I feel like this cake was devised for the batter lover, for those who can barely wait for the timer to buzz and certainly can’t be bothered with letting things cool before plunging scalding bite after scalding bite of gooey yumminess into their over eager mouths. Yup. No wonder this is the cake of choice for the hubby. Our first exposure to this cake was from a place called Morton’s in Columbus, Ohio, which has sadly already closed. The pictures below are from our dessert date there as a celebration of Carlos’ 18th birthday. Needless to say, the expectations for this dish are high which is why this trial run is of utmost importance.
If I could, I’d like to make an analogy about cooking/baking with driving. You know when you’re in the car, going to a place you may have been before, sort of know where you’re going and maybe you even have your GPS but it doesn’t always work. Then it occurs to you that nothing looks right. You can’t really imagine which of the many turns you took was the wrong one or if you even took a wrong turn or if you just haven’t gone far enough or too far and the anxiety builds. All I can say is, in both cases, don’t panic. And as far as cooking goes (which for me has generally been the same with driving) you’re almost there.
Watching the professionals zip through a recipe, not truly following all of the steps they provide in written form is not like making it yourself. AND if you’ve never made the dish before or anything like it and you’re like me, your mind goes to places like “this cannot be what this is supposed to look like at this step” or “how long have I been whisking?” “Isn’t it supposed to look smooth now?” Paula Deen does not stir long enough in her video for the batter to be truly smooth and yet she stops, says it’s ready and somehow it suddenly is silky smooth as she pours it into her ramekins. That’s editing for you! Well, don’t be discouraged and don’t try to complete a dish in the same time as the video because it can’t happen. Just be patient and do EXACTLY what the recipe says no matter how long it takes you!
If you need some extra help, I’d like to suggest that you consult Shirley O. Corriher in her book Cookwise: the hows and whys of successful cooking. Want to know how time and temperature affects texture? Shirley knows! How about how to determine the perfect flour to fat ratio in baking? Shirley can tell you! She’s great. And thanks to a family friend who generously bestowed this holy grail of cook books upon me, she is in my life and will be here until I don’t need her…so forever.
Now, let’s talk about eggs! I use white grade AA eggs: they’re cheap, fresh and of high quality according to the USDA. In case you’re curious about the difference between white and brown eggs, Shirley sheds light on the fact that different chickens lay different colored eggs, even pale green and blue, and it’s dependent on the color of their inner ear (p. 193). Blows your mind, don’t it?! Nothing to do with freshness or being organic or whatever. Anyway, what I really want to share is the best way to crack an egg (p.194): do it on a hard flat surface, not an edge, to avoid shell shatter. Pull the shell apart with your thumbs and voilà. Also note, if you were gentle and the yoke still breaks, it means the egg is probably older and you may not want to use it. After all, freshness affects flavor.
One more thing about eggs as they apply to baking and then I promise to move to the recipe. Egg whites create dry and crispness while egg yolks are responsible for creaminess and smoothness. Given that the white to yolk ratio is 1:2 in this recipe, expect a creamy and moist cake!
I went with Paula Deen’s Molten Lava Cake. The recipe can be found on the food network website (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/molten-lava-cakes-recipe/index.html).
6 (1-ounce) squares bittersweet chocolate
2 (1-ounce) squares semisweet chocolate
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 stick) butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
3 large eggs
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons orange liqueur
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
Grease 6 (6-ounce) custard cups.
Melt the chocolates and butter in the microwave, or in a double boiler.
I transferred the melted chocolate butter mix to a large bowl after this step.
Add the flour and sugar to chocolate mixture.
Paula Deen stirs with a spatula for like a second. Stir a little longer so that the flour and sugar really get incorporated into the chocolate butter. It’s going to look like a chalky clumpy texture but you should mix it enough that you don’t see white before going on to the next step. Baking is a science and the ingredients need to be evenly distributed to create a consistent texture.
Stir in the eggs and yolks until smooth.
Like the Deen meister, trade your spatula in for a whisk! And, unlike in her video, whisk until silky smooth. There is no magic editor in your kitchen!
Stir in the vanilla and orange liqueur.
Divide the batter evenly among the custard cups. 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.
This last step is optional. I kept my little cakes in their place.
Whipped cream: beat 1 cup heavy whipping cream until small peaks form, though they don’t have to hold their height (could take 5-8 mins so expect your arm to get tired). Then add 1 tbsp powdered sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract and beat until the whipped cream has your desired texture. I like tall thick peaks that stay standing and don’t sink immediately. It’s up to you, don’t be afraid to take short breaks and check the consistency of your topping!
So, you’re wondering, what happened?! Well, I overcooked my cakes! Pretty sure I used 4oz ramekins instead of 6oz. The bad news, no runny lava center. The good news, overcooking a cake that is meant to have a batter center just means your cake is in limbo between an under and perfectly baked cake. My center was still more dense and hot and less baked in the center and, did I mention, delicious! This cake is super rich, simultaneously sweet and bitter. Is the bitterness from the chocolate? From the orange liqueur? Who cares! It was wonderful! The solution to my problem: bake for less time. Since you’re supposed to bake 6oz ramekins for 14, meaning 2 1/3 minutes per oz, I’ll try baking my 4oz ramekins for 9 1/3 minutes. It may take longer, I’ll just use the oven light and look out for firm edges and a runny center. My next attempt, on Carlos’ actual birthday, should live up to our expectations!
On storing and reheating: With the cakes still in the ramekins, I covered them with Glad press n’ seal wrap and stored them in the microwave (safe from 2 rambunctious cats). To heat them up again, I just zapped them for 30 secs in the microwave. The center starts to bake in this amount of time and rises to form a peak, a mountain, a …volcano, if you will. Enjoy!