Vegan Molten Chocolate Cakes

[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.  

moltenwcup2.jpg 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. 

And healthy.

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.

Because they’re so darned healthy, I’m also submitting this recipe to Cate at Sweetnicks for her weekly ARF/5-A-Day Roundup.  Spinach is an amazing antioxidant food, after all!

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 

lavacakebig1.jpg

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.

Molten Centers:

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 

 

Cake:  

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.  

 [Edit, February 15th: I baked these again last evening for Valentine’s Day, and made some of the cupcake version on the side. moltencupcaketrio.jpg  

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. 

moltencupcake.jpg

[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.]

 

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Comments

  1. I fear what would happen to my waist line if I ate that. It looks so incredibly delicious, I don’t think anyone would resist it if it was in front of them.

  2. Now THAT is a fascinating dessert–all those veggies! Think it would work with a gf flour instead of spelt? Just looking at that makes my mouth water, and I just ate lunch–I’m not hungry at all.

  3. Romina,

    I wouldn’t eat these on a regular basis, but for Valentine’s Day, I figured I could indulge :).

    Sally,

    I’d love to know how these turned out with GF flours (a mix, maybe?). I think the cocoa is the truly essential part since it hides the veggies, but another flour might just work.

  4. Yay, Ricki!

    Goodbye to all those weirdo soy-whatsits; hello molten chocolate lava cakes!

    Stunning.

  5. these look fantastic – I want to make them now and think I can (except can I use other flours like wheat – I think I have everything else)

  6. Lucy,

    Aw, thanks! As much as I used to love the hydrogenated-frozen-whipped-soy topping (our brand is called Cool Whip–is there an Aussie equivalent??), I am no longer able to indulge, even if I wanted to! A vegan whipped “cream,” with no soy whatsoever, is on the way, too–just a few more adjustments and I think I’ve got it!

    Johanna,

    I’d bet you could use just a wee bit less wheat flour for the spelt (about 2 Tbsp. per cup less). The oat flour gives these a very tender crumb; I’m not sure what else you could use for that (though if you try all-wheat, let me know how they turn out!).

    I should warn you, though, that if you don’t have custard cups or ramekins at least 200 ml. big, you must really be careful about covering up the filling before baking; a friend tried these in muffin cups and the centers just got baked into the batter–no oozing in sight (which is why I recommend simply stirring the chocolate chips as they are into the cupcake size).

    And these are nice the next day, too; the centre firms up a bit and it’s sort of like a pain au chocolat (well, without the croissant exterior, of course!).

  7. Bravo – these molten chocolate rounds really take the cake! I’m in awe of your veganizing, but even more so of your health-ifying good old fashioned chocolate cake. (I know veggie folks who eat so much processed food that I question the rationality of their calling this a “healthier way of life.”)

  8. Hi Monika,

    Thanks for your comment and welcome!

    Much of my alternative recipes was a function of necessity, as I wasn’t allowed to eat much else for so long. I think many of the processed foods developed because we North Americans are just so used to eating certain things that it feels like deprivation to give them up.

    On the other hand, I do believe that a vegan diet, even with the substitutes that I mention, is by far healthier than the average “SAD” (Standard American Diet), which contains all that processed stuff PLUS cholesterol and unhealthy saturated fats!

  9. This is fantastic! I try to stay away from Earth Balance butter and the pre-packaged soy creams, but sometimes I need to indulge. This, at least, gives me hope that we’ll eventually be able to create vegan baked goods without all the processed crap.

    And you know what? It is so awesome that you posted this particular recipe. I was just looking in a baker’s catalogue where they had some lava chocolate cakes and I was so upset because I wanted one! This is the first place I’ve found a vegan recipe. I’m definitely saving it. Thanks so much!

  10. I can’t believe that you got both spinach and zucchini into such a delicious-looking dessert! Thanks so much for entering it into Vegetable Love.

  11. That looks and sounds fabulous! I am a spinach hider too, you can’t taste the stuff in desserts, and masked with the dark chocolate, no one will ever know! Thank you for the dessert idea, it looks great.

  12. Suzie,
    Thanks for your comment! Welcome. I agree, we all deserve an indulgence once in a while! Unfortunately for me, I can really only do it once in a long while, as my digestive system just doesn’t accept it any more (sniff). So I try to find these alternatives. So glad this one appealed, and hope you do try it out! Let me know how you like it.

    Susan,
    Thanks so much! It sounds like an awesome event and I can’t wait to sew what everyone else cooks up. :)

    Alisa,

    Thanks, and welcome to the blog! What do you hide your spinach in? I’ve done it in smoothies and many kinds of chocolate/carob desserts. Would love some non-sweet options, too!

  13. thanks Ricki, all that info is v helpful – I might try and buy some of these flours – would love to make it for valentines but will be away so it will have to wait but it is on my list. And I do have ramekins which is good because I want those molten centres :-)

  14. Johanna,
    I know what you mean–to heck with the cakes, just make the centres!!

  15. These look just perfect.. one can hardly believe that so many substitutions were made! :)
    Btw, you could skip the asafoetida with no change in taste for the Soya Upma recipe on my blog. Thanks for dropping by.

  16. Laavanya,

    Thanks for the tip re: asafoetida. The recipe did look intriguing–glad it would work without it! I enjoyed browsing through your blog and will definitely visit again.

  17. Thank You Ricki!
    This Molten Chocolate Cake thingy is absolutely the best vegan dessert I have even come across!!
    I use spinach,Avocadoes, bananas and dates in lots of desserts and that turns out great too with noone ever knowing the veggies are in there.
    I’ve been using Organic Spelt Flour for the past 8 months for pancakes, muffins ,crepes and such and I find it great.

    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and will surely be coming back to it.
    Keep baking!!
    Gloria

  18. This looks soooo yummy!!

  19. Wow, that looks incredibly decadent and delicious- Perfect for a Valentine’s day celebration!

  20. My mouth is watering just looking at those photos. I would gobble it up in a second if I could! Fantastic!

  21. This really looks impressive. I would eat it just because. I have a friend that just gave up sugar who will go gaga over this.

    I’m icked out by sweets at the moment, but that doesn’t ever last long LOL I can’t wait to try this and get spinach and zucchini in the kids!

  22. Wow, this is so creative & looks delicious!

  23. Hi There!
    This is my first visit to your excellent site! I was looking through the contestants in Susan’s Veggie Love contest, and when I saw your mouth-watering picture I just had to see *how* you managed to get veggies into something that looked so yummy! I really need to try this- getting veggies into my husband & little frutarian toddler isn’t always easy.
    I’ll definitely be back for future visits!
    Cheers,
    Shellyfish

  24. Gloria,
    Thanks for your comment, and welcome! I also love adding “extras” to my baking. Recently I went on a little avocado “binge” and put it in everything (resulting in a few new recipes I can share!). I’m glad you discovered spelt; it’s probably the flour I use most in baking. I think barley is also a great flour, with results very similar to spelt. Worth a try. And yes, please do visit again!

    Jennifer,
    Thanks so much, and welcome! They are, indeed, quite yummy (but then again, they’ve got chocolate, right?)

    Hannah,
    They do seem decadent! I’d happily make these for V-Day, but as my Honey is my #1 Recipe Tester, I think he’s overloaded on them over the past few weeks, as he tasted every single test batch (which amounted to quite a few)!

    Russ,
    Welcome to the blog! Thanks so much. I took a look at your blog as well, and must say your own Veg Love contribution made me salivate. Such gorgeous colors and ingredients in that salad!

    Lindsey,
    Thanks for your comment, and thanks for visiting! I think you could definitely use this as a “just because” dessert. And it would be perfect for someone off of sugar for the moment. (By the way, that carrot cake also looked awesome!).

    Melisser,
    Thanks so much, and welcome to the blog! It was definitely fun to play with combinations until I came up with this one.

    Shellyfish,
    Thanks for visiting, and for your comment! I was thinking of kids, too, when I cam up with this. Since they’ve also been tested by a couple of friends’ children, I can vouch for the veggies being undetectable (at least, to them!). And yes, I do hope you’ll visit again!

  25. In my home town chocolate lava cakes are a specialty. They have a warm place in my heart. I can’t wait to try the recipe out!

  26. They look absolutely delicious! I’m saving this recipe, will definitely give it a try!

  27. Amanda,
    Thanks so much, and welcome to the blog! Where is your home town? Would love to know where the lava cakes got their start (I’ve heard several theories, from a chef in France to our very own Regan Daley here in Toronto). Hope you enjoy them!

    Emma,
    Welcome to my blog! Thanks for your comment. I’ll look forward to hearing how you like them :) .

  28. How wonderful, Ricki! And congrats on your big win. That’s lovely.

    Can’t wait to make a carob version of this! Thanks for using agave. :)

  29. Wow, those look amazing. I might just have to change my valentine baking plans….

  30. Deb,
    Thanks so much–it was quite a surprise (but a truly thrilling one). Would love to hear how the carob version works out!

    Vegan Noodle,
    Thanks for your comment! No need to change any plans–you can do these up any time you feel like chocolate (which, around here, is daily) ;) .

  31. These look fantastic and I will be trying them, but not for Valentine’s day as my other half is allergic to chocolate, poor man! I’ll keep the recipe for when I have my girlfriends round for a “girl’s night in”.

  32. Spinach!!! really??! that is awesome!! a very nice recipe ricki, and congrats for winning the Vegetable Love event:) I’m surely trying this one sometime soon!

  33. Naomi,
    Thanks so much for your comment, and welcome to the blog! My heart goes out to your other half–not sure I could go on without chocolate!! Hope the gals like it, though. ;)

    Mansi,
    Thanks so much for visiting, and for your comment! As with other recipes that “hide” the spinach, in this one it’s undetectable, so all they’ll taste is the chocolate. Hope you enjoy it!

  34. So I’m thinking my failure may have been that I let the batter sit too long… I put all the wet ingredients together (minus the vinegar) before going out to dinner. THen added it at home, thinking saving the vinegar to add last would be fine, then put it with the dry ingredients. The filling was really yummy though, just not as yummy as yours looked! I will have to give this one another try!

  35. VeganNoodle,
    I’m really sorry this didn’t work out (but relieved to hear that there was at least some distinct filling in there!).

    I find that flax as an egg substitute is very tricky–bake it too soon, and the batter is too wet; leave it sit too long, and those ground seeds just soak up all the moisture. When I’m baking recipes that I’ve done many times, I sometimes just add extra liquid when the flax is too absorbent, and eyeball what the texture should be.

    I’d suggest trying the cupcakes with the chips as an easy alternative (and then you’re also guaranteed to get some chocolate in every bite!).

  36. I think this looks delicious, anyone have any vegan chocolate mousse cake recipes, I’ve been looking for a low carb one for ages…

  37. Thanks! Quick question though…I’m not familiar with instant coffee substitute. How important is it? Via a quick search, I didn’t see an obvious ingredient.

  38. WOW! I want that molten cake! Mine would never come out nearly as successful.

  39. Lisa Brownsville, TX says:

    I want to try out this recipe but I need to know if you can use regular coffee instead of the substitute and regular flour instead of the spelt and oat flour and regular dark chocolate chips (instead of the dairy free).
    Thanks

  40. I am going to give this a try this weekend! I can not WAIT!! I have just become a vegan about three weeks ago and I was thinking that little treats ever now and again were going to be off limits (since I didnt want to do the processed items). I came across your blog and am in shear amazement. Can I mention your site on my blog? I am sure other new vegatarians/vegans would appreciate your knowledge and expertise! Thank you again for sharing such an amazing recipe!

  41. I’m not vegan but I made it for my husband and myself and we LOVED it! Actually, he ate a bunch until I told him it was packed with veggies…then he abruptly stopped eating. Next time, I won’t tell him.

    Thank you for this wonderful recipe!

    Anna

  42. SO excited to try this, and you could always just inject the filling after it’s baked if it’s that temperamental right?

  43. OMG! I just make this last night and it’s crazy that you can’t taste the veggies and it’s so moist and perfect! I brought my left overs to work and haven’t told them they are vegan or gluten free until they tasted it and no one has been able to tell. This is an awesome recipe! Thanks!

    NOTE: because of the notes about overcooking etc I turned my oven down to 325…and cooked for the same duration…ALSO, the author noted that the filling must be covered so when I put the initial few tablespoons of batter in the ramekin I pick it up and rolled the batter along the edges so that when I put the filling in the middle it was less liked to poke out.

  44. Clarice says:

    CAN I SUBSTITUTE anything else for the spinach? I almost feel like throwing up of “spinach” in a DESSERT. I hate spinach. I know its good for health but I cannot stomach it. ANY SUGGESTION?

    • Clarice, the point of the recipe was to add veggies that are hidden in the final product, so I included the spinach (which you won’t taste). However, if you don’t like spinach, I’d recommend that you just not make the recipe. There are dozens of other Molten Chocolate Cakes on the internet–I’m sure you can find one without spinach that you would like much better! :)

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