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Matchmaker: Thomas Keller's Chocolate Bouchons and Cream Sherry

This simple dessert finds its Valentine's Day mate in Spain's sweet wine

Nick Fauchald
Posted: February 7, 2005

Although best known as the fastidious wizard behind two of America's most avant garde restaurants--Napa Valley's French Laundry and New York's Per Se--chef Thomas Keller proudly proclaimes time and again that his heart and stomach belong to bistro cooking. He's even opened two Parisian-style bistros, one near the French Laundry, the other in Las Vegas.

He's also penned a new cookbook, Bouchon (Artisan), which contains Keller's exacting approach to classic bistro cuisine. One of the book's best recipes is for its eponymous dessert, called bouchons au chocolat. (Bouchon is French for "wine cork," by the way, and as well as Lyonnais slang for "bistro.") These rich, brownie-esque cakes are quick and near foolproof to make, and they're amenable to a variety of adornments (try topping them with vanilla ice cream, ganache or a fruit coulis), making them an ideal Valentine's Day dessert.

Wine Pairing

As a basic rule of thumb, the wines you drink with dessert should be sweeter than the dessert itself. Cream Sherry usually falls between Oloroso and Pedro Ximénez on the sweetness scale, but stops well short of cloying. It's a good match for this simple, chocolaty dessert. The painstaking solera process, which blends and ages new wines with old, imparts more complexity and nutty characteristics into the Sherry--which, when combined with chocolate's intense complexity, creates an entirely new medley of flavors. Sherry is also friendly with a variety of chocolate accompaniments, from ice cream to coconut to caramel.

Recipe: Chocolate Bouchons
Excerpted from Bouchon by Thomas Keller (Artisan Books)
Makes 12 servings

Butter and flour for the timbale molds
3 1/2 ounces (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
24 tablespoons (12 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and just slightly warm
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, such as Valrhona Equatoriale (55%), chopped into pieces the size of chocolate chips
Confectioners' sugar

These small brownielike cakes are named for their shape, which resembles a cork (bouchon); they are very rich and chocolaty, baked with chocolate chips in the batter, and dusted with confectioners' sugar. Bouchon [the bistro] uses 2-ounce Fleximolds and serves smaller bouchons. You can also use 3-ounce (2- to 2 1/2-inch-diameter) timbale molds for larger cakes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour twelve timbale molds. Set aside. Sift the flour, cocoa powder, and salt into a bowl; set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in another large bowl if using a handheld mixer, mix together the eggs and sugar on medium speed for about 3 minutes, or until very pale in color. Mix in the vanilla. On low speed, add about one-third of the dry ingredients, then one-third of the butter, and continue alternating with the remaining flour and butter. Add the chocolate and mix to combine. (The batter can be refrigerated for up to a day.)

Put the timbale molds on a baking sheet. Place the batter in a pastry bag without a tip, or with a large plain tip, and fill each mold about two-thirds full. Place in the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. When the tops look shiny and set (like a brownie), test one cake with a wooden skewer or toothpick: It should come out clean but not dry (there may be some melted chocolate from the chopped chocolate). Transfer the bouchons to a cooling rack. After a couple of minutes, invert the timbale molds and let the bouchons cool upside down in the molds; then lift off the molds. (The bouchons are best eaten the day they are baked.)

To serve: Invert the bouchons and dust them with confectioners' sugar. Serve with ice cream, if desired.

--Thomas Keller

Wines

Wine Score Price
ANTONIO BARBADILLO Cream Jerez Eva NV 90 $12
A strong bittersweet chocolate note in the aroma and flavor marks this sweet Sherry, which picks up a caramel accent midpalate. A firm cut provides balance and length. Well-done. Drink now. 8,000 cases made. --B.S.
 
EMILIO LUSTAU Cream Jerez Superior Solera Reserva NV 89 $20
Elegant and complex. Beautifully balanced, this sweet Sherry bears a firm structure, lending a dryness on the finish and carrying the nut, smoke and caramel accents to a long finish. Drink now. --B.S.
 
BODEGAS DIOS BACO Cream Jerez NV 88 $17
Marked by raisin, caramel and clove notes, this sweet Sherry is light and well-balanced. The flavors carry through nicely on the gingerbread finish. Drink now. 2,500 cases made. --B.S.
 
VINICOLA HIDALGO Cream Jerez Napoleon NV 88 $12
Tasty, this displays cocoa, smoke and caramel flavors on a moderately concentrated frame. Good grip on the finish keeps it clean. Drink now. --B.S.
 
ANTONIO BARBADILLO Cream Jerez Full Rich NV 87 $9
A complex Sherry, exhibiting burnt wood, oxidation and caramel in a medium-bodied, moderately structured package. Drink now. 25,000 cases made. --B.S.
 
HARVEYS Cream Jerez Bristol NV 85 $14
Sweet and pleasant, with caramel and raisin notes, but not that complex, with a nutty aftertaste. Drink now. 120,000 cases imported. --B.S.
 

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