A MasterChef standard asks a hapless amateur cook to create a fondant in 30 minutes. Having conquered biscuits and pain au chocolat, I felt equal to the challenge. The experience is both much easier and much harder than it looks on television, but the method is well within the scope of any cook.
A fondant is a chocolate pudding, cake-y on the outside and runny on the inside. Think of an inside-out chocolate-lava brownie: the warm chocolate sauce doesn’t appear until the muffin is cut, when it flows surprisingly and delightfully onto the plate. The recipe is straightforward, I used the one from local grocer Waitrose (I did half the recipe).
1) There are three parallel bits of prep.
Butter and flour the cups: this is important to get right because the finished pudding has to fall out after baking when the cup is inverted. Be thorough.
Melt the butter and chocolate. I just put a bowl on a rack over a pan of simmering water and let it sit. Everything melts nicely and stays warm while I’m busy with other things – this is a snap.
Mix an egg, a yolk, and sugar. This is a bit more tricky: you have to really whip the heck out of the eggs until it gets white and thick, almost like marshmallow. I find that, with a hand mixer, it takes about 5 minutes and works best with a slightly undersized bowl that allows the beaters to get traction.
2) Fold the chocolate into the egg-sugar mix.
I love this part – it looks wonderful and the patterns change with each stroke of the spoon. As the color gets even, add about two tablespoons of flour and give it a last stir to mix well.
3) Spoon the mixture into the prepared cups.
Best to have a spatula and an extra pair of hands handy, and only fill the cups about 2/3 of the way – the mixture will rise and if it gets higher than the rim, it won’t come out of the cup easily.
4) Bake the puddings.
Timing is everything. In a 190C oven, I found that 15 minutes produces a thin cake and abundant lava; 19 minutes results in a solid cake. Slightly under is better than slightly over – so I would go 16-17 minutes.
5) Cool two minutes, then remove from cups.
I wait two minutes, then give a gentle stroke around the rim with a knife. Moment of truth: cover with a plate, invert, tap the bottom of the cup with a knife, lift off using using a towel to protect your fingers. If all goes well, the cup lifts off to reveal a chocolate muffin with a few scraps of flour on the edges.
6) Serve immediately.
Moment of truth 2: I can’t resist peeking, and cut to see if I get chocolate lava. If so, I put powdered sugar, ice cream, or whipped cream on the others and serve in triumph. If not, I have a little extra lava set aside from step 1 to pour over the top and can still declare triumph.
It took two practice rounds to get it right, but it’s all in the timing. Extras keep well until the next day and microwave up nicely for a snack (although the lava will cook to cake).