molten espresso cake with kahlua buttercream

It always amazes me how four ingredients – butter, eggs, sugar, and chocolate could be combined to make a wonderful dessert. This deliciously soft and “oozey” chocolate molten cake was invented by celebrity chef, Jean-Georges Vongerichten. The story is that he pulled a tray of individual cakes from the oven before they were completely baked through. As he cut through one, the warm, liquid chocolate center oozed out instead of the dense cake he expected, and just like that, a classic dessert was born. Every restaurant in America now has their own version of this ubiquitous cake, but I am a loyal fan of the original version for not only for its simplicity, but also for its intense chocolate flavor. I am also an ardent admirer of Jean-Georges.

This amazing little cake is quite simple to make and is very adaptable to whatever ingredients you have on hand. I’ve topped it with fresh raspberries, drizzled it with raspberry and chocolate sauce, and served it with a variety of ice creams. In culinary school, I made a version of this cake – pink peppercorn chocolate cake with a cherry and kirsch reduction – for my final exams. It received rave reviews and I scored the highest marks in my baking class from my chef instructor. Thank you Jean-Georges! Imagine how absolutely giddy and excited I was when, a year later, fortunate enough to be having dinner at his namesake restaurant, Jean-Georges, one of the best ranked restaurants in the country, I saw him standing there as we walked in. He looked resplendent in his chef whites. I just stood there stammering and swooning. Nine years later, I still rank that meal as the BEST meal I’ve ever had in my life!!! Yes, of course, I had the cake.

This time around, I added some instant espresso in the batter which really intensifies the chocolate flavor of the cake and topped it with Kahlua buttercream. (That’s a nod to fellow blogger, Christine!) The recipe calls for dusting the molds with flour, but I usually use a mixture of flour and cocoa for presentation purposes since using only flour leaves a white residue on the cake. The soft, warm chocolate center really just oozes out. Isn’t it just a gorgeous dessert?

Molten Espresso Cake with Kahlua Buttercream
Espresso Cake adapted from Jean-Georges: Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef
Kahlua Buttercream adapted from Annie’s Eats
Yields 6 individual cakes

For the Kahlua Buttercream
6 tablespoons butter, softened
2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 tablespoon Kahlua, or to taste (I used Kahlua Hazelnut)
1 tablespoon heavy cream

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add the sugar and beat until well incorporated. Add desired amount of Kahlua and the heavy cream and beat on medium-high speed until the buttercream is light and fluffly, about 4 minutes. Set aside.

For the Molten Espresso Cake
1/2 cup unsalted butter, plus more to butter the molds
4 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate like Valrhona or Callebaut
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
2 teaspoons flour, plus 1 tablespoon for dusting
1 tablespoon cocoa, for dusting (optional, I used a Mexican-style cocoa)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

In a bowl set over simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate together until almost completely melted. While that’s heating, beat together the eggs, yolks, and sugar with a whisk or in the bowl of a stand mixer until light and thick.

Mix together the melted chocolate and butter; it should be quite warm. Slowly pour in the egg mixture, mixing, then quickly beat in the 2 teaspoons of flour, just until combined.

Combine the 1 tablespoon of flour and the cocoa in a bowl. Smear the butter on six small molds, custard cups, or ramekins. Lightly sprinkle the flour/cocoa mixture into the molds and tap out the excess. Make sure to cover the sides of the mold, up to the top for easier removal of the cake after baking. Divide the batter among the molds. (At this point you can refrigerate the desserts until you are ready to eat, for up to several hours; bring them back to room temperature before baking.)

Bake the molds on a tray for 6 to 7 minutes; the center will still be quite soft, but the sides will be set.

Invert each mold onto a plate and let sit for about 10 seconds. Unmold by lifting up one corner of the mold; the cake will fall out onto the plate.

Cool slightly and pipe the Kahlua buttercream on top or on the side, if the cake is too hot or the buttercream will melt.

Serve immediately.


21 thoughts on “molten espresso cake with kahlua buttercream

  1. This is a molten expresso cake.. however in the steps of making it there’s no use of it. Its in the ingredients list but not in the steps. What happened to it?

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  3. newbie here! when you said 2 eggs and 2 yolks did you mean 2 egg “whites” ???

    so recipe would be 2 egg whites and 2 yolks??


    • Hi, Selle! Welcome!

      The recipe calls for 2 whole eggs (white and yolks) and 2 yolks (save the whites for something else). You need 4 eggs altogether.


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    Daisy, your cake looks gorgeous! I just wanna run my fingers through that gooey chocolate run-out. 🙂

    Aaaaand now I wanna go check out Jean-George’s restaurant in Vancouver. It’s at the tallest, most ritzy building in the city, the Shangri-La. I’d better start saving now, haha!

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