The attempts resulted in relatives of brownies, soufflés, and very egg-y cake-lets. My final version is a very deeply chocolaty, but not too dense, molten cake. The little cakes cook, leaving a pod of gooey fudge in the center.
My version is slightly more involved than most that I ran across simply because I go to the little extra steps of separating the eggs and whipping the egg whites to stiff peaks and folding them into the batter. Some recipes just beat the whole eggs and sugar and throw it all in. But mine ended up eggy and spongy when I tried that. I think it is worth the effort to do this extra step.
Let me add, I once thought that there was some extra credit in culinary heaven for whipping up egg whites by hand with a big whisk. Surely there is something gratifying about it. But now, I have this handy dandy immersion blender with a whisk attachment. It gives me amazing whipped whites in about 2 minutes, it is fun, and I don’t have to rest my wrist for 10 minutes after.
The final consistency (the amount of “lava”) will depend on how long you bake this. This is personal. About 13 minutes is perfect for me. You will have to tweak the time depending on your preferences, and your oven.
This is not as complicated as it looks. But, do be careful with your egg whites. Even a drop of yolk in the whites, or any oil in the bowl, will keep them from whipping correctly. I always use 3 bowls. I separate the egg whites into one little bowl, and only if I have a clean separation will I move that egg white to the mixing bowl. That way, if I have a yolk break, I don’t have to start over completely. Also, I always use a cold metal bowl to whip my whites.
½ cup unsalted butter
8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
3 large eggs, separated
⅓ cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup all purpose flour
⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar
Extra sugar and butter for the ramekins
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
2. Using a double boiler over medium-low heat, melt the butter and chocolate, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Set aside to cool. (Or, alternatively, melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave by putting the chocolate and butter in a microwave safe measuring cup. Heat the chocolate and butter for 30 seconds at 50% power. Stir. Heat for another 30 seconds. Stir. Repeat until it is melted and smooth.)
3. Butter four (6 oz.) ramekins. Sprinkle some sugar in each. Set aside.
4. Separate the egg whites from the yolks. In one bowl combine the yolks and the sugar. Set aside the whites for a moment.
5. Beat the yolks and sugar for two minutes or until they turn a pale yellow shade. Then beat in the vanilla. Set it aside.
6. In a scrupulously clean metal bowl, whip the whites and a pinch of salt to about the halfway point and then add the cream of tartar. (The cream of tarter stabilizes the little egg bubbles so they don’t crash when you are through whipping them.) Whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
7. Slowly fold the chocolate into the yolk mixture. Then fold in the flour. Finally, in three additions, fold in the egg whites gently until just combined and there are no white streaks in the batter.
8. Spoon the batter evenly into the ramekins to just under the rim. Bake at 400 for about 12 to 14 minutes. The tops should be dry and just starting to crack. Remove the ramekins from the oven. Let them rest for 2 minutes.
To serve, either go around the edge with a spatula or knife to loosen, and turn it upside down on a plate to release, or better yet, serve it in the ramekin and have four fewer dishes to clean. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and serve warm.
Most recipes advise serving this with whipped cream or ice cream, but I am here to tell you that nothing beats a glass of near frosty milk.
The baking time is a judgment call. The longer they bake, the less molten they will be. I have had as much as 2 minutes of variation in the cooking time for the perfect doneness. Check the cakes at 12 minutes and only cook the additional 2 minutes, if needed. The tops may sink slightly if they cool too long. But they are wonderful!