Monday, October 19, 2009

Molten Lava Cakes

Molten Lava Cakes - first made 12.24.08 for Christmas Eve dessert

One of my sister's favorite desserts is lava cake. In fact I think it's her only favorite dessert because no matter what I bake, whenever we have family get togethers and I ask her what she wants me to make for dessert, her answer is invariably the same: "lava cake!"

Lava cakes were the rage some years back and you'd be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that hadn't had it on their menu at some time or another - they're basically individual-sized chocolate cakes baked at high temperatures and taken out before the center has fully baked, creating a "lava" of molten chocolate in the middle. Ideally, they're served warm (not hot) with vanilla ice cream. Some recipes call for making a ball of truffle or fudge that's frozen then dropped in the center of the batter so when the cake is baked, the chocolate is still liquid in the middle. You can do it either way but the simplest is the first way.

Essentials of a good lava cake and lava cake recipe: high quality chocolate, high temps so the outside of the cake bakes quickly and baking just the right amount of time. You want the outer edges of the cakes to be baked while leaving the center a liquidy pool of chocolate, but not so underbaked that it's simply raw batter. To this day I remember one of our chef instructors at CIA demonstrating lava cakes and he took it out too soon so the middle was literally raw batter instead of liquid chocolate. Trust me, there's a difference and it's usually a couple minutes' worth of baking time in the oven. You should also bake lava cakes in small individual-sized ramekins. They're so rich that you don't want large portions. Plus it's easier to control the ability to bake it just right with smaller ramekins.

I'm a ramekin freak and went through a period of haunting Crate & Barrel, Sur La Table, and Williams-Sonoma, buying any kind of ramekin(s) that caught my eye. Thankfully, I've managed to control myself in recent years but I still have an inordinate amount of ramekins. The more to bake lava cakes in, I say.

I got this recipe from and it's Paula Deen's recipe. Hers calls for orange liqueur but since I'm diametrically opposed to ruining good chocolate with a fruity flavor, I substitute either Kahlua or Godiva chocolate liqueur. The only problem with lava cakes is because they're meant to be served soon after baking and eaten warm, I don't get the chance to experiment with different recipes all year, unless I'm going to be the one to eat all of them. Which I'm not. So every year, when my sister asks without fail for me to make lava cake for dessert, I try out a new recipe for it. This was last year's version.

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 ounces semisweet chocolate
10 tablespoons butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups confectioners’ sugar
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons orange liqueur

1. Grease six 6-ounce custard cups. Melt the chocolates and butter in the microwave or in a double boiler.
2. Add the flour and sugar to chocolate mixture. Stir in the eggs and yolks until smooth. Stir in the vanilla and orange liqueur. Divide the batter evenly amongst the custard cups.
3. Place in the oven and bake for 14 minutes. The edges should be firm but the center will be runny. Run a knife around the edges to loosen and invert onto dessert plates.

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