As Valentine’s Day approaches, thoughts naturally turn to food. Or they do if, like me, the way to your heart is through the stomach. Cooking is so often an expression of love: whether its a functional everyday supper thrown together, one of literally thousands, as a means of sustaining those around you; or a romantic meal made in celebration, planned meticulously and awaited with anticipation.
Combine that with the apparently unending fashion for restaurants to present a new menu specifically for the day, three times the price of their normal fare, and you’d be mad not to choose to dine-in.
When I need a romantic pudding, this is what I choose. The chocolate fondant is small, but rich, grown-up but with a sweet centre, and spectacular when the spoon first dips in and breaches the outside crust.
I will level with you: these chocolate fondants are something of a cheat. Anyone who has watched even a single episode of Masterchef has seen the most competent fondant-maker buckle under the pressure of presentation and produce a dark little puck, a disappointing chocolate cake, that sits squat on the plate, not giving up its river of sauce. Done wrong, a chocolate fondant is the most anti-climactic pudding imaginable.
It’s perfectly possible to make classic chocolate fondants that rely simply on exacting cooking time – they are delicious and impressive even if the centre that spills out is really just uncooked cake batter – but the time to tackle them is not Valentine’s Day. Instead, this takes a filling of your choice – Nutella, peanut butter, or (my favourite) Lotus biscoff spread, the ‘cookie butter’ that tastes like the little caramelised biscuits cafes serve alongside coffee – and freezes it into teaspoon-sized portions, before popping one into each fondant just before cooking.
This version ensures picture-perfect fondants: dark, almost bitter chocolate cake, surrounding a sweet, molten centre, that pools out gloriously when broken into with a spoon (but not before!).
If you’re going to go to the effort of making a pudding for your beloved on Valentine’s Day, you want to be damn sure it’s going to work. These are, I believe, foolproof. And what’s more, although probably best cooked shortly after the mixture is made, I’ve refrigerated the batter in the moulds for a whole week before cooking, and still had complete success. A make-ahead dish is really the only acceptable sort of pudding for a romantic dinner: no faffing about with measuring of ingredients or dusting of moulds when you’re three sheets to the wind, holding hands and making eyes across the table. Just pop the pots into the oven for fifteen minutes exactly, and you’re good to go.
Melting Chocolate Fondant
Makes: 2 fondants
Takes: 20 minutes plus freezing
Bakes: 15 minutes
2 dessertspoons of Nutella, peanut butter, or Lotus biscuit spread
60g caster sugar
60g dark chocolate
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon self-raising flour
Cocoa powder for dusting
1. Scoop two dessert spoons of your chosen filling onto a small baking tray. Place them in the freezer for at least an hour. Butter two dariole moulds or individual pudding moulds, and place them in the fridge for 10 minutes. Butter the moulds again and pour some cocoa powder into the moulds. Manipulate the moulds until the entire inside of the mould is coated in a fine film of cocoa powder; tap out any excess. Place the moulds in the fridge until you’re ready to use them.
2. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Melt the chocolate over a bain marie and allow to cool a little.
3. Cream together butter and sugar in a mixing bowl until pale and fluffy. Add the egg and the egg yolk and mix until combined. Add the chocolate and the flour and fold into the mixture gently.
4. Divide the mixture between the chilled dariole moulds. At this stage there should be about 1cm free space at the top of the mould.
5. Just before cooking, remove the spread from the freezer and drop one into each mould. Ease it down through the mixture and smooth the batter over the top so it is covered.
6. I bake these for 15 minutes exactly, but start taking sneaky peaks at the puddings at about the 10 minute mark (just crack open the oven door, you don’t want the temperature to drop too much). The pudding should be risen, and slightly puffed: the sponge will just spring back when pressed gently with a finger. Don’t worry if the top is a little cracked.
7. Leave the cooked puddings to cool for a couple of minutes (no longer!). Run a knife very gently around the edge of the mould: if you angle the knife slightly so that the blade faces the metal mould, you’re less likely to tear the pudding. Place the plate that you intend to serve on on top of the pudding, and confidently invert. You’ll need to use a tea towel for this as the moulds will be too hot to hold. Gently wiggle the mould until the pudding slips free.