My mother-in-law clipped a recipe from her local paper that grabbed my attention in a big way: Spiced Chocolate Whiskey Lava Cake. The spices in question were freshly cracked black pepper, ground ginger, and cayenne. A recent purchase of large blocks of chocolate as part of a wine tasting “kit” meant I had the 8-ounce block of 60% dark chocolate. Outside of the mandarin orange zest, all ingredients were on hand.
Expectations were high as I started melting the butter and chocolate. But here’s the thing: I was balancing the project with other Sunday evening tasks–laundry, picking up around the house, getting kids to bed–so ended up with a good but not great final product.
My first mistake was thinking I would sub lime zest for the orange zest. I had lime zest stored in the freezer, which would save me the step of zesting enough (regular as I didn’t have mandarin) oranges for the 2 tablespoons I’d need. As I emptied the small ziploc of what I thought was lime zest, it just didn’t look right. A little taste told me that I was putting frozen pesto (!) into the chocolate cake batter. Not about to give up on all the expensive ingredients I’d already stirred together, I removed the few clumps of pesto that had made it in to the chocolatey batter, rationalizing that this was how new recipes and flavor combinations are discovered. Maybe a hint of basil would make this cake even better? I forged ahead, deciding to use fresh orange zest instead of hunting down the frozen lime zest. Two oranges were freshly zested into the batter and I moved on.
Filling the four 6-ounce ramekins and one mini cheesecake pan, I baked the cakes for the 13 minutes given in the recipe. A quick peek in the oven showed butter bubbling up furiously and pudding-like cakes that looked decidedly undone. At each oven peek, the butter was still bubbling, so I’d leave it alone and come back a few minutes later. After 25 minutes, the cakes looked done (bad sign–only the sides should have looked done), so I removed them from the oven, bubbly butter and all. Out of the heat, the butter subsided and the cakes looked lovely as could be. I knew they had to be overbaked after all that time in the oven (no lava!), but turned one onto a plate and cut into it just the same. While the cake had a nice crumb, it released no river of chocolate.
Still delish, the chocolate cake was rich without being overly so. And the orange zest was bright and fresh–lime zest would be fun to try, but orange seems the better choice. There was not even a hint of whiskey, so I’d switch to a stronger tasting booze (bourbon!) when I give the recipe another try. I also wondered why I wasn’t being hit by the spices–where was the ginger, cayenne, black pepper? While the ginger and cayenne were (very) faint background notes, I realized I tasted no black pepper because I DIDN’T ADD ANY. That ingredient somehow slipped by me–shoot.
So I now have a game plan for the next round: Use orange zest–though a hint of basil wasn’t a horrible thing–or sub in lime zest if I must. But absolutely no pesto under any circumstances. Add 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper per recipe instructions and bump up the cayenne and ginger by a pinch or so each. Cut back on the butter just slightly–there’s too much butter if it’s still bubbling up 20+ minutes into baking. Don’t wait for said butter to stop bubbling to take the cakes from the oven. And sub in bourbon (maybe 4 tablespoons instead of 3 since I’m cutting the butter a bit) for the whiskey.
Even with all of the mistakes made, these cakes were still divine. But they could be and should be so much more. (Though the fact that they were not is due to my multitasking more so than any recipe faults.) An optimist by nature, I’m giving myself another chance with this dessert with the amazing name. Expect a report when I do!