Chocolate Lava Cakes

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Passover, let me introduce you to my newest sweet friend, the chocolate lava cake…wait, what? You know chocolate lava cake’s Italian grandmother? Seriously?

Yes, that’s right. Lava, molten, or pudding cakes with that luscious liquid chocolate center might seem like a hot, hot, hot contemporary fad, but the concept has a connection to Italy.

In researching Cucina Ebraica, a collection of recipes from Italy’s Jewish communities, author and chef Joyce Goldstein found a recipe from Livorno for a chocolate budino (pudding) made without flour. Though it contains a significant portion of chopped almonds, it comes out of the oven much like today’s lava cakes.

Make no mistake, I was first drawn to this recipe for its chocolate-y simplicity and its minimal use of flour, which often means that a recipe can easily transition to being gluten-free (something I look for more often these days) and, of course, Passover-friendly. After all, an easy and spectacular flourless dessert is like hitting the jackpot for this culinarily challenging holiday. The Italian connection was just another beautiful reason to master this recipe for myself.

I began with a version by Mark Bittman. His recipe called for a little flour; I substituted almond flour and potato starch and made a few other modifications. Although I had a little trouble with the cakes sticking the first time (I didn’t take the “greasing the ramekins” step as seriously as I should have), they were otherwise fabulous.

The recipe relies on just a few ingredients—essentially chocolate, eggs, and butter. Making the cakes with butter produces superior results. The cakes puff up handsomely during baking, and the outer edges are tender and moist while the liquid center really does resemble a thick luscious lava, gently flowing out when you break open the cake. The flavor is all chocolate with no unusual notes. Need I say it? Use butter if you can.


However, sometimes you need a nondairy option. I tested the recipe using margarine and coconut oil. As you might guess, compared with the cakes made with butter, these were not quite as rich and smooth. The margarine cakes had a very slight off-note of flavor. And no surprise, the coconut version tasted a little of coconut, which was actually nice as long as you like coconut.

In all three versions, though, it’s a five-star dessert that bakes in about 10 minutes and does not taste one bit like Passover. And if you are part of a family honoring both Passover and Easter traditions, this dessert suits all. Actually, it would be a lovely afternoon pick-me-up after a leisurely holiday brunch. If it seems like too much chocolate at once, serve it with some whipped cream.

It’s a recipe that charms as much for its flavor and presentation as for the simplicity in pulling it off. And that it can work so beautifully as a gluten-free and Passover dessert? Well, that’s just the icing on the cakes.



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