Here is how you make a stunning entrance to a dinner party: You glide into the host’s home, a couple pints of ice cream in your bag and hands around a pot full of still-warm hot fudge.
Here is how you make a shocking entrance to a dinner party: You glide into the host’s home, a couple pints of ice cream in your bag, hands around a pot full of still-warm hot fudge, trip on the way in, send the hot fudge arcing through the air—in slow, dark, dark, staining chocolate motion—and cover the walls, furniture, and floors in brown goo and blackest shame.
True story: I really did once slasher-flick a housewarming party with a half-gallon of hot fudge… and, for real, the embarrassment of it put me off making the stuff for almost 15 years.
But I decided to get over my issues by calling a ringer: Pastry chef Shawn Gawle of the stellar restaurant Corton (who is, by the way, up for Food & Wine’s Best New Pastry Chef). We cooked a carload of chocolate together—8 different sauces—while examining the effects of different ingredients, ratios, and techniques. We tried hot fudges, characterized most importantly by their rich, sticky chewiness. And we also jammed on chocolate sauces: thinner, leaner, ideally with sugar balanced by the sleek bitterness of cocoa.
As we followed recipes we’d found, Shawn kept riffing on them with fierce curiosity, analyzing the effects of replacing sugar with sweetened condensed milk, subbing in crème fraiche for cream, cooking syrups to different consistencies. Four hours later, as burnt out on chocolate as I’d ever thought I’d be, Shawn pulled down one more pot. I confess that I was not thrilled.
“But what if we started by cooking sugar like for caramel, and then add the rest from there?” he asked. It was intriguing – the hot fudge recipes all had you slowly cooking the sauces to heat the sugar until it gets to a tacky, pre-candy stage. But they took so long, and you can end up ruining your day by scorching the cocoa powder while it cooks.
He threw the recipe that’d been forming in his head together in minutes, and something magnificent came out: A sauce that was loose enough to pool under any dessert, but that also got fudgier, chewier as it cooled, like it would on ice cream. Because he used only a little dairy and bypassed the customary vanilla, the flavor was deepest, darkest chocolate, sparked with salt that stays crunchy in the sauce. It was brilliant: more seductive, quicker, and easier than the others. When I asked him how he’d thought of it, he shrugged and said, “Well, I just try to put tasty things with tasty things.”
We packed up my 12 pints of molten chocolate in a wobbly tub bigger than my torso. I thanked Shawn, leaving the kitchen with my chocolate mojo back intact, but then I missed a stair stepping out onto the street. Feeling the sauces tilt, I caught myself, waved down a cab, and went home the easy way.
Salted Chocolate Hot Fudge
Because Chef Gawle doesn’t own measuring cups and insists that the first thing you need to do is get a scale, these measurements are in grams. But because I love you and all your imperfections, I’ve also converted them to volumes (except for the unsweetened chocolate, which should come scored in ounce-portions).
Makes about 1½ cups
100 grams heavy cream (½ cup minus 1 tablespoon)
30 grams cocoa powder (¼ - ½ cup; cocoa powders vary widely in density; start with the smaller amount and add to your taste)
20 grams water (1½ tablespoons)
140 grams sugar (5 ounces)
60 grams corn syrup (¼ cup)(I know corn syrup isn’t cool, but it keeps the sauce smooth)
45 grams unsweetened 100% baking chocolate (1½ ounces), chopped
50 grams butter (3½ tablespoons), cut into small pieces
3 grams crunchy salt, like fleur de sel or Maldon (1 teaspoon)
Thermometer that goes up to 230⁰F / 110⁰C (You might make do with one that goes to 220⁰…)
Fine mesh strainer, preferably conical (Also not strictly necessary, but will make it smoother and prettier.)
1. I know you’re a virtuously organized soul, but I’ll say this just in case: Make sure you have all your ingredients measured out before you start cooking. It comes together fast!
2. Optional: Stir in a few splashes of cream into the cocoa powder, bit by bit, until it forms a smooth, thick paste. Then stir in the rest of the cream. (Dissolving the cocoa this way prevents you from having to whisk it in later, where you might beat more air into the sauce than you want. If that doesn’t concern you, you can skip this step and just whisk in the cocoa after you add the cream below.)
3. Stir together the water, sugar, and corn syrup in a small, heavy saucepan and set over medium-low heat. Since the corn syrup nearly ensures the sugar won’t crystallize, you don’t really have to worry about the sides of the pan. Let it come to a boil and watch its temperature. You want to pull it off the heat when it reaches 225⁰F -230⁰F (105⁰C - 110⁰C). At 230⁰F (110⁰C), it’s at the “thread” stage, which means the sugar will form thin threads if you pull a spoon out of it. This also means it will cool into a thick, luscious syrup; this is what gives the sauce that signature hot fudge chewy texture. Cooking the syrup over low or medium low heat lets the sugar develop gradually and evenly, and gives you time to yank it off the heat. If you overcook it slightly, it’s not a big deal – it’ll just trap some air bubbles. It won’t be as pretty, but it will be just as sexy. (If you get it up to 234⁰F (112⁰C) though, you might be getting in trouble as the sugar will get more solid as it cools.) On the other hand, if you want a looser sauce, err on the side of a cooler temperature. If your thermometer only goes to 220⁰F, you’ll just have to guesstimate when the syrup hits 225⁰F. You can do it, though. I believe in you.
4. Stop the sugar reaction now by whisking in the cream/cocoa mixture. Once that’s incorporated, whisk in the unsweetened chocolate. Set the pan back over very low heat and whisk in the butter, a few chunks at a time, until it’s incorporated and the sauce is shiny.
5. Optional: Strain the sauce through a fine mesh strainer, pushing it through with a rubber spatula, to break air bubbles and remove any bits of undissolved cocoa powder.
6. Stir in the salt. Taste. (Ok, taste again.) Rewarm in a microwave or by setting the bowl in gently simmering water. Serve with ice cream, other desserts, or, no joke, as a hot or cold spread for bread. Kept in an airtight container in the fridge, the sauce will last two weeks. Well, it'll keep for that long; how long it lasts is entirely up to you.