Caroline Cooks

A modest documentation of my culinary exploits.

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Location: Alexandria, Virginia, United States

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Gâteau Improvisé


It's happened to us all. It's 9:30 on a weekday night, and the urge strikes you to bake something. Something with chocolate would be nice. How about a simple chocolate gâteau? Yes. Perfect. A dense, rich little thing is exactly what you're in the mood for.

In the kitchen, you traipse about pulling out ingredients-- chocolate, flour, butter, vanilla. You realize you're low on some crucial item, like eggs. Of course, since it's one of those nights, you've already had several glasses of wine, and shrug off the egg shortage as a minor inconvenience. You consider concocting a substitution involving baking soda and cream of tartar, but wisely decide against it. Well, you think to yourself, I'll just scale the recipe down. No worries.

You settle down with a well-worn cookbook and a pencil and begin to methodically perform fractional arithmetic in the margins. Hmm. Looks like you'll have to measure out 3/10ths of a cup of flour and 1/5th a cup of sugar. Screw that. Taking another sip of wine, you scribble down measurements that look about right, criticizing the author of the recipe along the way. That's way too much sugar, you think. I'll just use a pinch and add extra flour to balance it out. Of course, your scaled-down version won't produce enough batter to fill a standard 8-inch round, so you rummage through the cabinets and eventually produce a cupcake pan.

Back in the kitchen, you preheat the oven and get to work. Flour is flying. Chunks of butter are hacked off a block of Plugra. Somehow the floor becomes veiled in a thin layer of sugar. Taking vague measurements along the way (just in case you end up with a cure for cancer and need to recreate it later), you pour in generous quantities of vanilla extract and some brandy you happen to have lying around. Another glass of wine later, you have something resembling batter. You pour it into the cupcake pan and pop it in the oven, making a wild guess at what to set the timer for. You lick the spoon thoughtfully, and wait.

When the timer goes off half an hour later, you peek into the oven and pull out the cakes. So far so good. They look done, at any rate. You eagerly unmold one before it has a chance to cool, and, for dramatic effect, plate it with a dusting of confectioner's sugar (and pour yourself another glass of wine while you're at it).

Now is the moment of truth. Your fork breaks a thin, crisp surface and proceeds to glide though a moist and dense, yet slightly spongy, interior. The flavor is exactly what you'd hoped for, a rich, unadulterated chocolate. Tampering with the recipe, as it turned out, allowed you to create exactly what you'd wanted. Polishing off the final crumb, you return to the cookbook to transcribe your frantic scrawlings into a respectable recipe.


1/8 cup powdered sugar
4 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 tsp brandy
2 eggs, separated
1/4 cup flour
pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 325, and butter 6 cupcake molds.

Place the sugar, butter, and chocolate in a heavy saucepan and heat oven low heat until the chocolate and butter have melted and the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and brandy.

Beat the egg yolks into the chocolate mixture, and then stir in the flour. In a separate bowl, beat the egg white with the salt until stiff peaks form. Fold the whites into the chocolate mixture and pour the batter into the prepared molds.

Bake for 30 minutes, let cool slightly, and invert onto a wire rack. Dust the cakes with confectioner's sugar and serve with a flourish!

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