Chocolate Temptation

Chocolate Temptation

from Desserts by Pierre Herm
by Pierre Herm and Dorie Greenspan

Buy This BookFor the past few years, one-to-a-person-size warm chocolate cakes, the kind that are just set around the edges and still runny in the center, have been bestsellers on dessert menus in both Framce and America. Their popularity is not surprising. They're the most-chocolate chocolate dessert you can get short of a candy bar, their oozy centers, like chocolate lava, are dramatic; and they're easy to make the batter, which is put together quickly, can be prepared ahead, and the cakes can be baked and served at the last minute without the typical last-minute fuss.

Pierre's version of this cake has all the warmth, softness, and fluidity of the best of the genre, and then it's got a spin it's spiked with habanero pepper and sauced with an avocado-banana pure. When Pierre introduced this dessert at a class in New York, he confessed that he always had problems telling people about this offbeat combination. "It's better to taste it first and deconstruct it later," he suggests. With so many out-of-the-ordinary elements, you can understand his hesitancy to reveal all before the first mouthful.

The small sliver of hot pepper that's warmed with the butter before it goes into the batter is just enough to add a little heat and a subtle kick to the chocolate. The cake, sporting a crunchy (and optional) orange tuile, is circled with caramelized bananas and set on a bed of citrusy avocado and and banana pure, a pale green, super-creamy topping that keeps guests guessing. Do as Pierre does: Let them guess until they've tasted.

When people tell me they'r shocked by the idea of chocolate and spice, I remind them that the Aztecs did it centuries ago. P. H.

While the thrill of this dessert is in its brilliant mix of flavors, if you're serving less adventuous types, there's nothing to stop you from omitting the habanero and making the chocolate cake straight it makes an excellent "plain" cake and a good palette for your own variations.

the sauce

1 1/2 ripe bananas
1 medium-size ripe avocado
1/2 cup freshly queezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons sugar
Zest of 1/4 lime removed with a zester and finely minced.

1. Peel and coarsely chop the bananas and avocado. Place all of the ingredients in the container of a blender or a food processor and whir until you have a smooth pure, scraping the sides of the container as necessary. The sauce should be creamy and thick, but not heavy. If, at serving time, you think the sauce is too thick, you can thin it with a little water.

2. Scrape the sauce into a bowl and cover the sauce with a sheet of plastic wrap, pressing the plastic against the top of the sauce to create an airtight cover. The plastic wrap will help keep the sauce from turning black, a natural problem with both banana and avocado. Chill until needed. (The sauce can be made early in the day and kept refrigerated until needed.)

the bananas

2 ripe bananas
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons sugar

1. Peel the bananas and cut them on the diagonal into slices about 1/4 inch thick. Toss the slices with the lemon juice to keep them from discoloring.

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet, preferably one with a nonstick finish. Turn the heat up to high, add the bananas, and sprinkle them with sugar. Cook, rutning the bananas, for about 2 minutes, or until they are lightly carmelized on both sides; remove the pan from the heat. (Ideally, the bananas should be cooked just before the cakes go into the oven or even while the cakes are in the oven, so that they can be served warm. However, if it's more convenient, you can make the bananas a few hours ahead, store them uncovered at room temperature, and either reheat them in the skillet before serving or serve them at room temperature.)

the cakes

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
1 sliver habanero or Scotch bonnet pepper
4 3/4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably Valrhona Manjari), finely chopped
1 large egg, at room temperature
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar

1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter six 4-ounce ramekins (samll souffl or custard cups are perfect) and dust the insides with sugar; tap out the excess sugar and place the cups on a baking sheet.

2. In a small suacepan or a microwave oven, melt the butter with the sliver of hot pepper; remove the pepper from the butter and discard. Melt the chocolate in the microwave oven in a bowl over, but not touching, simmering water. Cool both the butter and the chocolate until they measure 104 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.

3. In a medium bowl, gently stir together the egg, yolks, and sugar with a small whisk. Whisk only until the sugar is blended into the eggs, and take care not to beat air into the mixture. Gently stir in the melted chocolate little by little and then the butter, agin little by little. You;ll have a smooth, glossy ganache. (The ganach can be used now or it can be stored, covered airtight, in the refrigerator for about 12 hours. If you've refrigerated the chocolate mixture, bring it back to room temperature by warming it in the microwave oven or over a pan of simmering water before proceeding.)

4. Pour the ganache into the prepared molds and bake for 10 minutes without opening the oven door. Resist the temptation to bake these any longer even though their tops will be just slightly dull and their centers will shimmy at the slightest shake, this is the way they're supposed to be. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and set aside while you arrange the plates the cakes need to be served just minutes from the oven.

to assemble

For each dessert, make a pillow of sauce in the center of a large plate. Turn cake over onto a plastic pastry scraper or a broad metal pancake turner don't unmold the cake yet and then slide the cake onto the sauce; remove the ramekin. Place a few carmelized bananas on the plate. Serve immediately, passing the remaining sauce in a sauceboat.

1998 by Pierre Herm and Dorie Greenspan. Excerpt posted with permission from

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