So I would bet that everyone reading this post has eaten a molten chocolate lava cake at one point or another. Or at least, I certainly hope you have. If you have never had one of these luscious, decadent, oh-so-sexy desserts you are missing out. Really. If you are one of those deprived people, go ahead and tell someone else you have not eaten one. I can guarantee you they will be incredulous and respond with, "Whaaaat??! You have never eaten a lava cake? OMG. They are soooooo good, you are crazy. You need to eat one right now."
Whether you are a lava cake newbie, or a certified chocolate connoisseur, you do need to eat this cake right now. Because while it is likely to be featured on the dessert menu at your favorite fancy restaurant or the local Italian joint, this cake can just as easily be whipped up in your own kitchen. In fact, I would argue that your kitchen is a better place to eat this dessert; only in the comfort of your own home can you fully appreciate its warm, intimate center that flows like molten gold. At home, you can eat with abandon and lick your lips after each satisfying bite. If you are doing it right, eating this kind of cake might even make you a little hot and bothered... So grab your loved one and go into your kitchen and start making it. Or be really naughty and make one just for yourself.
These would also be great to make for a dinner party, since they can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated until needed. Admittedly, enjoying the cakes with a group of six friends isn't really the same seductive experience I was describing above... but don't complain, you still get chocolate lava cake.
I think the do-ahead aspect of this dessert is why so many restaurants feature it on their menu. In fact, it might be fair to say that this has become one of the most quintessential dessert menu items of the last few decades. So where did it originate??
According to the information I could find, it seems there is a bit of a dispute. Remember our friend Jacques Torres who gave us the perfect chocolate chip cookies? Well he claims that such a dessert was served in France well before its "invention" in the United States. On the other hand, chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten says that he discovered the dessert in New York in the late eighties when he accidentally undercooked a souffle. There are also a few other chefs who stake claim to this famous dessert. Personally, I would tend to believe Jean-Georges based solely on his prestige, but it is up to you to decide who gets the credit.
What is clear, is that this dessert is a cross between a flourless chocolate cake and a souffle. The batter incorporates air similar to a souffle and gives it rise, but a meager amount of flour provides for a density similar to a flourless cake.
So if you love chocolate, move this recipe to the top of your "to-do" list for this weekend. In fact, go to your local farmers market and get some ripe strawberries to pair with this cake for a real knock-your-socks-off dessert. Just make sure you have enough time to properly enjoy it.
Molten Chocolate Lava Cake
The recipe I was working from said this would make 8 molten cakes. Well mine made a scant 5 cakes, and with a little more filling in each I think it is fair to say this will give you 4 perfect molten lava cakes. I have also seen some sources that say it is best to refrigerate the cakes for only a few hours before serving, but I tested the baking at 24 hours as well and still got a perfect cake.
6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli chips)
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used Perugina)
3/4 cup unsalted butter, plus an extra pat for buttering ramekins
3 egg yolks
3 whole eggs
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
extra flour, or cocoa powder, for dusting ramekins
Butter the bottom and sides of 4 six-ounce ramekins. Dust with flour or cocoa powder (flour might leave a slight white residue, cocoa will blend in with the cake), and tap to remove excess.
Melt all the chocolate and the butter in a double boiler, then set aside to cool. Meanwhile, combine eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl and cream together on medium-high speed. The batter will become thickened and form ribbons when beating, and it will double in volume from incorporating air into the eggs (see photo above for a visual of the batter). Add the flour to the egg batter, and blend for an additional 2-3 minutes. Then add the chocolate and blend for an additional 2 minutes, scraping bowl once or twice to incorporate everything. This is important because the chocolate is much more dense than the batter so it will sink to the bottom of the mixing bowl.
Fill each ramekin with about 6 ounces of batter, and refrigerate for 1 hour or longer. (If you prefer, these can be prepared 24 hours in advance and refrigerated until serving.) To bake, preheat oven to 475 degrees Fahrenheit, and bake ramekins on a baking sheet for about 11-13 minutes. When they are done, they should be puffed up and the center of the top should look solid. Importantly, they should pass the "jiggle test." With an oven mitt, grab the edge of the baking sheet and shake it a little bit. If the top jiggles a lot, they are not done. Close the oven and check them again until the top jiggles ever so slightly, or not at all. Remove ramekins from the oven and serve immediately.
Cakes can be served in the ramekins, or wait a few minutes and invert individual cakes onto a plate. Serve with whipped cream, fresh berries, candied nuts, or whatever strikes your fancy.