Some time ago, I was given a tub of King Arthur Flour Chocolate Lava Cake mix, and was very satisfied with the contents. But being a home baker, I couldn't help wanting to come up with a recipe of my own for lava cake.
(Chocolate lava cake is a gooey treat that is baked in single servings -- custard cups, for instance -- rather than in one large pan. When you poke an inquisitive spoon into the middle, a gush of soft chocolate flows out. No need for icing on this one.)
I poked through my cookbooks and on the Internet. As childish as it sounds, I really wished that there were some way of having a molten chocolate center that didn't involve unbaked cake batter.
I found it. A few of the recipes I found pushed a ball of chocolate into the middle of each cake. As the cake baked, the chocolate melted. Pure hot chocolate lava.
The ball wasn't just plain chocolate, of course. When I broke it down, I realized that the various bakers were basically using an uncoated truffle -- a ganache -- for their lava centers.
Truffles are very, very easy to make at home, and if you're not going to bother dressing them, they're simpler still. You only need a few ingredients and a little patience.
This recipe for chocolate lava cake includes my favorite homemade truffles on the inside and a simple, buttery-rich chocolate cake on the outside. Since the taste of the chocolate is so important and you're using comparatively little of it, go ahead and get the best baking chocolate you can find for both truffle and cake.
First, make your truffle centers:
In a small heavy saucepan over very low heat, melt 4 ounces of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate. Stir it constantly, and once it's half melted, turn off the heat and keep stirring until it's entirely done.
Without turning on the heat again, stir in 2 tablespoons of butter (not margarine). Then mix in 2 tablespoons heavy cream. (Using very good cream really makes a difference in taste and texture.)
If you want some extra flavor, you can add a bit of flavoring to your truffle centers. Plain good quality vanilla extract is very nice, as vanilla brings out the flavor of the chocolate. If you're making these as a winter treat, you might stir in a bit of peppermint extract or Crème de Menthe. For summer, raspberry liqueur is divine. A little goes a long way, so start with half a teaspoon; add more according to your preferences, but no more than 2 tablespoons.
Pour the chocolate mixture into a small glass bowl and refrigerate it, stirring every five minutes or so. When it's stiff enough to hold a shape, you should have just enough for four golf ball-sized lumps. Shape these, put them on a foil-covered plate and put them back into the refrigerator while you make the cakes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease four large custard cups or ramekins. Take one bar (8 tablespoons) of butter and chop it up.
In a heavy-bottomed pot, melt 6 ounces of good semisweet chocolate over very low heat, stirring constantly. (I used Scharffen Berger 62% Cacao.) When the chocolate is completely melted, stir in the butter.
In another bowl, beat 3 eggs and half a cup of sugar for several minutes, until the mixture is thick and lemon-colored. Be sure that the sugar is completely dissolved.
Stir the melted chocolate into the sugar mixture. Fold in 1/3 cup cake flour.
Put the baking cups on a baking sheet. Divide the batter evenly between them.
Take the truffles out of the refrigerator -- they should be quite firm by now -- and push one into each custard cup. Put the cakes in the oven to bake.
The baking time will vary on these, but start checking them after about fifteen minutes. The cakes will rise, and the top should be firm to the touch and faintly glossy. The edges of the cake will look cracked and rough.
Take the baking sheet out of the oven and let the cakes cool at least a few minutes before serving.
These cakes can be refrigerated and reheated if you're not going to have them right away, but they're best fresh. They're very good by themselves, or with a bit of cream.