Someone has taken off with my pork roast. It was in the downstairs freezer, a frozen lump a lot like all the other frozen lumps that numbly bear witness to my inability to throw out anything remotely eatable.
I know why someone took it. The thief didn't care that the roast comes from one of the great pork farmers in the market, or that the roast was the pork connoisseur's cut, the shoulder butt. Whoever nabbed my roast probably grabbed it because it was one of the few items in the freezer dated after 2004.
When we were moving from Denver to Brussels in 1981, friends held a mock freezer auction, selling off the contents of our freezer as archeological finds. The 1976 demi-glace brought $225. Think what that would be in today's money. I cannot bring myself to throw out food; nor can I bring myself to using up what I see as once-in-a-lifetime culinary opportunities.
But I digress. I dubbed this missive "Improvising" for a reason. My perfectly marbled hunk of Duroc pork was gone and I was rethinking Saturday night's dinner gathering. But as I stared into the freezer, a package tumbled out. It was the Little French Fudge Cakes I'd made last November, only I'd fooled with the recipe. Seeing these chocolate cupcakes land at my feet was an affirmation ? pork or no pork, life was good.
Improvisation is what I live for and this recipe begs for it. Unlike most cake-like concoctions, you can take liberties here. For that batch I'd added salted almonds and espresso. Leaving the main dish ponderings behind, let's talk how to recognize a baking recipe that has improv possibilities.
If you see a recipe made up mostly with something thick and flavorful like chocolate and butter, plus eggs and only a small amount of flour, you have what is essentially a pudding recipe. Where cakes are precarious high wire acts of perfectly balanced ingredients, puddings are the rough and tumble of the baking world, especially chocolate ones. This means they can easily take on nuts, fruits (candied or fresh), and small amounts of intense flavorings. Below is the recipe I improvised from the one in our new book. And by the way, along with the cakes, four lamb shanks from after the last ice age revealed themselves, so Saturday evening is a go.
Little French Fudge Cakes with Almonds and Espresso
15 minutes prep time; 20 minutes oven time.
Makes 6 cupcakes and doubles easily.
adapted from The Splendid TableÂ®'s How to Eat Supper: Recipes, Stories and Opinions from Public Radio's Award Winning Food Show
by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift (Clarkson Potter, 2008)
Serve the cakes warm or at room temperature alone, or with ice cream, whipped cream or sweetened sour cream. The cakes keep in the refrigerator up to 5 days.
This recipe beats out mixes hands down. If you can melt chocolate and stir, you can do it. And no mix has chocolate as good as this. Quality chocolate is like breeding, it always shines through.
Gooey chocolate pockets stud the cakes, while the cake itself is nearly as dense as fudge. Eat them warm, and they will melt to cream on your tongue.
There is a real bittersweet edge here ? for the kids add another three tablespoons of sugar. For yourself, keep the adult attitude, put the young ones to bed, light the candles and pour two glasses of port.
Cook to Cook: The pan you choose will change the baking time of this and other recipes. Here, the dark pan called for gives you fudgey cakes in about 16 to 18 minutes, shiny pans lengthen baking time by a few minutes more. We use a dark (not black) nonstick metal pan for this recipe.
You could turn this recipe into a cake by baking it in a 9-inch spring form pan lined with parchment. Increase the cooking time to about 35 minutes.
One last caution. Do use an oven thermometer since most of our ovens are "off."
One 3.5 or 4-ounce bittersweet chocolate bar (Lindt Excellence 70%, Valrhona 71%, Scharffen Berger 70%, Guittard L'Harmonie 72%, or Ghiradelli 70% Extra Bittersweet, in order of our preference), broken up
1-1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken up
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1-1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 generous tablespoon instant espresso coffee melted in 3 tablespoons hot water
2 large eggs, plus 1 yolk (for a double recipe, use 5 eggs) 1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, organic preferred (measured by dipping and leveling, see page 000)
Half of a 3.5- to 4-ounce bittersweet chocolate bar, broken into bite-sized pieces
1/3 cup whole salted almonds, coarsely chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 375Âº F. Butter a dark metal 6-cup cupcake tin.
2. Combine the first quantities of chocolate (the 3.5 to 4 ounces of bittersweet and the unsweetened) and the butter together in a medium-sized microwave-safe bowl. Melt them for 2 to 3 minutes at medium power. Check by stirring, as chocolate holds its shape when microwaved. Or melt it in a heatproof bowl over simmering water.
3. In a medium to large bowl, whisk together the cinnamon, vanilla, espresso, eggs and the yolk, the sugar, and the salt until creamy. Stir in the flour to blend thoroughly. Then stir in the chocolate/butter mixture until smooth. Finally, blend in the broken-up chocolate bar and almonds. Pour the batter into the cupcake pan, filling each to 3/4 full.
4. Bake the cupcakes for 18 minutes, then insert a knife into the center of a cupcake. It should come out with some streaks of thick batter. If you have any doubt about doneness, press the top of a cupcake to see if it is nearly firm. Remove them from the oven. Cool the cupcakes on a rack 5 to 10 minutes to serve warm, or 20 minutes to serve at room temperature.
â€¢ Instead of espresso, add 1 tablespoon liqueur or dark rum.
â€¢ Instead of nuts, add dried cherries, cranberries, apricot pieces, chunks of candied ginger or the small red cinnamon candies found at Christmas.
P.S. The pork roast showed up. It was in the far back of the bottom shelf reached only by getting on your knees and stretching. My faith in human honor is restored, but now I am figuring out what to do with pork and lamb on Saturday night.