Afternoon Delight Chocolate-Chile Lava Cakes

When I first heard about Anne Calhoun’s Afternoon Delight (out tomorrow) on Twitter a few months ago, I was super eager to read it just based on a single phrase: food truck. I’ve read several of Calhoun’s books and she has never disappointed. Add in a heroine with a food truck and a sexy paramedic hero and I was beyond sold.

Tim is a New York City paramedic, drawn to the adrenaline and speed of the job, hardly pausing even to taste the food he wolfs down between calls and definitely not slowing down enough to develop anything like a relationship with anyone. Sarah is a recent transplant to the city and feeling ambivalent about it. She’s from San Francisco, which is equally cosmopolitan, but paced differently than New York. Having been born in San Francisco and spent several years shuttling between New York and DC while dating a guy who lived there, I could definitely relate. New York’s energy is like nothing else and the city’s charms and faults have been thoroughly captured in this book.

While Tim is a New York native, Sarah has moved in order to help her friend start a food truck business with a lunch-focused menu called Symbowl. When Tim and Sarah meet, it’s because she has just watched him bolt a hotdog without even tasting it. She and her friend haven’t quite gotten the menu right yet so Sarah steps out of the truck to have him taste her latest creation, a spicy sauce for their versatile bean and rice bowls. And boy do things get hot from there. It’s also what inspired me to infuse the chocolate lava cake I’m featuring here with chiles, even though the one Sarah makes for Tim in the book is a more traditional take.

Tim and Sarah then embark on a creative erotic adventure full of unconventional sexy games of chastity and denial. Though this isn’t a dominance and submission type book, Sarah is confident and bossy, knowing exactly how far and how fast she can push Tim, winning each sexual challenge she issues easily. Tim, not accustomed to being kept so off-balance, tries to win back some of his own, but it’s almost too late. In his quest to remain cool and aloof, he nearly loses his chance with Sarah, who it’s clear is the best thing to happen to him in forever.

Afternoon Delight is an unusual and interesting read, not just for the food, which I anticipated would be fun for me, but also for the games Sarah and Tim engage in. I read an awful lot of erotic romance and I haven’t read anything like this. There’s just the right amount of heat and angst and ups and downs to this relationship, making for a very enjoyable read.

Chocolate lava cakes are one of those things that people often see in restaurants and assume would be terribly difficult to make at home. That’s not really the case despite the fact that if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I had a bit of trouble with these last week. Take my word for it though, it was all user error. This is a simple and impressive dessert that will have guests wishing for more than just a single serving.

There are two ways to make chocolate lava cakes (also sometimes called molten chocolate cakes). The first is to underbake the batter. But with undercooked egg involved, it’s not really the safest choice. It’s also not the most delicious choice. The second way to make these is to use frozen chocolate ganache in the center. The advantage of this option is that you can flavor the centers any way you want, either by infusing the milk, which is what I’ve done here with chiles and cinnamon, or adding extracts or other flavorings to the ganache. Basically any truffle filling you can imagine can also go in the center of these cakes.

There is really just one tricky spot in the recipe–folding the egg whites and flour into the chocolate mixture. It’s very important to do it by hand and not to use a mixer, which will overbeat the batter and deflate the egg whites completely. Since there is no other leavener in this batter, it’s important to keep the egg whites fluffy. This is the first time I’ve tried doing a video, but I’ve included one below so you can see the folding motion I use to incorporate the egg whites. And you can hear my voice! Which is weird. But there you go.

Finally, despite the fact that in the book, Sarah has Tim take home and reheat the leftover cakes, it’s not something that works very well with these. I’d recommend serving them immediately out of the oven after cooling for five minutes. They can’t really be made ahead or they will deflate and the ganache centers will become less liquid, eventually soaking into the batter around them.

But it’s not a bad price to pay for something so decadent and delicious!

Chocolate-Chile Lava Cakes
Makes: 6 servings
Time: approximately 5 hours (hands on time: 45 minutes)

3/4 cup heavy cream

2 dried arbol chiles (or other dried red chile with Scoville rating of 15,000-30,000) + more for garnish (if desired)
1 cinnamon stick
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

9 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons instant coffee powder
1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon softened butter (for ramekins)

3/4 cup + 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour, sifted
1/8 teaspoon salt

3 egg yolks, 4 egg whites, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon white sugar, separated

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar + more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1. In a medium saucepan, heat the cream, 2 chiles and cinnamon stick over medium heat until bubbles just form on the surface. Remove from heat, cover and allow to steep for 30 minutes.

2. Once cream is done steeping, strain out chiles, cinnamon stick and any loose chile seeds and heat again until candy thermometer reads 120 degrees. Place chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl and pour cream over. Allow to sit for 10 minutes, then stir until all chocolate is melted. Refrigerate for 1 hour until ganache solidifies into a scoopable consistency.

3. Prepare a cookie tray covered with aluminum foil. Using a melon baller or small cookie scoop, scoop out 12 ganache balls, approximately 1″ to 1 1/4″ in diameter. Place on prepared cookie tray, cover tightly with plastic wrap and freeze until solid, approximately 3-4 hours.

4. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare six ramekins by thoroughly coating with softened butter. Set the ramekins on a cookie tray. Heat chocolate, coffee powder and water over low heat until chocolate is melted. Whisk to combine and remove from heat to cool slightly.

5. Thoroughly combine flour and salt and sift into a bowl. Set aside. Using a stand mixer or electric beaters, beat the egg yolks until lightened in color. Add 1/2 cup sugar and beat until combined. Add the vanilla extract and whisk together. Pour the chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture and whisk thoroughly. Remove from stand mixer.

6. Using electric beaters, beat egg whites and remaining tablespoon of sugar until stiff peaks form. Adding one-third of the egg whites and one third of the flour to the chocolate and egg yolk mixture, fold gently until combined. Repeat until all flour and all egg whites have been added to the chocolate mixture. Try not to deflate the egg whites as you fold as this is what will provide the lift to the finished cakes.

7. Remove ganache from freezer. Fill the ramekins half full with batter. Add a ganache ball to each ramekin and cover with remaining batter. Ramekins will be fairly full.

8. Bake for 15-17 minutes until the cakes are puffed about half an inch above the surface of the ramekins. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

9. While the cakes cool, make the whipped cream. Combine the heavy whipping cream, powdered sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and whip until stiff. Plate the cakes with a dusting of powdered sugar and either scooped or piped whipped cream.

Disclosure: I received Afternoon Delight from NetGalley for review purposes.

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