While I fancy myself a pretty good baker, desserts are not my favorite thing to prepare. I tend to be fairly improvisational when I cook, adding to and tweaking dishes as I go, and baking doesn't often lend itself to such impulsivity. On top of that, it seems to me that whenever I take on a dessert project, I somehow manage to dirty every dish, appliance and utensil in my kitchen. There is one standby dessert, however, that I make whenever I am called upon to present something sweet and delicious, but can't be bothered with a detailed, laborious recipe. That dessert is chocolate marquise, a decadent, dense, rich, creamy chocolate terrine that will rock a chocoholic's world, but won't overwhelm those who can take chocolate or leave it. While the marquise is typically made in a loaf pan, it is more like a solid, sliceable chocolate pot de creme than a cake.

There are a number of reasons I love the chocolate marquise, in addition to the fact that it is a guaranteed crowd pleaser. For one, it is one of the simplest desserts I've ever made and requires a minimal amount of both ingredients and cookware. It also lends itself well to variation and can be presented in an endless number of ways depending on the type of chocolate used, the flavorings added to it and accompaniments served with it.

My favorite recipe for this dessert comes from the cookbook In The Sweet Kitchen, by Regan Daley. I have made this recipe using dark, bittersweet and semi-sweet chocolates, both in combination with each other, as well as alone. I have flavored it with everything from raspberry liquor to orange zest to tawny port and often add a handful of bittersweet chocolate chunks to the mixture just before baking, for an additional chocolate bang.

My favorite way to serve the marquise is with unsweetened, vanilla scented whipped cream and fresh berries. But I've also served it with sorbets and ice creams, orange segments and other fruits, toasted nuts and crumbled nut brittles, lavender infused creme anglaise and raspberry coulis, to name a few. I once even sandwiched thin slices of the marquise in between two pieces of moist chocolate cake and then glazed the entire thing with a shiny layer of chocolate ganache. This made one chocolate loving client extremely happy.

I know of a few ways of making this recipe, each resulting in a slightly different version of the same basic dessert. Some recipes call for baking the marquise in a water bath, as with the recipe I use, while others call for simply combining the ingredients and either refrigerating or freezing overnight. The baked version is obviously better for anyone concerned about consuming raw eggs and results in a more dense dessert with a thin, crackled top. The other varieties are more like a solid mousse and tend to have a more light and airy texture. Regardless of the recipe, I urge you to try at least one of them. Then go back and make it again, and when you do, try adding your own creative variations.