It’s not often that I’m led astray by a recipe. This one was delicious, but misleading as all get-out.
The idea was so neat: for the vanilla-loving boyfriend’s birthday, make him a white version of a chocolate lava cake. The New York Times even had a recipe waiting to be tried–the accompanying article promised “a puddinglike center, weeping white chocolate.” But somewhere along the line, something went cattywompus.
The cake was delicious, all right–wobbling and bourbon-fragrant and almost flan-like in the middle–but it took weird turns at several points down the line. The batter was stretchy–like, bread dough stretchy–and there was way more than would yield the 10 mini-cakes the recipe said I would get. I fit it all into 12 cups in a muffin tin, but just barely, and even then they puffed unattractively over the edge. I suspect the intended effect was for the center to be more goo than flan, but I didn’t end up getting there, and for once I don’t think my incompetence was to blame.
I think I’ve figured out part of what went wrong: the batter was chilled too long, the recipe lied about the number of servings it made, and the baking time overshot the gushy-center sweet spot. I’ve tried to remedy some of this in the written recipe below. Whatever the case, these cakes are tasty: sweet and soft and unmistakably vanilla. Just don’t expect a lava cake, because this (sadly) isn’t one.
Vanilla Pudding Cakes (makes 12 individual cakes)
Adapted from Citarella Restaurant, via the New York Times
8 oz white chocolate, chopped
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 cup flour, sifted
5 large eggs, separated
2 vanilla beans
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
Special equipment: a 12-cup muffin pan
Bring about an inch of water to boil in a small saucepan and set a heatproof bowl on top, making sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water. Place the chocolate and butter in the bowl and let them melt, stirring frequently. When completely melted and smooth, remove from heat and let cool for 5 minutes, then whisk in flour and egg yolks until just combined. Use a sharp paring knife to split the vanilla beans lengthwise down the center, and scrape out the seeds with the knife blade. Stir the vanilla seeds and vanilla extract into the white chocolate mixture (save the scraped pods to make vanilla sugar). Set the mixture aside.
In a large (and very clean) mixing bowl, combine egg whites and salt and beat until white and foamy. Beat in the sugar, a little at a time, and continue to beat until stiff peaks form. Transfer one third of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture and mix until thoroughly combined and smooth. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites, mixing just until the last streak of white disappears. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 hours.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350º F. Generously grease a 12-cup muffin pan. Cut circles of parchment to fit the bottom of each cup, insert the circles and then grease them as well. Divide the chilled batter evenly among the cups. Bake until the cakes are puffed and pale golden brown, 14-16 minutes. (If you want a gushier center, underbake the cakes slightly; if you want a firmer center, bake them a little longer.)
Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool 1 minute. Run the tip of a thin-bladed knife around the edge of each cake, then place a baking sheet over the top of the muffin pan and gently invert the cakes onto the sheet. Peel the parchment off the bottom of each cake. Put each cake on a plate–work quickly, or they’ll start to stick to the baking sheet. Serve immediately.