Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, so I thought I would give you the recipe for a sinful treat to make for your sweetie (or for yourself, to celebrate your awesome singleness).  It is a rich, warm, gooey, chocolatey Lava Cake flavoured with espresso.  I must have made this recipe close to a hundred times and it still makes everyone, “oh and ah.” 

As a trained pastry chef I have to admit I am almost embarrassed to be offering this recipe.  This once king of fine-dining desserts now gets snickers from chefs and foodies when it appears on a menu.  It is now so common place it is seen as showing little creativity or technique from the kitchen.  I will give you a little history of the rise and fall of Lava Cakes, but if you just want to get baking, skip straight to the recipe!

Two chef’s lay claim to inventing it.  Michel Bras, a celebrated chef from France debuted his chocolate coulant (runny in French) at his Michelin-starred restaurant in the early 1980’s.  Chef Bras said the cake, that took more than two years to develop, was meant to evoke the emotion of “coming home to find a mug of hot chocolate after a day of skiing.”  His cake featured frozen chocolate ganache, encased in cake batter, that would melt as it was baked.

Although Bras’ version may have been the first, the Lava Cake started making its mark in North America during the late 1980’s when it was offered by the French Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten at his New York City restaurants.  Vongerichten claims to have invented it by accident when he was cooking 500 cupcakes from his mother’s recipe for a private party.  He failed to account for the decrease in oven temperature that would occur with that many cupcakes and accidently served under-baked cakes to the party.  It turns out the guests loved the dessert and Vongerichten’s Lava Cake was born. 

In the 1990’s Lava Cakes were “the” fine dining dessert.  North Americans became obsessed with the dessert and it trickled down to more affordable dining spots.  In 1997 it appeared at reservation-only restaurants in Disney Resorts, a year later it appeared in the Chilli’s chain and now you can get a Chocolate Lava Crunch Cake from Domino’s Pizza for $2.  (For a great dramatization of the contempt for Lava Cakes today, check out the 2014 movie Chef) 

This cake follows Vongerichten’s easier method featuring the combination of melted butter and sugar with an egg-rich batter that is chilled before baking and slightly under-cooked.  The cakes need to be refrigerated for at least two hours, but will keep up to 3 days, so they can be made well in advance.  You can bake them off two at a time for three days in a row so you and your Valentine can keep that loving feeling going.  Despite the Lava Cake’s fall from fine dining grace, it is still hard to beat that first delicious bite of warm, oozing chocolate!



Chocolate–Espresso Lava Cakes with Espresso Whipped Cream

makes 6

DO NOT OVER BAKE!  Bake just until top is puffed & crispy and cake tester inserted comes out with thick batter attached.


Bake just until top is puffed & crispy and cake tester inserted comes out with thick batter attached.

65 g (½ cups)  all-purpose flour

48 g (¼ cup plus 2 tbsp)  cocoa powder

5 g (2½ tsp)  espresso powder or instant coffee

4 ml (¾ tsp)  baking powder

115 g (½ cup)  salted butter, melted

105 g (½ cup)  sugar

75 g (½ cup packed)  brown sugar

2  eggs

4 ml (¾ tsp)  vanilla extract

1 ml (1/8 tsp)  almond extract

60 g (about 6 tbsp)  coarsely chopped dark chocolate, or chocolate chips

For Espresso Whipped Cream:

240 g (1 cup) chilled whipping cream

7 g (1 tbsp)  icing sugar

2.5 ml (½ tsp) espresso powder or instant coffee

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, teaspoons espresso powder, and baking powder in a medium bowl.  Place melted butter in large bowl; add both sugars and whisk until well blended. Whisk in eggs 1 at a time, then vanilla and almond extracts.  Whisk in dry ingredients.  Divide batter among six small ovenproof coffee cups or ramekins (about 1/3 cup in each).  Divide chopped chocolate among coffee cups, about 1 Tbsp per cup.  Gently press chocolate into batter.  Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F.  Remove plastic wrap from cups and place on a baking sheet and let stand at room temperature for 5 minutes.  Bake until cakes are puffed and crusty and tester inserted into center comes out with thick batter attached, about 20 minutes (do not over bake, cakes will continue to cook as they cool).  Cool cakes 5 minutes.  Top hot cakes with espresso whipped cream and serve.

For the espresso whipped cream:  Combine cream, powdered sugar and remaining 1 teaspoon espresso powder in medium bowl; whisk until peaks form. Chill up to 1 hour.

adapted from BonAppetit Magazine