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Little desserts of Spain: chocolate al vapor recipe


A chocolate shop in Valencia, Spain./Wikimedia Commons

My friend and fellow examiner Greg Duran gave me a wonderful cookbook on tapas, the little foods of Spain. We've enjoyed eating tapas at Cafe Sevilla and prepared a delectable Spanish meal together in January.

“El Farol Tapas and Spanish Cuisine” by James Campbell Caruso has a comprehensive collection of tapas recipes, but also a section filled with little desserts – plates of stuffed figs drizzled with caramel sauce, individual goat milk flan, tarts and lovely petite cakes. 

Here’s a dessert that caught my eye: chocolate al vapor – steamed chocolate cake. These individual chocolate cakes are baked in a water bath and come out of the oven moist, rich and fragrant with cinnamon. Serve them warm with a dab of whipped cream and you’ve got a simple dessert for six. 

This recipe is from “El Farol Tapas and Spanish Cuisine” by James Campbell Caruso. ISBN: 1586851012. That big online bookseller lists it for sale, but says it takes one to two months to deliver. "El Farol" may be going out of print soon with a delivery schedule like that. 


½ cup water

6 oz. unsweetened chocolate 

1 cup butter, cut into chunks

6 egg yolks, beaten until foamy and smooth. 

1 ½ cups granulated white sugar

Seeds of 1 vanilla bean

2 tsp. ground cinnamon 

¼ cup flour

6 egg whites

Pinch of salt 


Preheat oven to 350°. 

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil, and then reduce heat to simmer; you will use this hot water to steam the cakes. 

Spray 6-4 oz. oven-safe ramekins or Pyrex baking cups with no-stick spray and set aside. 

Microwave the ½ cup water in a large microwave-safe bowl until steaming, but not boiling. 

Add the chocolate and butter to the hot water and stir to melt. By the time the butter and chocolate are melted, the mixture should be warm, but not hot. 

Stir the beaten egg yolks, sugar, vanilla bean seeds, cinnamon and flour into the chocolate mixture until blended. 

Whip the egg whites and the salt until soft peaks form. 

Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. 

Spoon the batter into the prepared ramekins. Place the ramekins in a baking dish deep enough to safely hold 2 inches of water. Pour the water carefully into the baking dish, being careful not to splash the batter. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake 30 minutes. 

Carefully remove the baking dish from the oven, and using tongs, remove the ramekins from the hot water. Allow them to cool on a wire rack 5 minutes. 

Unmold and serve warm. 

Cook’s notes: 

  • I can’t improve on Joe Pastry’s tips for seeding a vanilla bean. 
  • When buying vanilla beans, look for ones that are plump, glossy and soft like a prune. If they’re dry or brittle, keep looking. 
  • Don’t have a vanilla bean lying around in your spice cabinet? Use vanilla extract instead. Expert opinion varies on how much vanilla extract equals a whole bean worth of seeds; an average rule of thumb is substitute 2 tsp. pure, best quality vanilla extract for one bean. 
  • I recommend Trader Joe’s Tahitian vanilla extract. It is rich and mellow and comes close to the flavor of vanilla beans. 
  • Be cautious when baking with water baths, especially if you have children in your home. This would not be a good time to answer your cell phone, for instance. Scalding water does wonders for food but can do a lot of damage to humans. 

More information: 

Try these individual chocolate indulgence cakes from Shutters on the Beach, or to indulge your taste for Spanish desserts, try tarta de Santiago – a simple almond cake from Granada.  

My friend Greg Duran, Portland's ethnic foods examiner, is just getting started in a new home full of foodie possibilities. Stop by his site and say hello.