Charles Perry's Rumtum Tiddy
Russ Parsons' Minestra of Root Vegetables

SHF #27: Thomas Keller's Chocolate Bouchons


I'm beginning to wonder. Is there something wrong with me? Because I'm having trouble with Thomas Keller's recipes and I can't help but think that I might be the only person in the world with these problems. First, the green beans in whipped cream, then these chocolate cakelets which are lovely to look at, yes, but almost inedibly salty. It seems that Thomas Keller is a kitchen god to everyone but me. Can that really be?

Inspired by the adorable little chocolate corks bobbing around at Molly's house the other day, I dug through my folders to emerge triumphant with Keller's recipe for a similar confection that was published in the Los Angeles Times several years ago. I'd been hanging on to it for a long while now, waiting for timbale molds to come into my possession. But after Molly wrote about her bouchons, I was overcome with the oddest sensation that if I didn't immediately go home and make my own batch of bouchons, I might possibly faint and die.

That ever happen to you?

So, armed with a block of fresh butter and two bars of Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate (it's the only baking chocolate besides Baker's - and I refuse to use Baker's - that I can get at the grocery store closest to my apartment. I end up using Ghirardelli's for a lot of my chocolate baking and I'm usually quite pleased with it. It's cheaper than Scharffen Berger and though it might be lacking somewhat in complexity, I am pinching pennies around here these days.), I whipped up an impossibly thick and fudgy chocolate batter. Have you ever even seen a recipe that calls for an entire cup of cocoa powder?

Instead of using timbale molds, I filled a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners and plopped the rich, luscious batter down into each cup. In the oven, the cakelets rose and cracked beautifully, just like those infamous Belgian Brownies. Waiting for them to cool was pleasant torture.

And when I finally broke open a cooled bouchon, I found a dark, cakey brownie-like interior, studded with glossy craters of melting chocolate. But when I bit in, what I tasted was s.a.l.t. And not as a faint background note that makes chocolate taste fruity and complex, or that transforms caramel into something deeper and more nuanced. No, I had a bite of salty chocolate cake in my mouth and it wasn't exactly pleasant.

The cakes weren't salvaged by vanilla ice-cream or confectioner's sugar - neither could properly cloak the saltiness. And after I did a little web research, I came up with this item, which makes me wonder. Clearly, other people have had problems with this recipe. But is the culprit really the faulty amount of sugar? I actually liked the balance of sugar and chocolate - these are grown-up cakelets and shouldn't be too sweet. I think the problem lies more with the salt. If you feel the urge to make these, try the recipe below with a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Let me know how it works out if you do.

If you're wondering, I did finish that bouchon, and I brought another one to work the next day, thinking that an overnight rest might help the situation. It didn't. So I'm left with a freezerful of salty chocolate cake, a small case of aggression, and a few questions. What is it with me and Thomas Keller? Am I ever going to find a recipe of his that works? Who is going to eat my salty chocolate bouchons? And where I can get a replacement chocolate fix in the meantime?

Chocolate Bouchons
Makes 16 2-inch bouchons

Butter and flour for the timbale molds
3/4 cup flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 eggs
3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
24 tablespoons (12 ounces) unsalted butter, melted, just slightly warm
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped into pieces the size of chocolate chips
Confectioner's sugar

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour 16 (2-ounce) timbale molds or fleximolds. Set aside. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt into a bowl; set aside.

2. In the bowl of a mixer with a paddle attachment, or in another large bowl if using a hand-held mixer, mix the eggs and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until very pale in color. Mix in the vanilla.

3. On low speed, add about one-third of the dry ingredients, then one-third of the butter, and continue alternating with the remaining flour and butter. Add the chocolate and mix to combine. (The batter can be refrigerated for up to a day.)

4. Put the timbale molds on a baking sheet. Place the batter in a pastry bag without a tip, or with a large plain tip, and fill each mold two-thirds full.

5. Place in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. When the tops look shiny and set (like a brownie), test one cake with a wooden skewer or toothpick. It should come out clean but not dry (there may be some melted chocolate from the chopped chocolate).

6. Transfer the bouchons to a cooling rack. After a couple of minutes, invert the timbale molds and let the bouchons cool upside down in the molds, then lift off the molds. (The bouchons are best eaten the day they are baked.) To serve: Invert the bouchons and dust them with confectioner's sugar. Serve with ice cream if desired.