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Baking, I’m starting to realize, is a lot like good looks. Either you have it or you don’t. In fact, when it comes to baking, it’s all about the pretty. Who amongst us hasn’t whipped up a cake that tasted scrumptious but was a little lopsided? Or made a tart that shrank coyly away from its shell, leaving an uneven, unfillable mess. If you haven’t, then you are a talent, indeed. But if I struggle with anything in the kitchen, it’s baking.
Some people are naturals, others need a little extra help. There’s a reason most French women would never dream of doing their own baking, besides the fact that in France the accessibility of excellent bakeries can make it seem pointless. The fact is, baking is hard.
Most of the time, my creations fall short of my vision for them. Yet sometimes a recipe comes along that is simple, requires no complicated techniques or ingredients, yet turns out beautifully enough to make you look like a baking rock star. I feel like that about these little chocolate cakes. Served up individually, there are no worries about lopsidedness. Topped with a rich chocolate glaze, there’s no chance of crumbs marring the icing. If you have some little brioche tins kicking around to bake them in, even better–for they will look unbearably elegant just topped with a sprinkling of icing sugar and and a few raspberries on the side.
Does the applesauce in this seem strange? The fruit taste in this is so subtle; what the applesauce really does is give the cakes an easy slicing texture and a moisture that keeps them fresh for days. Adding applesauce can also be a great way to reduce sugar or fat in baked goods, if that’s your thing.
This recipe is adapted from two recipes: Anna Olson’s “Applesauce Coffee Cake” and “Chocolate Applesauce Cakes”, both from her wonderful book Another Cup of Sugar.
Chocolate Applesauce Cakes
1/2 cup (125 ml) vegetable oil
1/2 cup (125 ml) sugar
1/3 cup (75 ml) light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 cup (250 ml) unsweetened applesauce
1 2/3 cup (400 ml) pastry flour
1/2 cup (125 ml) Dutch process cocoa
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla
1 teaspoon (5 ml) baking powder
3/4 teaspoon (4 ml) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) ground ginger
1) Preheat oven to 325F (160C). Grease 6 brioche tins or large muffin cups.
2) Whisk vegetable oil, both sugars, whole egg, egg yolk and vanilla until smooth. Stir in applesauce.
3) In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and ginger. Incorporate cocoa and stir gently into applesauce mixture.
4) Spoon batter into prepared tins and bake for 18-20 minutes, until cakes spring back when pressed. Allow cakes to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely.
5) Just before serving, drizzle with chocolate glaze. Se
1/2 cup (125 ml) whipping cream
6 ounces (175 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (60 ml) unsalted butter, room temperature
1) Heat cream to just below a simmer and pour over chopped chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute, then stir to smooth out. Stir in butter to melt and thicken glaze. Pour over top of cakes and allow to drip down the sides.
I was in desperate need of a chocolate fix when I stumbled upon this recipe for Molten Lava Cakes by Paula Deen. For some reason anything with the word ‘lava’ in it makes me think of the seventies. Because of lava lamp, maybe? Anyhow, because of this association, this dessert first struck me as very retro, liked baked Alaska or those jello molds. But the more I thought about it, the more it appealed to me. It seemed incredibly easy and who can resist cutting their fork into a piece of cake to have their plate flood with a thick, oozing stream of warm chocolate heaven? Not me!
With a bit of poking on the Internet, I discovered that this is basically a French dessert, otherwise known as Moelleux au Chocolat. We call them lava cakes because the batter is not completely cooked, causing that liquid center to run out, like lava from a volcano.
The cakes are baked in custard cups, but ramekins or even a muffin tin can be used. The trick is to serve them fresh from the oven. Cool them slightly and then run a knife around the edges to loosen; invert each cake onto serving plates. The cooking time may be as little as 10 minutes but up to 14 minutes. The edges should be firm but the center wobbly.
I like to dust mine with a little icing sugar and serve them with strawberries or raspberries, if they’re in season. They’re also wonderful with creme anglaise or a raspberry coulis, if you want to bother.
Molten Lava Cakes
Adpated from Paula Deen courtesy of The Food Network
6 (1 ounce) squares bittersweet chocolate
2 (1 ounce) squares semisweet chocolate
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 stick) butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons orange liqueur
1) Preheat oven to 425F. Grease 6 (6 ounce) custard cups. Melt the chocolate and butter in the top of a double boiler.
2) Add the flour and sugar to the chocolate mixture. Stir in the eggs and yolks until smooth. Stir in the vanilla and liqueur.
3) Divide the batter evenly among the custard cups; it should come up about three-quarters of the way.
4) Place in the oven and bake for 10-14 minutes, until edges are set and have shrunk slightly away from the custard cups.
5) Invert each cake onto a dessert place and serve immediately.