If you watched the movie “Chef”, you might remember the famous chocolate lava cake scene. I was driving myself crazy trying to figure out whether a lava cake was just a partially cooked cake. Then my husband reminded me of the scene where the character played by Jon Favreau starts yelling at the food critic: “Chocolate lava cake is not just undercooked chocolate cake! You take a frozen cylinder of ganache and you set it in the ramekin so that as the outside cooks fully, the inside becomes molten!” If you haven’t seen this movie, I strongly recommend it.
But if you do a quick search online, you’ll see that several bakers skip the frozen ganache and get the molten center by playing around with the baking time and temperature. So how exactly do you make chocolate lava cake?
One quick visit to forums and you’ll notice that there is quite a bit of disagreement regarding the “right” way to make chocolate lava cakes. I personally don’t believe there is a right or wrong way, because no matter what method is used, chocolate lava cakes are just amazing!
But I will talk about the pros and cons of each method, so you can decide which one you prefer. First, let me walk you through the steps involved in making the chocolate lava cakes so you get a clearer picture. Just in case you’ve never made any before.
Chocolate Lava Cake Ingredients
The beauty of chocolate lava cakes is that you really don’t need too many ingredients. The main ingredients are:
- Chocolate: Since this dessert is all about the chocolate, it should really be of high-quality. For an intense chocolate flavor, go with a higher cocoa percentage. I personally like to use bittersweet chocolate (65%), and add just a little bit of milk chocolate.
- Butter: Preferably use unsalted so you have more control over the salt level in the recipe. If you don’t want to use butter, chef Philippe Conticini replaces it with a small part of neutral vegetable oil and a larger part of coconut oil for a coconut flavor (in his “addictif chocolat” recipe in French). I haven’t had a chance to try it out yet.
- Eggs: The eggs will provide structure to the chocolate lava cake. You will notice that several recipes use egg yolks along with the whole eggs. Egg yolks impart rich flavor and tenderness to the cakes. I tried making the lava cakes with and without the yolks and was equally happy. Since I personally really dislike separating eggs and figuring out what to do with them, I decided to use whole eggs in my recipe.
- Sugar: The sugar will provide tenderness and sweetness to the cake. If you use a sweet chocolate, you might need to reduce the amount of sugar added to the recipe. The type of sugar used varies between the different recipes online. Some use granulated sugar while others use icing sugar or brown sugar.
- Flour: A little bit of flour is used to provide structure to the cake. You want your cake to be sturdy enough so you can invert it onto a plate.
You can, of course, also add flavorings such as vanilla extract and orange zests.
Mixing The Batter
If you look at some recipes online, you’ll see that there are quite a few options when it comes to making the batter. The difference lies mostly in what you do with the eggs before adding them to the melted chocolate/butter mixture. The three main mixing methods I found were:
- Whisk the eggs and sugar for 5 minutes until thick and pale. Using a hand-mixer or stand-mixer is probably needed unless you have good arm strength!
- Whisk the eggs and sugar by hand, using a whisk, just until combined. No need to overwork your muscles here!
- And my personal favorite, low effort method: Just add the eggs and the other ingredients to the melted chocolate/butter and whisk by hand. You can’t beat the one bowl-method!
Making Chocolate Lava Cake
- Preheat the oven to 220°C (428°F), conventional setting. Place the oven tray in the bottom third of the oven (level 2 out of 5). The tray will be nice and hot when you place your lava cakes on it.
Preparing the molds
Most people mention this as a first step but I like to do it after I’ve set my chocolate and butter in a double boiler. You can grease the ramekins while your chocolate is melting or when you are waiting for it to cool down a little before adding the egg.
Melting the chocolate
- Melt the chopped chocolate and the butter (cut into pieces) in a double boiler. The pot (or bowl) shouldn’t touch the warm water and the water shouldn’t be boiling or you risk burning your chocolate. You could melt the chocolate in the microwave but do it in 20 second increments, stirring in-between so you don’t overheat it.
- Add the sugar to the melted chocolate and whisk until fully combined.
- Wait for the chocolate to cool down a little and whisk in the room temperature egg, vanilla extract and salt. When you mix in the egg, the batter might initially look thick and come away from the sides of the pot. Keep whisking until it becomes creamy and smooth. It should loosen up a little.
- Add the flour and stir just until combined. Don’t mix for too long so you don’t end up with a tough cake (too much gluten formed).
- Share the batter between two custard cups (or muffin molds, ramekins). I filled about 2/3 of each cup. Optional: You can add a piece of chocolate in the middle before covering with more batter. Or add the chocolate ganache as we will see next.
Making Chocolate Ganache
This step is optional but making chocolate ganache is so easy and you could just eat it with a spoon if you decide not to use it for the cake! You will, however, have to prepare it in advance. It needs to be firm enough so that you can place it in the center of the batter.
- Chop the chocolate into small pieces.
- Heat it in a small bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds. Stir it a little and reheat in 20 second increments, stirring in-between until the chocolate has melted.
- In the meantime, heat the heavy cream and icing sugar on medium heat until you notice steam and the first bubbles appear. Stir occasionally to make sure the sugar has fully dissolved.
- Add the hot cream to the melted chocolate. Let it sit for a few seconds then stir until fully combined.
You have two options now. You can either:
- Cover with cling film and refrigerate it for a few hours or until firm enough to scoop with a spoon.
- Or, fill an ice cube tray or dome-shaped silicone molds and freeze them.
Filling The Cake With Chocolate Ganache
- Pour about 1 tablespoon of batter into the mold.
- Using two spoons, make a ball of cold chocolate ganache as best as you can and place it in the middle of the mold.
- If you filled an ice cube tray, gently release the ganache with a knife and place it in the batter, without pushing down.
- Cover with more batter.
There should be enough batter in the mold before you add the chocolate ganache. You need the batter to develop a sturdy external cake structure or else you will end up with a big hole in your cake! Oops!
Baking Chocolate Lava Cakes
How long should you bake lava cakes?
Once the cake is in the oven, the batter will slowly start setting from the outside towards the inside. When the outermost part has set and the inside is still completely liquid, you’ll have trouble inverting your cake onto a platter. You are better off eating it with a spoon straight from the mold.
If you heat it for about one more minute, the heat will continue transferring towards the inside and you will get a thicker outer layer which is set. And therefore slightly less lava in the middle. Since the structure of the cake is sturdier, you can now invert it onto a plate.
You can see from the picture above that the outside of the cake cooked first. If you keep baking the cake, the molten center will get smaller and smaller until the cake has fully set.
If you are like me and keep baking the cake until you reach a safe internal temperature of 71°C (160°F), chances are your cake is very slightly molten. You will probably end up with a moist cake that has just a bit of a molten center.
The ideal baking time for you
The baking time will vary depending on your oven, the size of your molds and how molten you want the cake to be. Use the top of the cake as an indicator. If you are not worried about egg safety and want the center to be very molten, remove them from the oven as soon as the top looks set.
I would suggest you start checking at around 7 minutes. They usually take about 8-10 minutes in my oven.
Tip: Don’t bake both cakes at the same time the first time you make them. This way you’ll be able to test out the perfect time (and maybe even change the oven temperature) for you.
What To Serve With Chocolate Lava Cake?
Your cakes are almost ready to eat! Remove them from the oven, let them sit for about a minute in the mold and then invert them onto your serving platter. Don’t leave the cake in the mold or else the heat of the mold will keep cooking it and your molten center will disappear! Well, unless you filled it with chocolate ganache!
You can now dust the cakes with icing sugar, add fruits such as raspberries, drizzle some crème Anglaise or caramel sauce on top. Or enjoy them with cold vanilla ice-cream that melts with the warm chocolate!
Is Molten Lava Cake Undercooked?
This will depend on the recipe used. To achieve a properly molten center, you should either use a chocolate ganache or undercook the cake. In all my attempts, I ended up with very little molten center when the middle of the cake had reached a safe internal temperature of 71°C (160°F).
Although a moist cake is always nice, the point of the lava cake is to have chocolate oozing out of it. If you are worried about egg safety and have a tendency to overbake the cake, I would recommend making it with a frozen chocolate ganache.
If you don’t want to prepare chocolate ganache, you could also add pieces of chocolate or frozen nutella before baking. Or use pasteurized eggs.
Can Molten Lava Cake Be Made In Advance?
Yes! Not only is lava cake easy to prepare but you can actually make the batter ahead of time and refrigerate it for up to 1 day. To do so, simply fill your greased ramekins or custard cups and cover them with plastic wrap. Before baking them, let them warm up a little at room temperature.
If you wish to store the batter slightly longer (up to 2 days), keep it in the mixing bowl and refrigerate it, tightly covered. Let it come to room temperature while greasing the ramekins when you are ready to bake.
I wouldn’t recommend baking the lava cakes in advance as you’ll lose a bit of the molten center. But if you happen to have some leftovers (really?! I admire your self-control!), you can store them, tightly wrapped in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat them for a few seconds in the microwave before serving.
And that’s it! It’s super easy to make and so tasty! Every time my husband catches a whiff of the lava cakes in the oven, he shows up with a bowl of vanilla ice cream! I hope you will love them too!
In case you missed it, head over to the crème Anglaise baking calendar to see what we’ll be learning this month.