In the 14th century, having money on hand to give to a passerby who begged a gift was (and still is) a Christian act of charity. But an ‘aumônière’ (or alms purse) was not used exclusively for carrying alms about. It also functioned much as a purse does today. This dessert takes its descriptive name from a common pouch-shaped form of the alms purse with a drawstring closure.
You will also need:
1. A double boiler or a homemade bain-marie made with a bowl that fits inside the rim of a pot partially filled with water.
2. A mixer, standing or hand.
3. Eight 1/2-cup size ramekins.
4. Parchment paper.
5. Kitchen string.
6. A small strainer is optional for sprinkling cocoa powder over the finished desserts.
For the cake batter:
1. Place the chopped chocolate and butter in the top of the double boiler or bowl of the bain-marie, with the water simmering in the lower pot and slowly melt them together, stirring occasionally. Remove it from heat and set the melted chocolate aside to cool to lukewarm.
2. In a large bowl beat the eggs and sugar together until they form a thick, pale lemon-ey yellow mixture.
3. Mix in the powdered almonds, then the flour, salt, and finally, the melted chocolate and butter and the vanilla. (The batter may be made up to this point in the morning, covered and set aside at a cool room temperature or in the refrigerator, to be baked in the evening. Bring it to room temperature before baking if it is refrigerated.
For assembling and baking the ‘beggar’s purses’:
The dessert bakes for exactly 12 minutes and rests for 5 minutes. It can’t be made in advance, but guests generally like a break before dessert—nor will they mind waiting a little for this one. If you are using the optional dark chocolate sauce, you need to make it in advance and reheat it a little before decorating the desserts and putting the (optional) ice cream with it. The instructions for the chocolate sauce are at the end of this recipe. So if you want to make it, then skip to the bottom and prepare it before baking the cakes. Now back to the cakes …
1. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Butter the ramekins and line the bottom of each one with a round of parchment paper.
2. For each ramekin: Center a crêpe over the ramekin and press it down into it. Using crêpes with an 8-9 inch diameter, there will be a broad circular band of overhang. (See the photos on the related link.)
3. Divide the cake batter among the crêpe-lined ramekins.
4. Gather up the overhanging border of each crêpe, bunch it together in overlapping folds, and tie the folds together with a piece of kitchen string, as though the string were the drawstring of an alms purse. (Looking at the photo illustration on the related link might be helpful for visualizing this step.)
5. Bake the ramekins for exactly 12 minutes. (During this time, gently reheat the chocolate sauce if you’re using it.)
6. Remove the ramekins from the oven and let the ‘purses’ sit (still in the ramekins) for 5 minutes. Remove the strings.
7. Swirl some chocolate sauce onto each dessert plate, if you like. Then, gently tip each ramekin sidewise and slip the beggar’s purses onto the chocolate-decorated plates.
8. Optional suggestions: Place a small scoop of vanilla ice cream next to each purse, drizzle some more chocolate sauce on the ice cream, sift some cocoa powder over each plate and, decorate the desserts with berries.
For the optional dark chocolate sauce:
1. Place the chocolate, milk and cream in the top of a double boiler or a homemade bain-marie (with water in the bottom pot) and melt the chocolate slowly over low heat, stirring.
2. Add the frozen butter, a few pieces at a time and stir until melted.
3. Add the vanilla and set the sauce aside off of the heat until you unmold the baked desserts and put them on plates. Reheat the sauce briefly before using it. Any leftover sauce keeps well, refrigerated, for many weeks.
An Acknowledgement: The recipe for Dark Chocolate Sauce is adapted from one in ‘The Dione Lucas Book of French Cooking (1973). The diplomatickitchen came across this recipe for Moelleux au chocolat en aumônières on a blog which has since vanished without a trace.