Happy Valentine’s: Vanilla, Tonka Bean, Chocolate, Framboise

February 14th, 2012

molten cake unmolded

Happy Valentine’s Day! This dessert is a little brainstorm I got last weekend when I realized it was three days from Valentine’s Day and I hadn’t thought of anything to make yet. I wanted to take a classic V-day dessert and give it a little modern spin. Molten chocolate cakes came to mind…perennial lurkers on Valentine’s “romantic” menus.

The thing is, there’s a reason why they’re virtually un-banishable from restaurant dessert lineups – customers can’t get enough of them. The idea of warm, molten, gooey chocolate casts its spell on diners previously so stuffed they couldn’t manage another bite. I love warm chocolate cake as much as the next chocoholic, but hey, the internet doesn’t need its 1,838,394th molten chocolate cake recipe, right?

I turned instead to a recipe for warm vanilla cake in Bill Yosses’ The Perfect Finish. There are several snowy-white takes on molten chocolate cake, but this vanilla and white chocolate one is a simple stunner. However, I had a couple tweaks in mind: I’m not a big fan of white chocolate, and I really wanted a dark chocolate center.

tonka beans chocolate

When I bake with white chocolate, I usually try to balance out its intense sweetness. Use a high quality white chocolate like Valrhona; lower quality white chocolate tends to just taste like sugary chalk. Tonka beans, those South American seeds, add a fragrant, vanilla-almond-nutmeg dose of flavor to the cake batter. When the cakes are baking, the tonka beans give off the most luscious, tropical fragrance – no wonder they’re used in perfumes. Tonka beans are also known as love wishing beans in some magical traditions; if you throw seven tonka beans into a river and make a wish, it will come true. I’d rather use my beans for baking, but at least it makes them Valentine’s-appropriate!

(Note: Tonka beans contain courmarin, which can be toxic in large doses; for this reason, they are banned for sale in the US as a food item. I feel that the amount used in this recipe is small enough that it’s not an issue for most people – unless you’re planning to make these cakes on a regular basis, and eat them all yourself, I think it’s fine. However, if you are concerned, you can always buy some tonka bean oil and just enjoy the fragrance!)

Many molten chocolate cake desserts are made from one batter that, baked properly, will remain liquid in the center. Others have you place a ball of ganache in the center of the cake batter before baking. My version falls on the more-complicated side since I make a ganache of bittersweet chocolate, cream, and framboise, then stick it into the batter, but I think it’s worth it. The dark chocolate mixes nicely with the tonka bean and also provides further counterpoint to the white chocolate, plus I love raspberry and chocolate, so I couldn’t resist the Framboise.

Making molten cakes is all about the timing. I found that 17 minutes was just right for me – the cake had puffed up and mostly set through, while the very interior was still liquid. If you hit the sweet spot (so to speak), some of the batter will still be liquid and will mix with the chocolate ganache to form a swirly ribbon of goodness. Also, be careful not to push the ganache too far into the batter as it tends to sink to the bottom. I happened to capture one cake where the ganache had formed a heart shape on the cake bottom: just right for Valentine’s Day, I guess!

molten vanilla cake

Happy Valentine’s Day – may it be sweet!

Tonka Bean Vanilla Cakes with Molten Chocolate Framboise Ganache

makes about 10 individual cakes

Chocolate Framboise Ganache

  • 2 ounces (55 g) semisweet (61%) chocolate, finely chopped
  • 2 ounces (55 g) bittersweet (72%) chocolate, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 tablespoon Framboise

Vanilla Tonka Bean Cake

  • 8 ounces (227 g) white chocolate, finely chopped
  • 7 tablespoons (100 g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 5 large eggs, separated, room temperature
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tonka beans
  • 1/3 cup (40 g) all purpose flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1/3 cup (76 g) sugar
  • For the ganache: Melt chocolates and butter together in a small metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water, stirring occasionally.
  • Remove from heat and stir in Framboise.
  • Pour ganache into a container and refrigerate until firm.
  • Meanwhile, make the cake batter: combine white chocolate and butter in a large bowl and set over a pot of simmering water. Heat, stirring occasionally, until melted and combined.
  • Remove from heat and whisk in egg yolks, one at a time. The mixture might separate slightly because of all the fat in the white chocolate, but keep whisking and it should come back together.
  • Add in the vanilla extract and whisk to combine.
  • Grate the tonka beans over the batter and whisk to combine. Add flour and whisk to combine.
  • Place egg whites and cream of tartar in bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk on medium speed until whites are very foamy.
  • Add sugar and whisk on high until glossy soft peaks form.
  • Spoon about a third of the meringue into the batter and fold in to lighten. Add the rest of the meringue and fold in carefully to combine.
  • Cover batter bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least three hours or overnight.
  • When you are ready to make the cakes, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Prepare individual ramekins by buttering and sugaring the insides.
  • Fill the ramekins about 90% full. Do not fill all the way to the top as the batter will puff up and may overflow. Place about a truffle-sized scoop of ganache into the center of each ramekin and press in slightly just so it's covered by the batter.
  • Bake for about 17-18 minutes (bake one first as tester to see what the consistency is after 17 minutes - you don't want to overcook these cakes). The tops should be just springy when you pull them out.
  • Run an offset spatula or knife around the sides to loosen the cake. Place a plate over the top of the ramekin and invert cake onto plate. Serve immediately.

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