[Disclaimer: With all the responses I've gotten to this cake--good AND bad--I felt it necessary to point out that I created this recipe as a response to all the hype over a particular cookbook that has taken the spotlight over hiding spinach in a chocolate dessert. As I mentioned in the original post about sweets with hidden veggies in them, neither Mrs. JS nor I invented this idea. And if you're more accustomed to "traditional" sweets with white flour or sugar, be warned that these are simply not like that. They have spinach and zucchini in them, after all . ]
One of the sure signs that we’ve embarked on a new, health-conscious, era in our food history is the rash of vegan cookbooks recently flooding the market.
For a sweets fanatic like me, these books offer ostensibly endless possibilities, from the mega tome by Colleen Patrick Goudreau with its shortcakes, fudge, or classic chocolate layers, to the spectacular, every-flavor-every-color masterpiece by Hannah (wasabi cupcakes, anyone?) to the ever-popular Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.
One persistent problem for vegan bakers, however, is the fact that some recipes simply don’t translate easily into vegan versions (meringues, for instance, or dairy-dependent treats like cheesecake or cream-topped mousse pie). Inevitably, we’re served up “cheesecake” (or cheezecake) made from processed tofu-cream “cheese,” or items like the newly-marketed Soyatoo when whipped cream is called for; similarly, margarine (usually Earth Balance) is the perennial stand-in for dairy butter.
While these recipes all look and sound fantastic, most of them are usually verboten for me. Ever since I revamped my eating habits about eight years ago in accordance with dietary restrictions, I willingly said “so long” to eggs, milk and most other dairy; “au revoir”to wheat and meat; “toodle-loo” to refined white sugars and flours. This all-natural, organic, whole-foods diet can be rather prohibitive as well; my authoritarian menu permits nothing artificial, no ingredients hatched in a laboratory, and nothing whose name is too complex for a 7 year-old to read aloud.
Consequently, even many of these otherwise delectable vegan baked goods are banned from my baking repertoire. So it’s “so long” to all those lovely margarine-based shortbread cookies dusted with icing sugar, “au revoir”to chocolate cream pie with its Soyatoo-derived peaks and dollops; “toodle-loo” to that sublime fudge that relies on cane sugar or pies and puddings with soy creamer as a major ingredient. Basically, it’s “bye-bye” to almost all manner of vegan baked goods attempting to replicate their more conventional cousins.
Instead, I’ve spent the last eight years experimenting with a variety of whole food ingredients in a quest to reproduce both the quality and the appeal of standard desserts, but in a more healthful package. I generally use organic oils or coconut butter, whole grain flours, natural sweeteners, or dark cocoa powder (which contains more flavonoids than Dutch process) for my treats. For the most part, I’ve had great fun developing a variety of recipes. My HH isn’t complaining about the freshly baked cookies, muffins, or cakes constantly hoarding counter space, and my colleagues at the office tend to perk up, eagerly peering round their computer screens, when I arrive with plastic containers in hand.
Recently, I set myself the task of creating a trio of chocolate recipes for Valentine’s Day. I was determined to come up with something decadent, something spectacular, something alluring that was, at the same time, mouth-watering. I wanted something that would both express and elicit heartfelt affection when it was served.
And so, I created a recipe for Molten Lava Cakes.
Which are vegan.
Why Lava Cakes? Well, to begin with, this is for Valentine’s Day–which can mean only one thing: chocolate. And these babies spell “LOVE”: they’re rich-tasting, they’re chocolately, they’re warm, and they even serve up in their own personalized little packages (perfect for indulging a loved one, or, if you’re feeling intimate, sharing). And with the addition of pureed spinach and zucchini, they pack a nutritional punch as well. What could be more romantic than contributing to your loved one’s good health?
A quick Google search on “Molten Chocolate Cake” will reveal that these treats are generally comprised of only 4 main ingredients: butter, sugar, eggs, and chocolate–none of which I’ve added here. I opted for cocoa powder in lieu of the chocolate (so that I could control the sugar and fat, and for the greater flavonoid content). I also used spelt flour, which has a lower gluten content than wheat, and sunflower oil, a light oil with a good balance of mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
To compensate for the fact that there is no egg-based center available to underbake (the usual source of the “lava”), I’ve simply whipped up a second batter that serves as the molten interior, to be placed inside the cake before baking. The result is a gooey, oozing filling that provides all the richness–and romance–of the original. A healthy indulgence this Valentine’s Day? Now, that’s sweet.
And since Susan over at Fat Free Vegan has requested some Vegetable Love for her event of the same name, I couldn’t resist sending this along there as well. As Susan wrote, “Last year I asked food bloggers to post their most romantic, most seductive vegetable recipes…something suitable for a cozy dinner by candlelight…something that says ‘I love you, and I don’t want to see you keel over with a heart attack!’” So really, do these fit the bill, or what?
Molten Chocolate Lava Cakes
Even if you are able to eat traditional molten chocolate cakes, this version is worth a try for its ultra-healthy ingredients. Don’t worry; no one will know the veggies are there, but they’ll definitely feel the love in these decadent-tasting treats.
NOTE (Feb 2009): I’ve received a few emails from people who’ve made these and found the molten center wasn’t molten enough, or was not even detectable once the cakes were baked. The amount of gooey insides will depend on a variety of factors, but most often if these are dryer, it’s because (a) the molten center wasn’t perfectly and completely surrounded by batter when raw, and touched the sides of the pan (in which case it just oozes out and bakes into the batter); (b) there wasn’t enough molten center put in to the raw cake; (c) the oven temperature was too high; (d) the cakes were baked too long; or (d) other ingredients were substituted (such as AP flour for the spelt), which changed the texture. Because these are, admittedly, so temperamental, I’m no longer recommending the molten version. The cupcake version, with the chips scattered throughout the batter, is now my preferred way to use this recipe.
2/3 cup (about 170 ml.) dairy free dark chocolate chips
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) cornstarch or arrowroot powder
1/4 (60 ml.) cup plain or vanilla soymilk
2 ounces (about 60 g.) fresh or frozen spinach (you may include the stems)
1/4 cup (60 ml.) plain, vanilla, or chocolate soymilk
1 cup (about 3-1/2 ounces or 100 g.) raw zucchini, fresh or frozen, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup (about 85 ml.) light or dark agave nectar
1/4 cup (60 ml.) pure maple syrup
1/4 cup (60 ml.) sunflower or other light-tasting oil
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) finely ground flax seeds or meal
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. (10 ml.) pure vanilla extract
2 tsp. (10 ml.) instant coffee substitute
1 cup (about 140 g.) light spelt flour
1/2 cup (45 g.) whole oat flour
1/3 cup dark cocoa powder (22-24% fat content)
1-1/2 tsp. (3.5 ml.) baking powder
3/4 tsp. (4 ml.) baking soda
1/4 tsp. (1 ml.) sea salt
Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly spray eight oven-safe large ramekins or custard cups and place on a cookie sheet.
For the molten center: In a small, heavy pot, combine the chips, cornstarch, and soymilk. Stir constantly over medium-low heat until the chips are melted and the mixture is smooth. Turn off heat and set aside.
For the cake: In a blender or food processor, blend together the spinach, soymilk and zucchini to a smooth puree. Add the agave, maple syrup, oil, flax, coffee substitute, apple cider vinegar, and vanilla, and blend to combine. Set aside while you measure the dry ingredients, or for at least two minutes.
In a large bowl, sift together the flours, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and whisk together to combine.
Scoop about 3 Tbsp cake batter into each ramekin, then place a large spoonful (3-4 Tbsp.) of filling over it (try not to touch the sides of the ramekin, or the chocolate will ooze out and you will have a smaller or dryer molten center). Cover with more batter to fill the ramekin about 2/3 full.
Bake cakes in preheated oven for 35-40 minutes, until a tester inserted in the edge comes out dry (the middle will remain moist, as that’s where the molten filling is). Remove from oven and allow to cool ten minutes.
Turn the cakes out onto serving dishes. Serve immediately. Garnish with fresh raspberries and whipped “cream,” if desired. Makes 8 servings. Recipe may be halved.
Variation: Omit the molten centre and gently stir 2/3 cup chocolate chips into the batter before filling the pans. May be baked as cupcakes.
I thought I'd add a note in response to some questions/ feeback about the recipe I've either received or seen. This recipe is definitely a bit fussy. There are two points I think are essential to keep in mind when making these: 1) the size of the ramekin or custard cup. If it's too small, there won't be enough room for the molten center; you need quite a generous dollop of filling to stay soft and mushy inside all that cake. 2) if you want your molten center to remain separate from the cake (and not be absorbed by it), it's important to ensure that the filling doesn't touch the side of the ramekin and is covered completely with batter before you bake this; the amount of filling used in each cake also seems to play a role. I've found that if the filling spreads, you end up with a layer of chocolate across the middle, but not a concentration of it. But still, soft gooey chocolate inside a chocolate cake can't be bad, right? My HH actually liked these better the next day, as the cake takes on a more fudgy texture.
[An updated and slightly revised version of this recipe will also appear in my upcoming cookbook, Sweet Freedom, along with more than 100 others, most of which are not featured on this blog. For more information, check the "Cookbook" button at right, or visit the cookbook blog.]