour
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
Fresh raspberries or currants, for garnish

Warm Little Chocolate Cakes with Soft Centers