Sunday, April 17, 2011

Molten lava science experiment

A few days ago, I was browsing through some clearance bins at the grocery store and saw a package of Betty Crocker Decadent Supreme Chocolate Molten Lava Cake mix. I haven't made a cake from a box in decades (I think cake mixes taste disgusting, and making something from scratch doesn't take much longer anyway.) But it was marked down about 75%. Perfect for doing a science experiment.

I had a group of friends coming over that night for a wine & chocolate night (or as we like to call it, wine & chocolate--and sparkling juice for the Mormons & pregnant women--night). It's basically an excuse to stay up way too late, eat lots of chocolate, and have girl talk. I had originally planned on making a dark chocolate tart, but when I saw the molten lava mix, had a better idea: a blind taste-test of the boxed mix versus a homemade version.

I had a hard time choosing which molten lava recipe to use. They all are variations on the same theme--chocolate, butter, flour, sugar, & eggs--but which one to use? The one with 3 eggs or 6? Do I bake at 350 or 400 or 450? 8 minutes or 14 minutes? I ended up combining two recipes and came up with this:

8 oz dark chocolate (60% cocoa)
1 cup butter
1/3 c sugar
1/2 c flour
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract

I put the cake mix into 9 muffin tins and the homemade version into 12 ramekins.

I baked both at 400. The cake mix version was in muffin tins and the "real" version in ramekins. The mix baked for 11 minutes and the ramekins for 13. I baked them until the tops just started to puff up (which in retrospect was too long).

The verdict:
The cake mix version was less overbaked and had a bit of the "molten lava" texture in the center, whereas the homemade version was way overdone and the centers were entirely firm. The homemade version was also very eggy tasting--so I'd definitely go for a recipe with about 3 eggs, not 6.

During the blind taste test, many of the people said they preferred the texture of #1 (the mix) but the richer, less sweet taste of #2 (the homemade version). It was pretty easy to tell which was which, because #1 was so, so sweet. It tasted just like brownies from a mix, just runnier. Total sugar shock on your tongue. Plus my friends know that I like really dark chocolate and that I would never make something so sweet.

It's ironic that this molten lava mix even exists. The process is almost identical in both recipes: melt butter & chocolate together, add eggs & dry ingredients, and bake. The boxed version has a bag of dry ingredients (sugar, flour, & cocoa powder), whereas the homemade version has you scoop the flour and sugar yourself. Such a difficult task, isn't it?

Lessons learned from this science experiment:
  • Take the molten lava cakes out of the oven before the tops start to puff up.
  • Don't underfill the ramekins or muffin cups--I should have put the homemade version into 8, not 12, ramekins. 
  • Choose a recipe with 3 eggs per 8 oz of chocolate, rather than 6 eggs
  • Ramekins release the cakes much better than non-stick muffin tins (I greased both before putting the batter in)
  • Don't skimp on the sugar. Even if you're totally addicted to super-dark chocolate--I eat 85% and even 70% tastes too sweet to me--you need enough sugar to make the cakes taste right. 1/3 cup might have been a bit too little; I might up it to 1/2 cup.
I'm ready now to make version #3, which I hope will be the ultimate chocolate molten lava cake. All in the name of science, of course. Stay tuned for the results.


  1. ThiS recipe is great:

    It is important not to overbake. I make it in muffin tins for a large group/smaller portions. My sister has even made it in the crockpot.

  2. Haha thats funny, blind taste test of box and homemade! I can ALWAY taste the diff! I do agree with you that box is nasty. I think its teh preservitives, artificial flavorings, partially hydrogenated oils and other "fake" ingredients that make them nasty! But I AM a sucker for this dark chocolate fudge brownie mix I can only get at Aldi! $1.29 per box and it is the best brownie mix I have ever had! It is hard to find a great brownie recipe! I had a super one, but I lost it in my last move, haven't seen it sence! ;(

  3. Love your sacrificing in the name of science ;)


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