If I had to pick the easiest, most universally crowd-pleasing dessert in my repertoire, it would hands-down be these molten chocolate cakes. They take only minutes to make, can be made well ahead of time, and never fail to elicit “oohs” and “ahhs” from diners of all ages when the magic molten chocolate centers are discovered.
If you happen to have a supply of chocolate or chocolate chips on hand (does anyone not??), you most likely have all the ingredients necessary to make these for Valentine’s dinner tonight. In a pinch, any type of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate will do – chips, baking bars, secret-stash candy bars. I typically use either Ghirardelli 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped Valrhona bittersweet chocolate. If you’re chopping chocolate, a serrated knife makes it a little easier. I love the ease of the bittersweet chocolate chips; semisweet chips will work as well, but the cakes won’t have the same intense chocolate hit as with the bittersweet chocolate.
Makes 4 cakes; recipe can be doubled. Batter can be made up to 2 days ahead and baked just before serving.
- 4 oz. good-quality bittersweet chocolate (chips, or chopped; approx. 1 cup)
- 6 Tablespoons (3 oz. or ¾ stick) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing ramekins
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
Heat oven to 400ºF. In the top of a double boiler or bowl set over (not in) hot water, combine chocolate, butter and sugar until just melted; whisk smooth.
Remove chocolate mixture from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.(Alternatively, you can temper the eggs by whisking some of the warm chocolate mixture to the beaten eggs; this will prevent the hot chocolate mixture from prematurely cooking the eggs.)
In a separate bowl (especially if a 7-yr-old is helping you), crack eggs and whisk. Add beaten eggs to cooled chocolate mixture and whisk until smooth. Add flour and whisk to incorporate.
Generously grease four 4-oz. ramekins or custard cups (Pyrex custard cups are available in the bakeware section of many supermarkets.) Distribute chocolate batter evenly among the four dishes. (A spring-release ice cream scooper can help with this.) Set filled dishes onto a baking sheet. [Cakes can be made up to this point and kept in the refrigerator (covered with plastic wrap) until ready to bake. Set out for at least 30 minutes prior to baking.]
Bake cakes for exactly 12 minutes. (Thick-sided ramekins may require an additional 1-2 minutes.) The sides of the cakes should be set but the centers should still be soft. Do not overbake! The molten center will disappear if you do. (Though you’ll still be left with the richest, most delicious brownie you’ve ever had.)
With a paring knife, cut around edges of cakes to help them release from the ramekins. Now for the tricky part: inverting the cakes onto serving plates. (Tricky because the ramekins are very hot.) I’ve found that wearing rubber gloves is a good way to protect your hands but still provide a good grip on the ramekins.
Serve immediately with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. (Fresh raspberries or strawberries also make a nice garnish, but good vanilla ice cream is all you really need. Shown here is Vanilla Swiss Almond, which was all we had; plain vanilla or vanilla bean would’ve been better.)