When the spring semester starts, it really starts. Unlike the fall semester, during which things get busier fairly gradually, the spring semester seems to reach peak busy-ness with a much steeper journey. Needless to say, this week’s tea time creeped up on us in what seemed like less than two weeks—closer to two days, I’d say. Of course, it was very welcome because when do we ever say no to a Friday afternoon break filled with food, fun, and fantastic company? And I was especially excited as this was the first tea time I planned this semester!
I have a little bit of an obsession with the combination of chocolate and orange. The citrus in the orange helps cut some of the sweetness and richness of the chocolate, resulting in a wonderful pairing (at least in my opinion). I have noticed that this pairing is somewhat polarizing though—you either love it or you hate it. As you can guess, I definitely belong to the “you love it” camp. I have been eyeing a recipe for chocolate orange lava cakes for ages. (By “ages,” I really mean for the past few months. The chocolate and orange pairing seems to be particularly popular around the holidays since that’s when Terry’s Chocolate Oranges hit the stores.) I went back and forth between making chocolate orange lava cakes and marzipan-stuffed almond sugar cookies in honor of National Almond Day on February 16th, but I finally settled on the lava cakes because apparently I was thinking about them so much that they even appeared in my dreams. (Nope, I’m not even exaggerating about this. Nor am I even slightly ashamed about it.)
As I was looking for the chocolate orange lava cake recipe I had saved, I realized that I had saved not two, but three recipes! They all seemed relatively similar, but one of them didn’t have orange juice in it, which I felt was essential to carry the flavor. As wonderful as orange zest is at really bringing the flavor of orange through, I figured the orange flavor would only be enhanced with the addition of orange juice. So I scrapped that recipe. The other two recipes didn’t really have any noticeable differences other than the fact that one called for ramekins and the other called for cupcake tins. This made my decision fairly easy since we currently don’t have ramekins in our kitchen.
While I was reading the winning recipe (Chocolate Orange Lava Cakes from Buzzfeed’s Proper Tasty), I came across comments criticizing the use of orange. Countless people complained that the orange ruined the perfectly good chocolate lava cake without even trying the recipe. I should have expected this, knowing how polarizing the chocolate and orange pairing seems to be, but reading through these comments really solidified that for me. And the adventure didn’t end there. As I continued reading through the comments, I came across many suggesting that these were in fact not real lava cakes, but they were instead partially-raw chocolate cakes containing partially-raw eggs. The people making these (absurd, in my opinion) comments believed that the only was to make lava cakes was by covering the bottom of the ramekin or cupcake mold with a layer of cake batter, placing a ball of frozen ganache on top of it, and then covering it all with more cake batter. According to these people, the melted ganache is what turns into the oozing lava. This is the alternative to the type of lava cakes this chocolate orange lava cake recipe produced, which were cakes cooked at a high temperature for a short period of time. Once they’re done, they resemble soufflé, but they don’t rise quite as much. So just like soufflé is not undercooked, lava cakes made this way are not either. I like to think of it as the lava being cooked, but just not baked like the rest of the cake.
I happen to believe that both of these methods for making lava cakes have their place. In fact, we used the frozen ganache method to make our Churro Lava Cakes earlier this year, and those were definitely a hit! So in my head, it makes more sense to use the frozen ganache method when the cake and the lava are two different flavors, and use the high temperature method when the cake and the lava are the same flavor. Since a chocolate orange lava enveloped in chocolate orange cake sounds so much more decadent to me than a chocolate cake with orange lava or an orange cake with chocolate lava (though if I had to pick one of those two, I’d definitely pick the orange cake with chocolate lava—there’s just something so satisfying about oozing chocolate lava).
Now finally for the part you’ve all been waiting for: how did the chocolate orange lava cakes turn out?! Actually, let me not get ahead of myself. Some interesting things happened during the batter-making process, which I think made the end product that much more enjoyable. First, we realized we didn’t have enough orange juice to the point where we had about half of what we needed. For some reason, we weren’t able to squeeze as much juice out of our oranges as we had expected. (I think it might have something to do with the oranges having been in the fridge for the past couple of months or so. Since the oranges looked, felt, and smelled normal, I figured they’d be fine, but maybe they dried out a little on the inside. I’m not really sure.) I wasn’t too worried about that because the orange juice wasn’t the only element creating the orange flavor. We were also using orange zest, and it wasn’t like we weren’t using any orange juice at all! I added a little bit of extra zest into the chocolate and butter mixture to try and compensate. As that cooled, we began mixing our whole eggs with egg yolks and powdered sugar. Or so we thought… We accidentally ended up using egg whites instead of egg yolks. (These things happen in a kitchen full of people talking and having fun, no biggie! Not wanting to waste this mixture (but also not wanting to use it in our cakes for fear of unfortunate textural mishaps), we threw it in the fridge and started over. Phew, crisis averted!
Once the egg and sugar mixture was ready, we added in the chocolate mixture and a little bit of flour. And just like that, our first batch of chocolate lava cakes were ready to be go into the cupcake molds and then into the oven! Just a few (very long) minutes later, they were out of the oven, and we couldn’t wait to get our hand on them. I suggested adding some orange zest and sea salt on top for an added dimension of yumminess, and it was a pretty good suggestion if I do say so myself. Of course that is not to say that the cakes weren’t delicious on their own!
We made our second batch in disposable cupcake trays with cupcake liners, and while they still tasted yummy, they were a little less attractive. They seemed to sink a lot more than the ones in the cupcake tin did. My guess is that this had something to do with the use of the cupcake liners. The cakes got less contact with the heat because of the liners, so maybe they should have stayed in the oven for an extra minute or two.
All in all, I’d say everything went well, and we all got a nice dose of orange chocolatey goodness! Although the orange flavor wasn’t as strong as it could have been, it was still satisfying, and now we know that if we make these again, a little bit more orange juice would do the trick.
[Update: For those of you wondering what we did with the whole egg/egg white/powdered sugar mixture we saved for later, we made French toast the next Friday! Our French toast didn’t seem to get as crispy on the outside/soft on the inside as French toast typically does, but it was still delicious nonetheless. The powdered sugar added a nice sweetness, which eliminated the need for maple syrup, at lease for me.]