I hope you all had a loving holiday and enjoyed this well-deserved mild weather. As the sun starts to heat the days with real power again, I can’t help but smile at how the simple change in temperature is directly correlated to the change in attitudes among all living creatures.
From humans, to birds, to baby calves — we all sing a significantly cheerier tune when the weather takes a turn for the better. I was doing chores one lovely morning this week when I was captivated by the symphony sung from the trees as the little birds followed me to the bins. Now, I can’t say for certain if they were singing because of the warm sunshine or if they always sing like that and I just couldn’t hear before through my two hoods, toque, and the scarp double-wrapped around my head.
Instinct tells me they were singing because this particular morning they could actually breathe the warmed air without getting frostbite of the lungs. As I moved about the yard that day the calves could be heard giving their shout-out to the warm sun as they tore up the pen racing circles around their mothers. And later on, as I went to town to run errands, every person I bumped into was all smiles and full of positive chatter!
Few things have the restorative powers of a warm sun, in fact I can only think of a few; garlic, home-made soup, and the universal restorative: chocolate. An ingredient highlighted throughout the spring; Valentines chocolates, Easter bunnies, and Easter eggs — chocolate is a highly-prized seasonal mood disorder prescription, at least from this foodie-pharmacist’s perspective.
This week, in effort to capture some happiness-inducing flavours, I am submitting a recipe that I first fell in love with at culinary school. It is simple, decadent, and rich without being sweet and they are so very sexy as it comes out of the oven. And for those limited to a diet without wheat products, it is deliciously gluten-free!
Lava cakes are great to make ahead. They store well in the fridge for a couple of days and can be baked quickly at a moment’s notice. As always, I love recipes with versatility, and you can prepare them in single serving ramekins or in larger more inventive vessels — depending on the guests, style of party, and portions you require.
For me, I love playing with different presentations, I used a coffee mug for this week’s picture and I loved the super-sized portion it provided. Built for sharing; this is perfect for a Valentine’s Day home-made supper with a dessert-for-two to finish a wonderful evening.
Another great feature is the added ability to hide things in the bottom of the cake. Before you prepare the chocolate mixture you can place fresh fruit, berries, fruit preserves, and I have even put peanut butter in the bottom of the vessel. The fresh or contrasting bit of flavour keeps the lava cake from being too one-dimensional. Keeping with my inventive thoughts, it would be a great place to hide a ring… if such an occasion would call for a sweet hiding spot.
Here is the basic science behind this simple dessert. It uses the air whipped into egg whites to lift the cake; soufflé style. The heat of the oven melts the chocolate and then the air expands lifting the egg-white and sugar structure. Now soufflés need a wall to climb — so the vessel must be prepared to allow for the rise of the cake. Brushed lightly with butter and dusted with sugar, this gives the cake traction as it climbs. I like to be inventive with the traction; I have used cinnamon brown sugar, cane sugar mixed with finely ground coffee beans, and coconut sugar mixed with vanilla bean. Your imagination is allowed some freedom in this area of traction. You can see how the basic lava cake achieves new heights with this added versatility. With or without jewellery hidden in the bottom, it’s the chocolate simplicity that gives this dessert the ability to light up a face like that of pure sunshine.
Chocolate Sunshine Lava Cakes
• 16 oz Dark Chocolate chips
NOTE: Use premium chocolate, it will pay dividends in the long run. You can also use a blend of dark and milk chocolate if you want some variety.
• 3/4 cup of butter
• 1/2 cup of cocoa powder, sifted
• 8 egg whites, room temperature
• 1/2 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
• Prepare: 10-6 oz ramekins
• Butter for brushing the ramekins or chosen vessel
• Sugar for dusting the ramekins or chosen vessel
• Fine diced fresh fruit, compote, preserves for bottom of vessel
Gently melt chocolate and butter over a double-boiler, on med heat. Slowly stir until melted and evenly mixed. Remove from double-boiler and add sifted cocoa powder and gently stir until evenly distributed. Set aside.
Prepare your ramekins or vessels by brushing with butter and dusting with sugar or a sugar flavouring mixture. Ensure the bottom and sides are evenly covered and dump out the excess. Place 1 tbsp of the fruit compote, fresh fruit, berries, or preserves in the bottom and top with egg/chocolate mixture.
NOTE: Fill to just below the inside ledge on the ramekin or 2/ 3 full on any other vessel. This will allow for the expansion in the oven.
Place egg whites in a clean stainless mixing bowl. Room temperature eggs are best: but if your eggs are cold from the fridge, warm the mixing bowl before adding the eggs. Mix on high gently adding brown sugar as it is whipping. Whip until a soft to medium peak is achieved.
Ensure the chocolate and egg whites are of similar temperature for best results.
Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate. You want to maintain as much volume in the eggs as possible so GENTLY fold until completely blended. Gently scoop into the prepared ramekins, cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge until service.
To bake: Pre-heat oven to 375F
Remove from fridge, remove plastic wrap. Microwave for 15-20 seconds until the centre is slightly jiggly and shiny.
Place in oven and let bake for about 5-7 minutes. Bake for too long and it is more cakey, bake for less time and it is more lava-like.