Anatomy of a Classic

Molten Peanut Butter Mini-Cakes

Serves 4

A peanut lover’s take on the molten cake

photo: Johnny Autry


Chef Katie Button trained at some of the world’s top restaurants, spinning through the kitchens of El Bulli in Spain, Jean-Georges in New York, and José Andrés’s Washington, D.C., mainstays. Which is why it’s all the more delightful that the Conway, South Carolina, native still enjoys eating peanut butter straight from the jar, with a spoon. “I am a creamy peanut butter loyalist,” she says. “Peanuts are very near and dear to me and my Southern past.”

Though Button was raised mostly in New Jersey, while growing up she often came back to visit her grandparents in South Carolina. And the draw to return to the South was so strong that in 2010 she, her parents, and her Spanish-born husband, Felix Meana, moved to Asheville, North Carolina, to open Cúrate, which approximates a Spanish tapas bar better than many places in Spain. Button also runs the nearby Nightbell, which merges local food with the kind of culinary precision that comes from mixing an advanced degree in biomedical engineering with world-class training in temples of molecular gastronomy.

GG0515_Anatomy_01Still, Button is always looking for opportunities to use her beloved Southern peanut when she cooks. Her molten peanut butter cake is a perfect example. Sized for sharing and modeled after the warm chocolate cake with an oozy center popularized by the New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the dessert is a bit of pastry chef pyrotechnics—a warm, salty, peanut praline center encased inside a quivering sheath of cake.

Like a baked Alaska or a perfect panna cotta, the dish is a showstopper. And though it may seem like a culinary challenge, the only real trick is to bake it just long enough. “What you are looking for is the moment when the top of the batter has really started browning and has puffed up a bit,” Button says. “If you open your oven and the top still has those wrinkles in the center, you want to give it another couple of minutes.”

Button’s cake takes the immediate, delicious comfort of peanut butter on a spoon and dresses it up for company. For true peanut devotees like her, there is a time and a place for each.


Ingredients

    • 1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, cubed

    • 1 1/4 tsp. kosher salt

    • 1 1/4 cups peanut praline paste (ingredients & recipe below)

    • 2 egg whites

    • 11 egg yolks, room temperature *

    • 1/4 cup granulated sugar

    • Sea salt, for garnish

  • Peanut Praline Paste:

    • 1/4 cup water

    • 1/2 cup granulated sugar

    • 1 1/2 cups unsalted roasted peanuts

    • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

    • 1/4 cup canola oil


Preparation

  1. Melt butter in a small pan over low heat. Remove pan from heat, then stir in salt and peanut praline paste until smooth. Cool 5 minutes, then whisk in egg whites. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, beat egg yolks on medium speed for 3 minutes. Reduce speed and gradually add sugar, then increase speed to medium-high for 10 minutes, or until yolks are light and fluffy. Fold yolk mixture into cooled butter mixture. Refrigerate batter at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.

     

  2. When ready to bake the cakes, bring batter to room temperature. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450°. Next, coat 4 large (10-ounce) ramekins with nonstick spray and line bottoms with parchment paper circles and inner sides with additional strips of parchment (paper should be flush with ramekin tops). Coat with non-stick spray.

  3. Fill each ramekin with ¾ cup of batter, and bake 16 minutes, rotating halfway through, until cakes are brown and tops are just beginning to puff. Remove from oven, immediately invert cakes onto serving plates, and carefully lift the ramekins off the cakes. (The cakes will be fragile, so handle them delicately.) Carefully remove parchment paper and garnish cakes with sea salt.

  4. For the Peanut Praline Paste:

    Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

  5. Combine water and sugar in a small pan and heat on low until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium-high and cook until sugar is caramelized and golden brown. Remove from heat, stir in peanuts, and pour mixture onto lined baking sheet. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

  6. Once it’s cooled, break praline into pieces and place in a food processor. Process, periodically stopping to scrape down the sides with a spatula, until praline is finely ground. Add salt and, with the food processor running slowly, stream in oil until a paste forms.

Meet the Chef: Katie Button

Restaurants: Cúrate and Nightbell, Asheville, North Carolina
Hometown: Conway, South Carolina
Favorite piece of kitchen equipment: Grandma Liddell’s Griswold cast-iron skillet. “It’s the pan I use every single day. It just sits on our range ready for dinner.”
Latest projects: Her baby daughter, Gisela, and a Cúrate cookbook.


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