Our visit to the Villa Vanilla spice farm was very inspirational. Seeing fresh vanilla and cocoa beans was a treat. Seeing the flowers that lead to the formation of a cacao pod and seeing the cocoa beans out drying in the sun was amazing. It was so inspirational that instead of writing about a quintessential dish of the place, I decided to provide a recipe inspired by the place.
For me, chocolate is something that has always come in a packet or behind the glass counter of an expensive chocolate shop in Paris. Great chocolate is a thing of beauty. But there was a little surprise in store for me at the spice farm…
They had begun making their own chocolate! We sampled a little as part of the tour. It was coarse, crunchy, dark, and delicious. I knew I had to do something with it! So I begged like a junkie for just one more taste, or more specifically, 100 grams so I could use it in ‘The Dish’ for Costa Rica.
Our guide said she would see what she could do, and when, at the end of the tour, we met the fascinating owner of farm, Henry, I once again begged for a stash. Sensing my desperation, Henry took me to the room where they kept the chocolate moulds and pulled his last bag of 100 grams of delicious, home-made chocolate, from beans from the farm, out of the fridge. I had my fix.
Despite my love of chocolate, I’m not really a dessert person. When presented with the option of mad creations and fragile structures of a pastry chef gone wild and a cheese selection, I say wheel that trolley over!
Still, I understand why people want something sweet to end their meal with, so when entertaining I nearly always defer to this recipe – a soft-centred chocolate cake. I rely on this dessert so much that I even brought some silicone cup-cake moulds along on our grand tour!
Unlike a soufflé or a crème brûlée, this is a very easy recipe that requires no sacrificing of virgins or voodoo to work. Chocolate, butter, eggs, sugar, flour. Simple? Yes. Fattening? Absolutely. Moreish? You bet.
If you can’t source your own chocolate directly from a spice farm (just teasing!), try to get hold of my favourite for cooking, Valrhona Le Noir (68%). It’s rich, a little spicy, and has just the right amount of bitterness.
The idea is that the sides of the cake set, but the centre oozes out – that’s why it’s sometimes called a chocolate lava cake or molten chocolate cake. Even if you manage to overcook this one, it’s still chocolate and will taste delicious! It’s also a great dish that can be made in advance and then popped in a preheated oven to cook just after people have finished their main course.
I served this version with some local berries and a little cacao. My favourite way to serve it is with home-made vanilla ice cream. Ahh, if only the holiday rentals we stayed in came with an ice-cream maker. I guess that’s even crazier than taking cup-cake moulds around the world…
- ½ cup unsalted butter and a little more to butter the moulds
- 4 ounces (110 grams) quality cooking chocolate
- 2 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- ¼ cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons flour
- If you have a double boiler, use it for this. If not, be careful to regulate the temperature. Heat the chocolate and butter together slowly until the chocolate is almost fully melted.
- In the meantime, beat together the eggs, yolks and sugar with an electric beater until light, fluffy and thick. If you’re concerned about how many calories there are in this dish, whisk by hand! You’ll feel better about it.
- Beat together the melted chocolate and butter. Slowly pour in the egg mixture and mix through then beat in the sifted flour until just combined.
- Butter and lightly flour four 4-ounce ramekins or, ahem, a few silicone cup-cake moulds! Divide the mix among the moulds. If you’re making them in advance, place them on an oven tray and pop them in the fridge. Just bring them back to room temperature before baking.
- Preheat the oven to 450˚F (230˚C). Bake the cakes for 6 to 7 minutes. Prep the other ingredients you’re serving the cakes with as you need to serve them immediately so that the centre remains soft.
- At 6 minutes pull the tray out and shake gently. When they’re done, the centre will ‘wobble’ a little, but the sides won’t.
- Invert the moulds onto serving plates. Go back to the first one you plated and lift up a corner of the mould. The cake should release onto the plate. If you’re using ramekins, you can gently tap the ramekin on the plate and it should release.
- Serve immediately.