Gourmet the easy way

Red Tavern chef unveils a dessert recipe for the novice baker

Chef Craig Thomas drizzles a caramel-orange sauce over his popular chocolate dessert.

Chef Craig Thomas drizzles a caramel-orange sauce over his popular chocolate dessert.

Photo By Melissa Daugherty

“It’s for people who think they can’t bake,” said Craig Thomas, as he stood behind the stainless steel bowl half full of melted chocolate. “It’s a really simple recipe.”

With a name like bittersweet chocolate budini, the recipe seemed unlikely to be easy. The Italian dessert sounded as if it needed to be baked by a world-class chef in a fine dining restaurant, not someone whose culinary skill set typically includes preparing boxed macaroni.

Fortunately, I was being taught to make the tasty treat by the head chef at Chico’s Red Tavern. As I watched Thomas work, I quickly realized that I either needed to learn how to make the budini or I’d have to rush to the restaurant every time I needed a chocolate fix.

The smell of the small treat was intoxicating, even before it made its way to the oven. Thomas had already melted bittersweet chocolate, butter and sugar together to prepare for our culinary experience.

“It’s always important to use good chocolate,” Thomas said. “The better the chocolate, the better the dessert.”

Rather than melting it over a hot fire, Thomas explained, he uses a water bath, which is simply a stainless-steel bowl over a pot of boiling water. After cooling the chocolate for 10 minutes, Thomas and I mixed in three egg yolks.

“Make sure the chocolate is not too hot,” he said, “or you’ll cook the egg.”

Since we were making a dessert and not an omelet, I heeded his advice when trying to make the concoction on my own at home. While I didn’t have a kitchen of Red Tavern’s quality, I made do in my modest surroundings.

With the chocolate out of the way, I imitated Thomas’ actions. Using a hand mixer, I beat together the three egg whites that had been separated from the yolks, as well as a half-teaspoon of cream of tartar. Slowly, I added sugar to the fluffy mixture, until it was stiff and shiny.

With both portions of the recipe completed, I folded the egg white blend into the chocolate, remembering Thomas’ tip of folding in one third at a time. As soon as both mixtures were blended, I poured the budini batter into six small ceramic bowls I had borrowed from a friend and popped them in the oven.

Within 20 minutes, the dessert was ready. When Thomas serves his budini, he adds a scoop of vanilla ice cream, sliced almonds and caramel-orange sauce. My roommate and I learned that with six individual cakes, we could try a variety of toppings. On one we put caramel sauce; another powdered sugar. Strawberries decorated yet another. The possibilities seemed endless.

And, as Thomas said, the recipe was easy. In less than an hour and with great ease, I had made an exquisite Italian dessert that even my Italian great-grandmother would be proud of.

Photo By Melissa Daugherty

Bittersweet Chocolate Budini

6 oz. bittersweet chocolate—chopped (high quality if possible; valhrona, caillabaut, el rey)
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
pinch sea salt
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs—separated
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
Vanilla ice cream
Caramel sauce (optional)

Place chocolate, butter, salt and half of the sugar in a large stainless steel bowl. Place over a boiling water bath and melt, making sure the water doesn’t boil over into the chocolate. Take the mixture off the heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes. Lightly whisk egg yolks with vanilla extract and add to chocolate.

With a hand-held or Kitchen-Aid mixer whisk egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peak. Slowly add the other half of the sugar and continue to whip until stiff and shiny. Softly, fold whites into chocolate mixture. Portion into 8- to 10-ounce ovenproof ceramic bowls and bake in a 375-degree oven until puffed and still slightly wet in the middle. Serve immediately or refrigerate and rewarm in an oven for 10 minutes.

Garnish with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Makes 6-8.