January 31, 2015

Roasted White Chocolate Lava Cake

I first encountered roasted white chocolate at Soma here in Toronto.  I couldn’t resist buying their roasted white chocolate bar white it’s lightly browned, slightly crisp edges, and that’s saying a lot since I normally want to buy everything in there.  So it was only natural that when I had the idea to make a classic lava cake with white chocolate, I had to roast it first.  

For everyone that thinks white chocolate is bland, an overload of sweetness with no substance, I challenge you to try it roasted.  The flavours are deep, caramel, like solid dulce de leche.  These amazing flavours and the brown colour come from compounds that are formed by the Maillard (mah-yard) reaction.  This is actually the same reaction that gives your steak that delicious brown crust when you sear it.  Oh yes, this is delicious chemistry!

At this point, I should warn you to scroll down if you just want the recipe.  We’re about to get sciencey. 
White chocolate is made up of sugar, milk, and cocoa butter.  That’s the top level of understanding.  To understand the reactions that make roasted white chocolate taste delicious, we have to go deeper (cue inception music). 

Milk contains proteins: long chains of molecules called amino acids.  There are 21 different amino acids whose names I had to memorize in undergrad.  That was fun.  At high temperatures, around 150C (300F) these proteins begin to break apart, freeing the amino acids.  Unsure of what to do with their newfound freedom amino acids are easily seduced by sugars.  

The stuff that we think of as sugar is actually sucrose, a compound made up of glucose and fructose.  When things get a little heated, glucose and fructose break up and go after those free amino acids.  Together they can make a whole slew of compounds that are brown in colour and have a variety of flavours that taste great to us.  This process is Maillard browning. 

The truth is that some caramelization also occurs here since the free sugars can react with each other too, but caramelization is more common at higher temperatures.  Either way, both caramelization and Maillard browning result in delicious. 

Then Alex asked me whether you could control the flavours produced during Maillard browning if you controlled which amino acids were there.  Clearly we were meant to be. Turns out, the answer is yes

I didn’t do that with this cake of course.  This cake is essentially just a classic chocolate lava cake recipe with less butter because the white chocolate has more fat in it already.  I also added a little bit of alcohol so that the sweetness wouldn’t be too overwhelming.  Make sure not to overbake it since that’ll take the “lava” right out of it! 

Enjoy this with someone who doesn’t mind hearing you talk about Maillard browning! 

Roasted White Chocolate Lava Cake

6 oz (170g) roasted white chocolate (recipe follows)
1 oz (28g) unsalted butter
2 eggs
1.5 tbsp sugar
1 tsp bourbon or dark rum
6 tbsp (50g) all purpose flour
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 425F.  Butter three ramekins, line the bottoms with small parchment circles and butter those again.  Place on a baking sheet. 

In the microwave or over a water bath, heat the chocolate and butter until the chocolate is softened and  the butter is melted and incorporated throughout.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment or using an electric mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until they hold a slight ribbon.  This means that the eggs will get very thick and very pale and when you lift the beaters out, the stuff that drips down will remain on the surface for few seconds before melting back into the whole.  

Add the softened chocolate and bourbon and whip until completely incorporated.  The white chocolate may leave some little granules throughout, that’s ok.  They’ll disappear while baking.
Sprinkle flour and salt over top and fold in using a rubber spatula.  Pour into prepared ramekins, filling them about 2/3 of the way.  Bake in the center of the preheated oven for 12-14 minutes or until the tops are just completely set.  Cool on a rack for 1 minute then flip onto the serving plate.  I like to do this by loosening the sides of the cake with a small spatula or knife, placing the plate on top, flipping the whole thing upside down, then carefully lifting the ramekin off.  The parchment should have stopped the bottom from sticking.  
Serve with ice cream, whipped cream, or just on their own.  

Roasted White Chocolate
Adapted from David Lebovitz

12 oz (340) good quality white chocolate

Preheat the oven to 275F.  If the chocolate is in the form of chips or callets already, then you’re done!  Otherwise, chop the chocolate into small pieces. 

Spread the chocolate over a parchment lined baking sheet.  Bake in the center of the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, taking it out every ten minutes to stir and spread it around so that it browns evenly.  The chocolate is done when it is a uniform butterscotch colour.  

Depending on the cocoa butter content of your chocolate it will behave differently.  Don’t be surprised if the chocolate doesn’t really melt.  The sugars in the chocolate are reacting and water is evaporating, which actually makes it thicker.  The more cocoa butter there is, the more smooth and melty it will be.  Otherwise it will just be quite a solid paste type mass.  As long as you don’t burn the chocolate, the texture is not so important.  It will solidify once you cool it down anyway.  

You will get less chocolate than you started with due to the evaporation.  You’ll probably get about 10 oz. from this amount.  Try not to eat it all and use some of it to make lava cakes.  

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