No-So-Molten Chocolate Cakes

You’ve probably heard the lore before: Legendary chef Jeans-Georges Vongerichten pulls a tray of chocolate sponge cakes from the oven too early, considers it a happy accident, and molten chocolate cakes (aka lava cakes) go on to become THE dessert of the ’90s. Lucky Peach did a more thorough exploration of the cakes’ history, which includes the fact that chocolate cakes with liquid centers can be traced back further to the runner-up of the 1966 Pillsbury Bake-Off, who created the Tunnel of Fudge.

Contrary to Lucky Peach’s assertion, “Nobody doesn’t love a cake with a runny center,” I’m an example of this nobody. In fact, the idea of thick melted chocolate things (I’m looking at you, chocolate fountain), kind of turns my stomach. But, sometimes, working as a recipe developer, I’m assigned to make things I don’t love, and that’s how I found myself buying ramekins and testing the difference between cakes made with ganache in the center versus those that are simply puled from the oven before they’re completely set. One time, however, I did not pull the cakes in time and I realized I much prefer the fully baked cake to the supposedly happy molten mistake. Yes, the baked cakes are still insanely rich from all of the butter, but they’re also airy in texture from the whipped eggs and puff up the cakes.

Spiced Chocolate Mini Cakes

Thanks to this assignment, I came to appreciate how truly simple these cakes are, with nothing more than butter, eggs, chocolate, flour, and sugar. So, I wrote up the requested molten version for the client, and then I started playing around with the not-quite molten cakes for myself.

First, I dusted the ramekins with turbinado sugar to give them a crunchy crust. Because I love chocolate with warm fall spices (PSL, yo), I added cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom to the batter as well as the crust. I used 70 percent cacao chocolate to keep the cakes from tasting too sweet. And finally, I swapped out the white flour for almond flour, which makes the cakes even richer and silkier than the original. (Plus, as a bonus, they’re gluten-free). The result: Cakes that are both luxurious and cozy, the dessert equivalent of a cashmere sweater. Happy weekend!


Spiced Mini Chocolate Cakes
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
These cakes are meant to be baked all the way through, but if you prefer molten centers, knock a few minutes off the cooking time and pull the cakes out of the oven when the centers are still jiggly. While best warm, the cakes are good at room temperature and are even tasty when cold, as they take on a dense fudgy texture. Yes, you could whip them up in advance for a dinner party, but I'm more likely to make them for a decadent afternoon tea or a Saturday night in with the fam. (They're easy enough to prepare with kids, too.)
Serves: 4
  • 1 stick unsalted salted butter
  • ¼ cup turbinado sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon cardamom
  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • ⅓ cup granulated or organic sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¼ cup almond flour or all-purpose flour
  1. Preheat oven to 425°. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and use it to brush the ramekins.
  2. In a small bowl, toss the turbinado sugar with half of the cinnamon, ground ginger, and cardamom. Dust the ramekins with the sugar mixture and tap out the excess. Transfer the ramekins to a baking sheet.
  3. In a small saucepan, combine the remaining 7 tablespoons butter and the chocolate and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until the chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat and let cool to warm.
  4. In a medium bowl, beat the granulated sugar with the eggs until pale, frothy, and at least doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. Fold in the chocolate mixture and the remaining spices followed by the flour until no streaks remain. (This takes a little longer than you think.)
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared ramekins.
  6. Bake until tops are just set, about 15 minutes. Let cool about 1 minute, then run a knife around the edges of the cake and invert onto a work surface. Let stand for a few minutes to help firm up the crust, then invert again onto small plates. (Or serve upside down, with the sugary bottom as the top.) Serve warm or at room temperature.


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