How to Pull Off The Perfect Molten Lava Cake

Here's the key to a decadent, gooey center every time.

Chocolate Lava Cake with Cinnamon Whipped Cream
Photo: Hector Manuel Sanchez

'Tis the season for all things romance. When February rolls around, we're stocking the pantry shelves with truffle boxes and candy hearts. Whether we're coupled or going solo, we love an excuse to celebrate—especially when chocolate is involved. This year, we're treating ourselves and our loved ones to a fancy three-course meal—no reservation required.

Dim the lights and set the table. This year's elegant Valentine's Day dinner is happening in your home kitchen. The grand finale? A perfectly molten lava cake.

Lava cakes can be intimidating. Bake them too long and they lose their molten center, turning into a regular old chocolate cake. Don't bake them long enough and the whole thing collapses in on itself, resulting in an utter mess.

In our opinion, the perfect lava cake has a slightly-molten center, the fork giving way to warm, melty chocolate and luscious, tender cake. The perfect lava cake, however, does not result in a pool of liquid chocolate overflowing from our plate. It's a delicate balance to strike, but with a few tips, you'll be ready to conquer this iconic, romantic dessert.

Ditch the Chocolate Chips

The chocolate chips you'll find at the grocery store have a melt-resistant coating, meant to help them keep their shape when baked. This is not ideal when making a dessert like chocolate lava cake, where we're looking for all the ingredients to melt and incorporate seamlessly. For your molten lava cakes, use a high-quality dark chocolate, which will also contribute more complex flavor to the end product.

Use Cooking Spray With Flour

It's of the utmost importance that the transfer of lava cake to plate is as smooth as can be. When you're handling a sensitive baked good like lava cake, even the slightest sticking can lead to the whole cake falling apart in the pan. To combat this, be sure to use a cooking spray that contains flour. This flour-enhanced spray helps the lava cakes slide out of the pan seamlessly.

If you don't have any cooking spray with flour on hand, simply grease your ramekins with butter and dust the inside with cocoa powder to prevent sticking.

Add Instant Coffee

Whenever we're baking chocolate cake, we love to add a little coffee to deepen the flavor of the chocolate (we learned this trick from the master herself, Ina Garten). Adding a teaspoon of instant coffee or espresso to your lava cake batter will make it extra-rich and indulgent.

Use Balled, Chilled Ganache in the Center

The absolute toughest part of baking a lava cake is determining the precise moment to take it out of the oven. Typically, it's remarkably easy to underbake or overbake a lava cake, but our recipe for Molten Red Velvet Lava Cakes contains a little lava cake trick that's absolutely fool-proof.

Simply prepare a chocolate ganache—composed of melted chocolate and heavy cream—and stash it in the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours. Then, scoop the hardened ganache into balls and drop them into the centers of your portioned lava cake batter just before baking. The ganache liquifies in the oven, ensuring that you'll achieve that perfect molten center every time—no guess-work required.

Get the Timing Right

As lava cakes are best enjoyed straight out of the oven, we recommend putting your lava cakes in the oven right before you finish the main course. Since these miniature cakes cook so quickly, they'll be hot and ready as soon as your guests are ready for dessert.

Find a Great Recipe

Find a recipe for lava cake that walks you through each step clearly and precisely. Our Molten Red Velvet Lava Cakes are about as romantic as they come. If you love all things caramel, take our Butterscotch-Bourbon Lava Cakes for a spin. If you're serving a crowd, try our slow-cooker lava cake, which feeds eight.

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