Cost: £2 or so, pretty much all storecupboard ingredients
If in any doubt about what to make if people are coming over, may I recommend this pudding? You can make it in advance – even the day before, and bake them from the fridge just before serving. Conversely, if you are surprised by unexpected guests (or expected guests, but you have forgotten to plan a dessert) then you can whip it up out of storecupboard staples and bake right away. My preference is to make them ahead and leave them in the fridge until we are clearing the plates from the main course. Normally, the oven is still warm so it doesn’t take much time to heat up, and as they cook we can take away the plates and set up for dessert.
Chocolate fondants have a reputation for being technically difficult, but it is totally undeserved. They are easier to make than a cake, and the only slightly tricky thing is getting the timing right – cooking them for long enough to give them some structural integrity, but not long enough for the centres to set. The truth is, it depends a bit on your oven and on the size of your ramekins (and thus depth of your puddings); these timings work for me but they might need a little trial and error. I like to serve them with some frozen berries and a dusting of icing sugar – so if the worst comes to the worst and they are insufficiently firm you can pass them off as warm chocolate mousses, which are gorgeous with the frozen berries, and if they are solid all the way through they are individual chocolate cakes. And nobody will ever know.
Recipe: Chocolate Fondants
This recipe is essentially Felicity Cloake’s in the Guardian, but I find them a bit much in the portions she suggests, so make slightly smaller puddings. Still a treat!
120g dark chocolate (ideally over 50% cocoa)
120g butter (or baking margarine for dairy-free)
120g caster sugar
2 eggs and 2 egg yolks (I’ve also used 3 whole eggs instead, which seemed to work fine)
2 Tbsp plain flour
Butter and cocoa powder to grease ramekins
Handful of mixed frozen berries and icing sugar, to serve (we use frozen ones because we always have them in – to blend with banana and juice to make instant smoothies. You could use fresh, but I think the hot chocolate sauce is particularly lovely with the cold tartness of the berries – and it sticks to them more easily than it would with fresh)
(If cooking immediately, preheat the oven to 200C)
1. In a large, non-metallic bowl, melt the chocolate and butter on a very low heat (e.g. zap it for 1 minute at a time on the lowest setting, checking each time. When the chocolate starts to soften, reduce this to 30 seconds, and when some pieces lose their shape, stop heating and stir gently to melt the remainder)
2. Whilst the chocolate and butter is melting, prepare 6 ramekins by buttering them (I like to do this by wrapping the fingers of one hand in cling film, then scooping spreadable butter out of the tub and rubbing it quickly around the inside of the ramekin), and dusting them with cocoa. Use 1 tsp of cocoa and tip it around the inside of one ramekin, holding it over another to catch any flying powder.
3. The chocolate and butter might still be melting – if they are melted, stir the chocolate and butter gently until just combined (do not over stir in case the chocolate separates) and leave it to sit. Prepare the eggs and yolks (or whole eggs) in the bowl of a stand mixer or any large bowl, and weigh in the caster sugar, salt and vanilla. Whisk on top speed until the mixture is very pale and moussy.
4. Add the chocolate and sift in the flour, and fold it all together gently with a spatula. My mother described folding to me as making a dollar sign in the mixture, moving the spatula in an “S” shape, making sure you reach right to the bottom, and then using it to make a cutting motion through the mixture. You want to combine the ingredients without getting rid of all the air you whisked in.
5. When the mixture is just combined and there are no streaks of flour or chocolate, divide it equally between the prepared ramekins. Place them on a baking sheet and cover with cling film, and chill until you are ready to bake them.
6. Bake in a preheated oven at 200C for 12-13 minutes. When they are cooked they should be solid at the sides, and you should be able to pull the edge slightly away from of the ramekin with a knife. Let them sit out of the oven for a minute or two, then loosen them from the ramekins and invert onto small plates. Top with frozen berries and use a sieve to dust them with icing sugar. Serve immediately.