Bake: This Valentine’s Day, say it with chocolate

These delicious puddings are incredibly easy and can be prepared in advance

If you haven't decided what you are making for a special Valentine's dessert, well, it has to be chocolate doesn't it? I have an incredibly easy recipe for all chocolate lovers, which I first discovered at a dinner party at my sister's home. Her husband disappeared from the table and returned 15 minutes later with a tray of ramekins filled with perfect chocolate puddings with oozing centres. This was his party piece. He gave all credit to Nigella Lawson's How To Be A Domestic Goddess cookbook. The beauty was he premade them that morning and had them sitting in the fridge 'ready to bake off' in the oven.

Over the years, I have changed the original recipe and it has been hard to beat for convenience. We even bake mini chocolate puddings on the barbecue in summer. Don’t let anyone call them chocolate fondants unless you are intent on showing off and turning them out onto a serving plate before they release their molten centres. Restaurants have a few industry secrets to achieve this. One trick is to press a few chocolate drops into the middle of each mould before baking or serve with a dainty scoop of rich chocolate ice cream on the top.

Even without these tricks, the centres in this recipe will be similarly lava-like once you don’t overcook them. To keep up with the times, you can add a pinch of good-quality sea salt to elevate the rich chocolate flavour, but for a cheeky Valentine twist I am serving the puddings with salted caramel popcorn. I’ve given the recipe below on how to make it, but if you’re short on time, you can buy salted caramel popcorn. While this recipe is not vegan, it is one I keep in mind for special diets as I can adapt this style of small pudding by removing the eggs and using dairy-free chocolate, bananas and sunflower spread along with essential batter ingredients of self-raising flour and sugar. Use the best chocolate you can afford – it will be worth it.

Hot chocolate puddings with salted caramel popcorn
Serves 4

100g good-quality dark chocolate (minimum 60 per cent cocoa solids) pieces
100g butter, plus extra for greasing
75g caster sugar
3 medium eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
30g self-raising flour
200g vanilla ice cream, to serve

Salted caramel popcorn
15g cooked popcorn
50g caster sugar
40ml water and an extra
1 tbsp water 20g butter
Pinch sea salt flakes

Generously grease four 150ml ramekins with butter (dust with cocoa powder or flour if you intend to turn them out).

Place the chocolate and butter in a bain marie (a bowl set over a pot of lightly simmering water). Once melted, remove from the heat.

Whisk together the sugar, eggs and vanilla in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Stir in the melted chocolate until fully combined. Sift the flour into the mixture and fold in.

Divide the mixture equally between ramekins and refrigerate for 30-40 minutes (or overnight).

To make the salted caramel popcorn, first place the popcorn on a sheet of parchment paper and have all the ingredients weighed out, as caramel will burn very quickly. Place the sugar and 40ml water in a saucepan to dissolve over a low heat. Bring up to the boil (and without taking your eyes off the pan) cook for one minute until the sugar just starts to turn an amber colour. Immediately whisk in the tablespoon of water, butter and a pinch of sea salt. Continue cooking until it looks like caramel, then immediately pour over the popcorn and stir until evenly coated.

When ready to bake the puddings, preheat oven to 200C fan. Bake for 12-15 minutes until the puddings are risen (baking times will depend on how chilled they are, so if visibly liquidy on top give them another 60 seconds). Serve in the ramekins with ice cream and salted caramel popcorn.

You can add all sorts of flavours to this chocolate mixture, like orange zest or almond essence. In place of popcorn, fold in crushed amaretti biscuits or a small crunchie bar before filling the ramekins. In summer, we simply serve them with fresh raspberries.

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