I have to confess, and give credit to Domino's Pizza for this one. A couple of years ago, I ordered Domino's delivery, and on the dessert menu was something called a chocolate lava crunch cake. No, I'd never heard of chocolate lava cakes before. The order came with two "chocolate lava cakes" that were so greasy, they stained the cardboard delivery container. And they were wonderfully, wonderfully delicious. When you bite one of these and the molten chocolate gushes into your mouth (burning your tongue if you're not careful!), you know your life will never be the same. But why order these from Domino's when it's incredibly easy to make them yourself? All you need are five ingredients.
However, there IS one trick to this. The delicious chocolate lava center of the cake is actually uncooked, or undercooked, chocolate batter. And to get the batter just right, you have to time your cake so that it comes out of the oven at the exact moment. If it's overcooked, the cake will have a little lava in the center, but not a lot. And if it's undercooked, the entire cake will fall apart as soon as it's put onto a plate. Everyone's oven is a little different, and it took some trial and error to find the exact time to get the cakes to turn out with this recipe. Your oven may be different from mine.
That's why this recipe is especially designed for the use of a cast iron muffin pan, in order to make it a little easier for you. Most of the recipes you see for these cakes say to bake them in a porcelain ramekin, and this gives you three or four chocolate cakes. This recipe uses a cast iron muffin pan instead. Because it's cast iron, you can preheat it in the oven, and pour the batter into the hot pan before baking. This should provide even and consistent heating for the cake batter, and I hope this means the time will be the same for many different kitchens and ovens.
Pans needed: Baking mold, glass bowl and saucepan to melt chocolate. Most recipes for chocolate lava cake call for a ceramic ramekin; but here we suggest you use a heavy cast iron or cast aluminum muffin pan. First of all, the heavy metal will evenly heat your lava cake and give it a good crust. Secondly, antique muffin pans were made with smaller cups than you see in modern-day baking molds. That means instead of the usual three or four lava cakes produced with this recipe, you'll be making eight or more lava cakes. This will allow your guests to experience the chocolate explosion of biting into a lava cake, again and again.
An electric mixer is also necessary, to beat the eggs to a light, frothy paste.
(You can use semisweet chocolate chips or pieces and regular granulated sugar, though the chocolate taste won't be as potent.)
Place a cast iron muffin pan into the oven. Don't grease or flour the pan in advance – place it into the oven completely dry. Preheat your oven, and the muffin pan, to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Melt chocolate: place a glass cooking bowl over a pot of boiling water, and add the chocolate and butter to the bowl. Stir until it's completely melted.
In a separate bowl, add eggs and sugar. If you're adding an optional spice to this recipe, such as vanilla extract, add it now. Use an electric mixer to beat the eggs and sugar into a white, fluffy paste. This will take about three to four minutes.
Add chocolate mix to egg mixture. Beat with the electric mixer. (The high speed of the mixer will prevent the eggs from being cooked by the heat from the chocolate!) Add flour to batter and continue stirring with the mixer. Stir until the batter is thoroughly mixed.
With two potholders or heavy gloves, remove the hot cast iron pan from the oven. Using a basting brush. coat the insides of the muffin cups with shortening. The shorting will quickly melt and liquefy as you spread it over the hot metal.
Add batter to molds. Bake for exactly eight minutes and thirty seconds (8 and 1/2 minutes) at 450 degrees Fahrenheit. The hot iron will give even heating to the batter, and will cook it to just the right consistency.
After 8 minutes and 30 seconds, remove the pan from the oven and place it on a rack or trivet. Let it cool for exactly one minute.
Run a knife around the inside edges of the bowls, between the cake and the pan, to release the cakes from the pan. This will allow them to slip out of the pan when you release them onto a platter.
With two potholders or heavy gloves (remember, the cast iron baking pan is hot!), place a heavy plastic or metal plate or cookie sheet on top of the muffin pan, and flip it over. Tap the pan to release the cakes onto the plate. (Don't use a glass or ceramic plate, because the weight of the metal pan could crack the plate.) Sprinkle powdered sugar over the cakes for decoration.
These lava cakes are best served hot – that's why they're called lava cakes. But be careful! The molten chocolate inside is very hot and can easily burn your tongue if you're not ready. Let the cakes cool until they are still warm before serving.