This decadent molten chocolate lava cake is the perfect way to celebrate a special occasion (e.g., birthday, anniversary, Valentine’s Day) with your favorite gluten-free loved one!
Chocolate lava cakes were all the rage at fine dining restaurants back when I was a college student, so this rich, decadent chocolate treat brings back so many warm memories of Henry and I irresponsibly blowing all of our student loan money on fancy meals.
I remember the first time I cracked open the delicate chocolate cake surface and a molten center oozed out like hot lava, I was instantly smitten. What is this culinary magic?
Although it’s been 30 years (!) since I first tried a lava cake, I still love to bake them for my friends and family. It’s an easy, show-stopping dessert that can be made deliciously gluten-free and nut-free! Plus, it’s so much cheaper to make at home—and you can eat them in your sweatpants.
What is a molten lava cake?
Molten lava cakes were first introduced to the public back in the late 1980s, when famed New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten started serving them for dessert at his fancy-pants restaurants after a happy accident.
As legend has it, the chef pulled an undercooked chocolate sponge cake out of the oven and when he tasted the resulting cake with the gooey molten center, he knew he had a hit on his hands.
My adaptation of Jean-Georges’s classic recipe is a wee bit denser and more chocolate-y because, well, that’s how I like it. Although you can serve one of these little cakes per person (and that’s how the nutrition facts are calculated in the recipe card below), I normally share one because it’s a hefty, rich dessert. If you want a lighter, single-serve chocolate dessert, make a mug cake!
What chocolate do you use?
These lava cakes are basically a death-by-chocolate type of dessert, so you should use the best chocolate you can find. I normally use two 3-ounce bars of my favorite 70% cacao chocolate—I like Green & Black, Alter Eco, or Guittard brands for this recipe. Yes, these chocolates do have cane sugar as the sweetener, but I don’t sweat it because I’m making dessert. If you want to use paleo chocolate sweetened with coconut sugar, use Hu Chocolate.
Can you substitute any of the ingredients?
As I’ve told you in the past, I’m not a paleo baking expert, so I have no idea if you can use an egg substitute or use another flour in place of almond or cassava flour recommended in this recipe.
In the past I’ve used 85% cacao chocolate in place of 70% cacao, but the kids didn’t think it’s sweet enough. I suspect you can use ⅓ cup granulated allulose in place of maple sugar to make it lower carb—but I haven’t tested it yet.
Please let me know in the comments section below if you have success with any ingredient substitutions!
Can you make it in an air fryer?
Yep! As I’ve told you before, an air fryer is simply a countertop convection oven so any of my oven recipes can be cooked (for the most part) in an air fryer. For these lava cakes, you can air fry them at 400°F for 7 to 9 minutes or until the sides are set and the middle is still oozy.
How do you make it ahead of time?
If you want to make these lava cakes ahead of time, you can mix the batter up to a day in advance and store the covered ramekins in the fridge. Before you bake the cakes, bring them up to room temperature first by taking them out of the fridge about an hour ahead of time. If you’re eating them for dessert, just put them on the counter before you start dinner and you can bake them when you’re done eating!
Key tips for making perfect lava cakes
- Use the same size ramekins. This way all the lava cakes will cook for the same amount of time.
- Check on the cakes a minute or so before you think they’re done. That way, you won’t overcook them. If you’re serving them to company, bake a tester first to determine the perfect baking time for your oven.
- Serve the cakes right away! I only rest them for a minute because they’ll keep cooking if you keep the cakes in the hot ramekins. Your lava won’t ooze properly and you’ll be sad.
- Ghee or coconut oil: In place of unsalted butter, I like to use ghee or coconut oil in these cakes.
- Unsweetened cocoa powder
- Dark chocolate (70% cacao)
- Eggs + Egg Yolks
- Maple sugar or coconut sugar
- Vanilla extract
- Blanched almond flour: To keep things gluten free and paleo, I use almond flour in this recipe instead of all purpose flour. If you’re nut-free, cassava flour also works.
- Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- Optional toppings: Swerve confectioners sweetener or powdered sugar, whipped coconut cream or vanilla ice cream, fresh berries (e.g. strawberries or raspberries)
All my favorite kitchen tools are listed here.
How to make gluten free chocolate lava cakes
Heat the oven to 425°F with the rack in the middle position.
Lightly grease four 6-ounce ramekins with ghee, melted coconut oil, or avocado oil cooking spray…
…and dust with unsweetened cocoa powder. Make sure to tap out any excess powder!
Set the ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet.
In a double boiler—a.k.a., a bowl that fits snugly over a pot of simmering water (but doesn’t actually touch the water), melt the ghee with the chocolate…
…stirring frequently with a rubber spatula until smooth and shiny. Take off heat and set aside.
Alternatively, you can use a microwave oven to melt the ghee and chocolate. Place them in a glass bowl and microwave on high in 30-second intervals…
…and stir until smooth. It should take about 1 minute total.
In a medium bowl, add the eggs, egg yolks, maple sugar, vanilla extract, and salt.
Beat with a hand mixer on high speed or manually with a whisk until slightly thickened and pale, about 2 minutes.
Fold the melted chocolate into the egg mixture…
…along with the almond or cassava flour.
Mix well until uniform. The batter should thicken and take on the texture of chocolate pudding.
Use a large ice cream scoop to divide the batter evenly into the prepared ramekins.
Flatten the tops of the cakes and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the sides of the cakes are firm but the centers are soft. Start checking at 8 minutes to make sure you don’t overcook them!
Cooking in an air fryer? Air fry at 400°F for 7 to 9 minutes or until sides are firm and the center is jiggly!
Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and cool in the ramekins for 1 minute—no longer!
Run a butter knife on the inside edge of each ramekin.
Then, cover each cake with a small plate and carefully turn each one over and unmold.
Dust with Swerve confectioners sweetener (or regular confectioners sugar)…
…or serve with whipped coconut cream and/or berries.
[Originally posted on February 8, 2021. Updated with new information and photos on February 9, 2023.]
Looking for more recipe ideas? Head on over to my Recipe Index. You’ll also find exclusive recipes on my iPhone and iPad app, and in my cookbooks, Nom Nom Paleo: Food for Humans (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2013), Ready or Not! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2017), and Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go! (Andrews McMeel Publishing 2021).
PRINTER-FRIENDLY RECIPE CARD
Chocolate Lava Cake (Paleo, Gluten-Free)
Chocolate Lava Cake
- ½ cup ghee or coconut oil, plus more for greasing the ramekins
- 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 6 ounces dark chocolate (70% cacao) finely chopped
- 2 large eggs
- 2 large egg yolks
- ¼ cup maple sugar or coconut sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon finely ground almond flour or cassava flour
- keto confectioners sugar
- whipped coconut cream
- Heat the oven to 425°F with the rack in the middle position.
- Lightly grease four 6-ounce ramekins with ghee or melted coconut oil and dust with unsweetened cocoa powder. Make sure to tap out any excess powder!
- Set the ramekins on a rimmed baking sheet.
- In a double boiler—a.k.a., a bowl that fits snugly over a pot of simmering water (but doesn’t actually touch the water), melt the ghee with the chocolate, stirring frequently until smooth and shiny. Alternatively, you can use a microwave oven to melt the ghee and chocolate. Place them in a glass bowl and microwave on high in 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until smooth. It should take about 1 minute total. Set the melted chocolate mixture aside.
- In a medium bowl, add the eggs, egg yolks, maple sugar, vanilla extract, and salt. Beat with a hand mixer on high speed or manually with a whisk until slightly thickened and pale, about 2 minutes.
- Fold the melted chocolate into the egg mixture, along with the almond or cassava flour.
- Mix well until uniform. The batter should thicken and take on the texture of chocolate pudding.
- Use a large ice cream scoop to divide the batter evenly into the prepared ramekins.
- Flatten the tops of the cakes and bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the sides of the cakes are firm but the centers are soft. Start checking at 8 minutes to make sure you don’t overcook them!
- Cooking in an air fryer? Air fry at 400°F for 7 to 9 minutes or until sides are firm and the center is jiggly!
- Transfer the cakes to a wire rack and cool in the ramekins for 1 minute—no longer!
- Run a butter knife on the inside edge of each ramekin. Then, cover each cake with a small plate and carefully turn each one over and unmold.
- Dust with Swerve confectioners sweetener (or regular confectioners sugar) or serve with whipped coconut cream and/or berries. Serve immediately!
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
It’s so delicious!! I really wanna cook this at home after work. So delicious.
thanks for sharing this lava cake recipe! 🙂
Can we have an eggless version too? I am allergic to eggs.
Unfortunately, I haven’t tried this recipe with an egg alternative.
You’ve done it again!! Another delicious dessert. Thank you for creating and sharing.
Is it possible to cook one, cake sized lava cake in a larger baking dish? Hoping to make this for a birthday cake.
I haven’t tried it. Most lava cakes are small because it’s hard to get the right consistency with a bigger cake.
If I use regular sugar, should I alter the amount used?
It should be a similar amount, maybe a smidge less.
So I’m going to try this but I need 8. I was going to make 2 separate batches bc sometimes when u double it doesn’t come out as good. But one person says she did a double batch. Reassure me.
A double batch should work!
This recipe is awesome!!! I doubled it, used vegan butter in place of ghee, added a heaping teaspoon of espresso powder, and baked them in regular size muffin tins. Doubled recipe made 12. The espresso really compliments the chocolate. I served with strawberries and mocha coconut whipped cream. Definitely a keeper recipe!! Thank you so much!!!
My 6yr old and 4 yr old helped make this and we all loved it. Easy and delicious! Thank you!
What about using honey instead of the sugar?
Honey is a liquid so it will throw off the texture of the recipe. I would only recommend using something granulated.