I sort of envisioned “modernist cuisine” along the lines of George Jetson’s Food-A-Rac-A-Cycle machine–a high-tech gizmo that instantly creates scrumptious foamy food with the push of a button. So, I thought, why not start off with a recipe that has “instant” right in the name? Well, it depends on what you call “instant.”
Today, I made Modernist Cuisine at Home‘s “Instant Chocolate Sponge,” mistakenly expecting a little more of the “instant.” The batter part was smooth sailing. I combined the milk, chocolate, and butter (nice and simple), and zapped them for a minute in the microwave to create a velvety (and quite delicious) mixture. Then I whisked in some eggs once it had cooled. It was sure looking good. And to be entirely honest, it was seeming a whole lot like the microwave cake recipes that dominate post after post on Pinterest.
Then came the modernist twist: a whipping siphon. The siphon infuses fluid, cake batter in this case, with carbon dioxide or nitrous oxide gas using a pressure gradient. While I appreciate Myhrvold’s amend to cut the centrifuge and rotary evaporators out of the “at home” edition of the cookbook, siphons aren’t quite your everyday household appliance either. Sure, there were days when microwaves were rare, but they speed up the cooking that was already happening. Until foamy foods become part of the American vernacular, I don’t really foresee siphons becoming a kitchen essential (although they apparently were back in the 1800’s). So, I got crafty and repurposed a soda seltzer machine into my own siphon to add some fluff to the batter.
Anyways, back to the cake. After flailing around with the seltzer machine, I was eventually ready to pour the batter into paper cups. I zapped them in the microwave, and watched as the batter expanded into fluffy goodness.
Now, spongy and springy aren’t usually two words I like to hear after asking, “What’s for dessert?” But with this cake it was different. It’s kind of like how thermometers aren’t usually all that exciting. But if you think about the science behind what makes the mercury rise, it can actually be amazing to watch. Well, it was the same for this sponge cake. I never get excited about the words “sponge cake,” but when you yourself are the one using science to add the sponge to the cake, it’s awesome to watch and to taste. I added some raspberries along side mine, and I recommend you do the same.
So this recipe certainly won’t be replacing that standby quick fix for a sweet tooth, and I won’t likely be investing in my own whipping siphon anytime soon, but it is something worth adding on your culinary bucket list–something worth trying at least once not for the taste but for the sciency beauty behind what makes it so airy.
Mix in a microwave safe bowl: whole milk (150 g or 2/3 cup), chopped semisweet chocolate (115 g or 3/4 cup), unsalted butter (75 g or 3/8 cup).
Microwave mixture for about 1 minute, stirring periodically, until melted. Be careful not to overheat (the chocolate will get grainy and lumpy).
Whisk eggs (100 g or approximately 2 eggs) into the cooled chocolate mixture.
Combine dry ingredients: wondra (125 g or 1 cup), powdered sugar (125 g or 1.25 cups), cocoa powder (6 g or 2 tsp), salt (5.5 g or 1.5 tsp), baking soda (0.6 g or 1/8 tsp).
Gradually fold the dry ingredients into the chocolate and egg mixture and allow the mixture to sit for 20 minutes.
[If you don’t have a siphon or seltzer machine, you can omit this part although the cake will be a bit less fluffy. Otherwise, pour the batter into 1 L siphon and charge it with 3 cartridges of nitrous oxide. Let the gas infuse for 20 minutes at room temperature.]
Meanwhile, cut four equally-spaced slits about 1 inch long in the side of a paper cup,* and puncture four holes in the bottom (be careful not to make the holes too large or the batter will seep out…whoops). Spray the inside of the cup with cooking spray, and fill it 1/4 of the way full with batter. Pop into the microwave for 50 seconds. Let the cake cool for a few seconds, then dump it upside down over a plate, releasing the cake. Top with cream or your favorite fruit. Makes about 6 miniature cakes.
*Make sure the paper cup is entirely paper. Wax and plastic will melt, yuck.