Most people are surprised to learn that I don’t like sweets at all. I never have. Growing up, my mother was creative in finding non-cake ways to celebrate my birthday. She tried cookie cakes and ice cream cakes, but I lost my taste for both eventually. I managed to enjoy cheesecake (but not the crust) into my college years, but I eventually lost my taste for that too. Thank goodness I’m an adult now; I can just get a steak and a scotch for my birthday and be done with it.
Because of my aversion to sweet foods, I’m not very good at cooking desserts. I simply lack the palate to know if what I’m preparing tastes right. It all tastes bad to me. But there’s one cake I’ve made a few times that has always gotten rave reviews. It only has a few ingredients, so it’s pretty hard to screw up. The wife loves it, but she gets mad because the recipe makes so much cake and I don’t help her eat it.
For the wife’s birthday this year, I decided to make the cake, but divide it into muffin liners. That way, she can eat one little cake cup whenever she wants and freeze the rest for later. The recipe is straight out of an issue of Bon Appétit from 2006. The magazine calls this cake “La Bête Noire,” or the black beast. I make a bunch of little beasts, so I’ve changed the name accordingly.
Les Petites Bêtes Noires
- 1 cup water
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 9 tablespoons (1 stick plus 1 tablespoon) unsalted butter, diced
- 18 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 6 large eggs
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 8 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
- Lightly sweetened whipped cream
Preheat your oven to 350°. Place the wrappers in your muffin tin(s). Use spray oil to grease the insides of the muffin liners.
In a small sauce pan, combine 1 cup of water and sugar. Bring the water to a low boil over medium heat and then stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Simmer for a few minutes and then remove the pan from the heat. This is your sugar syrup. Next, melt butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the chopped chocolate and whisk until smooth. Whisk the sugar syrup into the chocolate until incorporated and then allow the pan to cool slightly.
When cooled a bit (you don’t want the eggs to scramble), add the well-beaten eggs to the chocolate mixture and whisk until blended. Pour the batter into the muffin liners in the tin. Leave a half inch or so of space in each liner. The eggs will expand when baking, but the expansion will collapse after cooling. Still, you don’t want the cakes to spill over the liners when they’re rising in the oven. Place the muffin tin inside a large roasting pan and add enough hot water to the roasting pan to come halfway up sides of the tin.
Bake until the center of the chocolate cake no longer moves when the tin is gently shaken, about 40 minutes. Remove the tin from the water bath and cool completely. Here’s what the little cakes look like when they’re fresh out of the oven.
See how they collapse after they’ve cooled? That leaves room in each liner for the ganache.
To make the ganache, bring the whipping cream to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate, and whisk until smooth. Pour a little into each muffin liner in the tin. Gently shake the tin to distribute the ganache evenly over the tops of the little cake cups. Refrigerate the cake cups in the tin until the ganache is set. This will take about 2 hours.
The reviews for this recipe are almost entirely positive. Browse through them for ideas about ways to augment the recipe so that it’s different every time you make it. The wife likes to top hers with whipped cream. Here’s what awaited the birthday girl when she finished teaching her sewing class for the night.