Tuesday, February 25, 2003

MUD SEASON CAKES

While this type of liquid-centered chocolate cake is often called a “volcano” or “lava” cake, here in Vermont we have experience with neither of those natural phenomena. We do, however, have LOTS of dealings with mud; in fact, mud is such an integral part of spring in northern New England that it’s earned its very own season: Mud Season. Some people like to say that the seasons in Vermont are winter, and 1 month of tough sledding; we like to add Mud Season to that mix.

These cakes are easy and fun to make, and a delight to serve; watch people’s eyes when they dig into them and discover a hot, oozing pool of chocolate. All of that said, I do need to caution you that timing is of the essence here. Take the cakes out of the oven a minute too soon, and they won’t be sturdy enough to make it out of the pan; a minute later, and the molten center will have turned into a damp spot, akin to a dried-up mud puddle. The challenge is to catch them and take them out of the oven at the exact right moment; then wait exactly 5 minutes before taking them out of the muffin tin to serve. An instant-read thermometer is a huge help here; if you don’t have one, you’ll have to rely on poking around a cake’s center with the tip of a knife while the oven’s 450°F heat blasts in your face.

We initially had a concern about heating the eggs to a high enough temperature to make them food-safe, but that’s no problem; eggs become safe at 165°F, and the center of these cakes goes a good 20°F to 30°F beyond that point, even when it’s still liquid. Just the same, we advise refrigerating any leftovers.

1 2/3 cups (10 ounces) chocolate chips
10 tablespoons (1 stick + 2 tablespoons, 5 ounces) unsalted butter*
1/4 teaspoon salt*
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon espresso powder (optional, but good)
8 large eggs
3 cups (12 ounces) confectioners’ sugar
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

*If you use regular salted butter, leave out the additional salt.

In a saucepan set over low heat, or in the microwave, melt together the chocolate chips and butter, stirring till smooth.

In a separate bowl, beat together the salt, vanilla, espresso powder (if you’re using it), and the eggs, beating till smooth. Add the confectioners’ sugar, and beat again till smooth; the mixture will start to build in volume. Add the chocolate mixture, then the flour, stirring till smooth; the batter will be a light “hot cocoa” color.

Use vegetable oil pan spray to heavily grease 18 muffin cups. We used two muffin pans—all of one, and half of the other. If you don’t have two muffin pans, we’d assume you could use individual foil baking cups. The muffin tin we used has cups that are 2 3/4 inches across the top, and hold a generous half-cup (9 tablespoons) of batter each.

Spoon the batter into the muffin cups, filling them right to the brim. Refrigerate the cakes till they’re thoroughly chilled; I refrigerated mine for 3 hours, though longer would be fine, too.

Preheat your oven to 450°F. Bake the cakes for 13 minutes exactly! An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will read in excess of 165°F—when I measured it, the temperature had risen to 185°F and was still climbing. Interestingly, just 2 minutes before that I’d taken the temperature, and it was only 123°F, so as you can see, things happen fast at the end here. Again, if you don’t have a thermometer, poke open the top of one cake with a sharp knife tip; you should see molten batter inside. However, the cake should also appear well-set all around the edges.

When you’ve determined they’re done, remove the cakes from the oven, and set the pan on a rack. Set your timer for 5 minutes; when the timer goes off, run a dull (butter) knife around the edge of each, and very carefully lift them onto a serving tray or onto individual serving plates. Serve immediately, with whipped cream, ice cream, and/or raspberries, and/or hot fudge sauce, if desired. Yield: 18 cakes.

P.S. When I first made these, I was kind of aggravated at having to use two pans. However, it turned out to be a plus; I baked the batch in the half-filled pan first, so I could get the timing down exactly right. Using my experience-based knowledge, the second batch turned out absolutely perfect.

www.BakingCircle.com
February 25, 2003

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