Friday, February 22, 2013

(The Best) Vegan Lava Cake (Ever)

The wait is finally over, blog-friends!  For our final Valentine's Day Dinner post, we present you with... The Best Vegan Lava Cake Ever!  It may sound a little arrogant, or maybe you think this might fall under the classification of "too-good-to-be-true", but I assure you that cake has everything you want in a lava cake, vegan or not!  I mean, I spent days trying to find or create the perfect recipe, and by the end of it I still wanted more of this cake!

Vegan Lava Cake with Ice Cream and Grand Marnier Glaze!
Before I even began I knew it would be a tricky process, so I made a checklist containing all the important qualities I wanted this cake to have.  That way, I would know when I had found success!  My checklist went as follows:
  • 100% Vegan (duh)
  • No crazy science ingredients (nothing that could be found in a science lab is allowed in this cake)
  • Holds form when removed from ramekin (looks matter)
  • Oozes out when cut into (otherwise it's just not "lava cake")
  • No cheating (some people take the easy way out by slipping a square of chocolate into the middle of the batter, or adding some kind of gooey filling at the end; no dice)
We could probably subtitle this post "The Birth of a Recipe", because I plan on taking you through a little tour of how the recipe came about, and the trials and tribulations of each iterative step (but don't worry, there are pictures!).  Before that, though, I'll give you the final, good-copy recipe.  I think the best way to enjoy this blog post would be to read the recipe, find the ingredients, make a few portions, and then enjoy the rest of the journey with lava cake in hand (and mouth!).


The liquidy center spills out of the cake when you cut into it.  Beautiful!

Vegan Lava Cake

Ingredients:
for one 8 oz ramekin cake (two servings)

1 1/2 tablespoons vegan margarine (DO NOT use Earth Balance, use a "regular" vegan margarine like Becel)
80 grams (3 oz) dark chocolate

1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1/8 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 cup non-dairy milk
2 tablespoons blended firm Silken tofu
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


Grand Marnier Glaze:


1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
1 small square dark chocolate (about 10 grams)
1 teaspoon confectioner's sugar


Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Melt margarine in a small pot over medium heat.  Without letting the margarine get too hot, add the dark chocolate and stir until melted.

3. Combine the sugar, flour and cornstarch in a mixing bowl and set aside.

4. Stir the milk, blended tofu, and vanilla in with the melted chocolate.  Pour the melted chocolate mixture into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir until well combined.  You could use an electric mixer here if desired.  Make sure to mix very well - vigorously whisking it with a fork works well.

5. Pour cake batter into the greased ramekin and place in the oven.  Bake for 14 minutes. The cake should be soft and slightly "jello-y" (the goal here is to have a cake that is raw and pudding-like in the center), but it should definitely look like a chocolate cake.  Remove from oven and allow to sit in the ramekin for two minutes to set.

6. While cake is baking, prepare the glaze.  Heat the Grand Marnier in a small pot for a minute before adding the square of dark chocolate. Melt the chocolate, remove from heat and stir in the confectioner's sugar.

7. Carefully run a butter knife around the edge of the ramekin to loosen the cake.  Cover ramekin with a small plate and invert quickly.  Remove the ramekin and top with Grand Marnier glaze and ice cream!

Note: The cake batter can be made and refrigerated for up to a day in advance.  Simply make as much batter as desired, pour into greased ramekins, and cover/refrigerate.  Remove them from the refrigerator just before baking, and add one minute to the cooking time.

And there you have it!  At long last, the perfect recipe for vegan lava cakes.  These are the kind of lava cakes I always loved.  I know some people consider regular cake batter with boiling water poured over top "lava cakes", but they are most certainly not this awesome.  Nothing beats a delicious, moist cake with an ooey gooey molten center.

Nothing wrong with a little messy melty-ness!
Now that you have seen the final, successful recipe, allow me to take you on a journey down memory lane while we examine how this delectable desert came to be.  I had been wanting to make a vegan lava cake for a little while, and I decided Valentine's day would be the perfect time to do it.  Keeping my checklist firmly in my mind, I began the experiments.

Trial 1: With my checklist in tow  I figured the best place to start would be to take a recipe from the internet and make it, seeing how much of my checklist I could achieve with someone else' recipe.  I ruled out a few recipes right away for either being to complex (one recipe involved minute amounts of three different kinds of flour, three different egg replacers, a few seeds, and some fruit), using the so-called "science ingredients" (agar, xanthan gum, sodium-whatever-ate), or cheating.  Eventually I found one that stood out above the others.

A sea of scalding oil over top a bed of of rock candy
It did not turn out well.  This was a recipe taken directly from someone's website, followed exactly, and it created the horrendous monstrosity you see above.  It certainly had a molten center, but the edges were equally lava-like.  The thing failed at even the most basics of being a cake.  To top it all off, it took a full two days of alternating soak/scrub cycles to get that ramekin clean.  Whatever wasn't molten and scalding was crystallized and rock-like.  Moving on.

Trial 2: For my next trial, I decided to go off-book a little bit.  I increased the amount of flour and cornstarch by small amount, and decreased the amount of margarine.  At this point I was still using Earth Balance.  I also kicked up the amount of chocolate a little bit.  The results from this further experiment were... disappointing, but infinitely better than the pure trash that came from the first trial.  I was able to plate the cake, but it definitely did not hold up to the checklist. 

Oozes out all over the darn plate? Check.  Holds together when removed?  Not so much.
Trial 3: My next attempt contained the first of two major breakthroughs.  I was running out of Earth Balance, so I switched to using a "standard" vegan margarine (the vegan versions of standard supermarket brands like Becel and Smart Balance).  To help stop the crystallizing problem I was having I also cut down the amount of confectioner's sugar and lowered the baking temperature a bit, increasing the time to ensure at least a little bit of done-ness.
At least this one looks like a cake.
Certainly the most successful looking attempt so far!  It held together, just like magic, but without any major changes.  Then it hit me: it must be the margarine.  Allysia has since told me that brands like Earth Balance tend to lack emulsifiers, which can sometimes lead to oily separation during baking.  I just call it magic and witchcraft.  Unfortunately my journey does not end here: the product is too much cake and not enough lava.

Trial 4:  A second breakthrough.  Up until this point I had been using semi-sweet chocolate chips, as that was what was called for in most of the recipes I looked at, but how would dark chocolate affect the cake?  I guessed that the lower sugar content would be a big help in fixing that stubborn crystallization issue.  After baking a and plating I had the best desert yet.  The outside was moist and delicious, rather than slightly crunchy with hardened sugar.  Now I just had to fix the inside.

Looking better and better...
Trials 5 and 6: It's now down to fine touches and small adjustments.  First change: increase the cooking temperature back to the original and drop the cooking time.  Cook the outside before the inside can heat up too much.  Results?  Definitely not cooked in the middle, but not quite oozing out on it's own.  The second try leads to similar results.  It is clear that cooking time alone is not going to solve this problem.

Smooth in the middle, and slightly jello-y!

Trial 7: I experience a zen moment.  My mind flashes back to my days of making non-vegan lava cakes.  I remember the batter being less viscous.  I know what I need to do.  Chop the amount of cornstarch in half, add some milk to thin the desert out and... voila!

Finally, a cake that exceeds expectations!
A vegan cake that fulfills every criteria on my checklist.  Fairly simple ingredient list, a nice shape, and the filling even oozes out on its own.  It has been a long, arduous journey, but eating this trial was worth every minute of baking and waiting and thinking and scrubbing.

If you've stuck with me through all that text then I know what you should do:  Find these ingredients, and make yourself a lava cake.  You've earned it!

27 comments:

  1. I want. I want. I want.

    Other than that, I am speechless. Looks so amazing :)

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    1. I'm glad you think it looks so good, but trust me, the taste is even better!

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  2. Wow...this is stunning........gorgeous it looks da....

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    1. You'll definitely have to try making it sometime! One of my favorite things about the recipe is that is wasn't too crazy complicated (once I had it figured out!)

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  3. Wow! You have done such a great service to the vegan community!! Thank you for all the trials and tribulations to get that perfect final cake. I have a feeling this recipe will soon become a vegan internet sensation!

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    1. Haha, that would be grand indeed! I just wants vegans to have access to the rich, chocolatey goodness the non-vegans have!

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  4. This is perfection. Such a beautiful, special dessert. We are all indebted to you and appreciate all of the hard work and effort put into perfecting this amazing recipe! I want to shove it all in my face! Yum, so good!

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    1. I know I've said it before, but the work was totally worth it!

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  5. This looks really incredible - definitely worthy of the title! Thanks for sharing it.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it. Hopefully you'll have a chance to try it sometime.

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  6. Yes, I will be making these soon. A lot!

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    1. You should definitely do that, and let me know how they go!

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  7. Mike, I think you are the most persistent person EVER. Wow!! Your recipe looks amazing, and I will definitely be trying this!

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    1. Just like I said to Joey, be sure to let me know how they work out when you try them!

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  8. Damn dude, that’s brilliant! I’ve never seen such dedication to perfecting a recipe. I’ve never had a molten lava cake so I wouldn’t have had a clue on how to go about veganizing it, thanks for sharing your success. I’m dying to shove that thing in my mouth right now!

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    1. It really is super tasty! If it was worth the front out in to perfecting it (which it was) them it is definitely worth the effort to make it once =)

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  9. Any particular reason why you specifically advise NOT to use Earth Balance in this?

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  10. When we used Earth Balance we ended up with an oily mess that refused to bind. I think it had something to do with a lack of emulsifiers in the EB. A switch to more conventional vegan margarines seemed to fix the problem right away. It would probably be possible to make it work with Earth Balance with some tweaking.

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  11. what about using coconut oil? when i hear "supermarket brand" and "emulsifiers" my mind thinks "hydrogenated oils" and that is a no go for me.... so ever thought about using coconut oil? what about spectrum shortening, or even the butter flavour kind? all of these things stay solid at room temp because they are high in saturated fats, just like dairy butter and grocery store margarine, whereas as EB turns to a somewhat gelatinous consistency.

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    1. My first though is that coconut oil wouldn't be firm enough, but coconut butter might work very well (unfortunately coconut butter is a little hard to find around here). I didn't consider shortening, but it seems like it could work with a little change in amounts. Maybe 3/4 to 1 tablespoon of shortening would work to replace the margarine? If you happen to give something like this a try, definitely let me know how it works!

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  12. This was a great recipe! I made it this afternoon and it turned out exactly like the pictures. I actually did end up using Earth Balance though (I couldn't find another margarine at my local store) and it worked really well... however it was the Soy Free version, so maybe they bind slightly differently? Anyways, so glad I found this because I've been missing my favorite dessert since I went vegan... and now I can make it and it tastes just the same :)

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    1. That is super awesome! I am glad that the recipe worked for you, and I am especially glad that the Earth Balance ended up working. I should add a note in the post about your trial. Thanks!

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  14. I've made this twice now - not sure if it's my oven or my ramekins but they would collapse when I took them out, but I think cooking for 20 minutes will fix that. (Tried 16 - OK, but floppy; 18; two turned out floppy, one turned out OK...)

    The taste was very good! My vegan boyfriend was very happy with it, and it wasn't complicated at all. I'm from Australia and used the Nuttelex brand vegan margarine, and it turned out OK. I used coles "smartbuy" dark cooking chocolate as it's the only vegan one I could find, tasted fine though!

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    1. Hmmm. That is really interesting! I know that with my combination of ingredients and equipment 14 minutes turned out to be the perfect amount of cooking time to achieve a cake that was just firm enough to hold itself up when removed from the ramekin. I'm glad that you tried it out, and especially glad that you tried a couple of times to get the results you wanted!

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    2. I made them again last night, this time for 20 minutes - perfect! All three were fine. (Two of them cracked slightly after sitting on the plate for a minute or two but I call that a win...).

      I also didn't have any silken tofu so I just used blended normal tofu and it still tasted fine. For some reason every time I make this I forget it requires tofu.

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    3. If I'm to chime in with my two cents, perhaps making more than 1 at a time would increase the baking time a little bit? It's also possible that our ovens may differ slightly. Either way, thanks for letting us know your results, it's super useful information to have! :)

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