There are nights — long, dark, melancholic nights — when the only thing between you and abject despair is chocolate, and a candy bar just isn’t going to cut it. Maybe the weltschmerz is growing unbearable, or maybe you have people coming for dinner in twenty minutes because you opened your mouth without thinking and you now need a dead-easy killer dessert that won’t send you spinning into hysteria. Or maybe you’re coming out of the movie theater on a Friday at 11, already forgetting the marshmallowy blockbuster you just saw but haunted by regret over not having ordered a slice of triple-decker chocolate cake to go at dinner even though you knew you’d want dessert later and everything would be closed by then.
Well, with a little help from the ever-fab Alton Brown, I’ve totally got you covered.
I’ve been making his practically instantaneous, utterly fantastic chocolate lava muffins ever since he first aired the recipe on Good Eats, and last night, they saved me from said post-cinema regret spiral. We were going to miss the movie if we didn’t hustle, and I was so full from the grain-heavy veggie burger that I convinced myself it wasn’t worth the delay. Sure enough, as soon as we were walking back to the car after the movie, I started lamenting the absence of cake. Forty-five minutes later, I was happily devouring an individual bittersweet chocolate cake spiced a la mexicana with cinnamon, chiles, coffee and vanilla, as sultry as a summer night at Teotihuacan. Embellished with vanilla bean ice cream and a glistening blood-red sauce of fresh red raspberries, it would have sent that silly fudge cake slinking away in shame.
The “muffin” of the original recipe is a misnomer, since these are actually molten-centered fallen souffle cakes of the sort that have been on every mid- to upper-range restaurant’s dessert menu since the dot com days. The only connection these have to muffins is the fact that they’re made in muffin tins, or in my version, half of a muffin tin. Alton’s north-of-the-border unspiced original made twice as many cakes, but unless you really are doing this for a dinner party, it’s just way too much. These are so rich and dense that even I can’t eat more than one at a sitting, so any more would complete overkill.
There’s no conceivable chance you won’t try these, since they’re laughably easy on top of being knock-your-socks-off impressive, but in case you need an extra incentive, the leftovers make a most excellent Sunday brunch with infernally strong coffee. I’m pretty sure no hangover could survive that.
Mexican Chocolate Cakes
(Adapted from Alton Brown’s Chocolate Lava Muffins)
Makes 6 individual cakes
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon espresso powder
1/8 teaspoon Maldon salt or other coarse sea salt
1/8 teaspoon powdered ancho chile
2 large eggs
Additional butter for greasing the muffin tin
2 tablespoons cocoa for coating the muffin tin
1 pint raspberries
Agave nectar, honey or sugar as needed
Vanilla ice cream
Combine the chocolate and butter in a glass measuring cup and microwave on half-power, stirring frequently, until melted and smooth. Stir in the vanilla, and cool briefly.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, espresso powder, salt and chile, crushing the salt between your fingers for more even distribution in the batter.
Scrape the chocolate mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Add the flour and mix well. Mix in the eggs one at a time, incorporating the first completely before adding the second. Increase the speed to the highest setting and beat until creamy and lighter in color, 4-5 minutes. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and chill for 15-20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Butter generously the cups and top of a 6-cup muffin tin, or half of a regular 12-cup tin. Coat the cups with the cocoa, shaking out the excess.
Using an ice cream scoop, evenly divide the batter between the six coated cups. Bake 10 minutes, or until the cakes look set on the outside but still moist and a tiny bit wobbly under the surface. Be very careful not to bake them to the point of complete firmness, or they’ll be unpleasantly dry.
While the cakes are baking, puree the berries with an immersion blender. Strain the puree through a mesh strainer to remove the seeds, and sweeten as necessary with the agave, honey or sugar.
Serve the still-warm cakes with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and the raspberry sauce.
If you’re not a fan of cinnamon and chiles with chocolate (you poor, sad creature), leave them out, but keep the vanilla and salt.
Since there is so little flour in the recipe, I might try replacing it with the equivalent amount of very finely ground almonds, which are a traditional companion to chocolate in the Mexican tradition.
These can be made up to a day ahead if you don’t care about preserving a molten center — and, frankly, I don’t. The gimmicky molten center thing is so 90s, and not really essential to the success of this recipe. The real appeal is the speed, ease, velvety texture and deep chocolate flavor.