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The trials and errors of great recipes

By By Robert St. John / food columnist
July 9, 2003
Robert St. John is the executive chef/owner of the Purple Parrot Caf and Crescent City Grill in Hattiesburg and Meridian. If you have any questions or comments, he can be reached at Robert@nsrg.com or at (601) 264-0672.
The cooking process is filled with mistakes and false starts.
Whether developing new restaurant dishes or new cookbook entries, one barely gets it right the first time out of the chute. Recipe development can be a long, tedious and sometimes frustrating process.
One of the best desserts I've ever eaten started out as a mistake.
In the mid-1980s Jean Georges Vongerichten was in the kitchen of his restaurant Jean Georges working on the recipe for a miniature chocolate cupcake to add to a petit fours platter. Being a small baked item, the chef was worried that he might overcook it.
Vongerichten overcompensated and pulled the cupcake too early. Not realizing this right away, he turned his attention to another component of the platter. Minutes later, his pastry chef cut into the cake and the uncooked chocolate center oozed out. Vongerichten was furious, until he took a bite.
Undercooked chocolate cake became one of the most popular (and copied) desserts in New York and eventually the entire country.
Jean Georges Vongerichten is one of the world's most talented chefs. He owns five restaurants in New York: Vong, Mercer Kitchen, Jo Jo, Lipstick Caf and Jean Georges. He also owns restaurants in Chicago, Las Vegas, the Bahamas, Hong Kong, London and Paris. This dessert gaffe is so good and so well-liked; he serves it at each of his restaurants.
We serve a version of Jean Georges' chocolate faux pas at the Purple Parrot Caf. Our version came from a prep cook who learned the recipe while working at a hotel in New Orleans. I used that recipe as a starting point and tweaked it. Ours is sweeter than the New York original.
When I eat in my restaurant, this is the dessert I order eight times out of 10. It's like eating chocolate cake and getting to lick the bowl at the same time. We call it a chocolate volcano because hot, liquid chocolate oozes out of the center and all over the plate.
Jean Georges serves his original version with coconut sorbet or caramel ice cream. I like to stuff rum-soaked raspberries in the center of ours.
To bake the undercooked miniature cakes I use my grandmother's individual tin gelatin molds. Any oven-proof ramekin or custard cup will do.
The keys to the success of this dish are: lightly greasing/flouring the mold, bringing the refrigerated dessert to room temperature before baking, the perfect cooking time and allowing the finished product to rest for one or two minutes after baking.
The desserts can be made a day ahead and refrigerated until time to bake.
Marie-Antoinette said, "Let them eat cake." Jean Georges Vongerichten said, let them lick the bowl, too.
Jean Georges Vongerichten's Warm, Soft Chocolate Cake
4 ounces butter, plus more for buttering the molds
4 ounces Valrhona chocolate
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1⁄4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons flour, plus more for dusting
Use a double boiler to heat the butter and chocolate together until the chocolate is almost completely melted. While that's heating, beat the eggs, yolks, and sugar together with a whisk or electric beater until light and thick.
Beat the melted chocolate and butter together; it should be quite warm. Pour in the egg mixture, and then quickly beat in the flour, just until combined.
Butter and lightly flour four 4-ounce molds, custard cups, or ramekins. Tap out excess flour. Divide the batter among the molds. (At this point you can refrigerate the desserts until you are ready to eat, for up to several hours; bring them back to room temperature before cooking.)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bake the molds on a tray for 6 to 7 minutes; the center will still be quite soft, but the sides will be set. Invert each mold onto a plate and let sit for about ten seconds.
Unmold by lifting up one corner of the mold; the cake will fall out onto the plate. Serve immediately with a scoop of your favorite ice cream.
Purple Parrot Caf
Chocolate Volcano
11⁄2 cup butter, unsalted
10 ounces chocolate, chips or block cut into small pieces
4 eggs
4 egg yolks
3⁄4 cup flour
11⁄2 cup powdered sugar
18-24 raspberries, fresh (optional)
1⁄4 cup Myers Rum (optional)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Soak the raspberries in the rum.
Over a double boiler, melt butter and chocolate and mix well.
Using a wire whip of an electric mixer, incorporate the eggs and yolks one at a time. Add flour and powdered sugar and beat until smooth.
Lightly flour and butter ovenproof 6-ounce gelatin molds. Fill mold halfway with batter and place two raspberries in the center.
Fill molds with batter, leaving 1⁄4 inch from the top unfilled.
Bake for 12 minutes (times may vary; test one in your oven before you cook this recipe for company).
Allow the molds to sit for 2n3 minutes, and then carefully unmold onto serving dishes.
Yield: 6n8 servings.

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