Slow Cooker Chocolate Lava Cake
TL;DR: We finally had an excuse to try a slow cooker dessert and found a crockpot lava cake that we can (sorta) recommend. This from-scratch dessert goes by many different names — slow cooker chocolate pudding cake, hot fudge cake, fudge brownies, crockpot lava cake, etc.
Wondering how to make a cake in a crockpot? Well, we spent years pondering why anyone would bother to make slow cooker desserts. Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should.
Back when the New York Times published Christina Tosi’s Crockpot Cake recipe, we considered giving it a try — but due to mixed reviews and a high degree of skepticism, we still have yet to do so. The most difficult thing about making a cake is mixing the batter — what is the advantage of extending the cooking time for inexact results? If you need dessert this badly, just buy a pint of ice cream.
Our take on slow cookers is that they are a tool to occasionally help with dinner — if used regularly for anything else it is almost a sure sign of someone who doesn’t know how to cook, or is afraid of cooking, and believes crockpots are a magical solution to a perceived problem. And despite the supposed popularity of crockpot desserts on social media, we had a hard time believing anyone was actually making them.
We polled everyone we knew, young and old, cooks and non-cooks. Nobody had ever made a dessert in the slow cooker. Nobody. But thanks to our teenagers, we found an excuse to try one.
The occasion? The teens were spending long weekend days at a local music festival. This meant inexact pickup times and late night snacking. When someone came home saying they had a hankering for brownies, it provided the perfect excuse to attempt a crockpot dessert the next night.
Of all the recipes we’d seen, the one that had the best shot of satisfying late night chocolate cravings was America Test Kitchen’s Slow Cooker Chocolate Pudding Cake. Plus we’d never baked or eaten pudding cake, meaning we didn’t have any expectations about the end result.
So, the next evening we started the “cake” before leaving to pickup the teenagers. And thanks to using a slow cooker, we did not worry when traffic was terrible or when other kids asked for rides home.
The Result: When we got home the slow cooker was waiting with a warm chocolate dessert — a chewy, brownie-like cake on the top with a pudding-style chocolate sauce on the bottom. While it wasn’t something we’d make for guests — and a batch of brownies or cookies made earlier in the day would have been just as easy — the hungry teenagers polished it off. So the next time your kids want something sweet to eat, you might try this crockpot version of a hot fudge pudding cake.
Slow Cooker Chocolate Lava Cake // Pudding Cake
Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (see baking notes below)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg yolk, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1 cup boiling water (bring a kettle of water to a boil and then measure out 1 cup)
For serving: powdered sugar for dusting, vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, fresh berries, shredded coconut, or chopped nuts
Lightly coat a 4-7 quart oval slow cooker with cooking spray. Whisk flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup cocoa, baking powder, espresso powder, and salt together in large bowl. In separate bowl, whisk together milk, butter, egg yolk, and vanilla. Stir milk mixture into flour mixture until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips (batter will be stiff).
Scrape batter into prepared slow cooker and spread to edges. Combine remaining 1/2 cup sugar and remaining 1/4 cup cocoa in clean bowl and sprinkle evenly over top of batter. Slowly pour boiling water evenly over top. Do NOT stir. Cover (see baking notes below) and cook until cake is puffed and cracked. A toothpick inserted into the cake part should come out with moist crumbs attached. Cooking time will depend on the size of your slow cooker, larger cookers will cook faster, plan to cook for 1-2 hours on HIGH or 3-4 hours on LOW.
Turn off the slow cooker and let cake sit for 10 minutes before serving. To serve: spoon into bowls and use your favorite toppings.
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Chocolate Pudding Cake.
Dutch-processed vs Natural Cocoa
There is a difference between Dutch-processed and natural cocoa powders due to different pH levels. In baked goods, different levels of acidity produce very different results in appearance, flavor, and texture. If a recipe only calls for ‘cocoa powder’, then you can take cues from the other ingredients. Does the recipe use more baking powder or baking soda? If mostly baking powder, then use Dutch-processed cocoa. If mostly baking soda, then use natural cocoa powder. And in recipes that don’t call for baking soda or baking powder — frosting, hot cocoa, pudding, etc. — feel free to use either type of cocoa.
Serious Eats goes in-depth on the differences in cocoa powders. Overall, Dutch process cocoa results in a richer flavor and darker color versus natural cocoa.
America’s Test Kitchen declares the brand Droste Cacao the best Dutch-processed cocoa and says it is worth seeking out.
Note, there are multiple versions of this ATK chocolate pudding cake recipe floating around, an older version specifies Dutch-process, another simply calls for unsweetened cocoa, and one of their books states that either type of cocoa works. Choose the cocoa your family will prefer.
Up the Chocolate Flavor
Using a touch of instant espresso powder makes chocolate taste more complex. Used in small amounts, your chocolate desserts won’t taste like coffee, they will just be more rich and intense. If you want a mocha flavor, just add more espresso powder. If you don’t have any espresso powder, simply omit the ingredient.
The Tea Towel Trick
To prevent condensation from dripping onto baked goods in the slow cooker, place a clean, folded kitchen towel or a few layers of paper towels between the lid and the slow cooker to absorb moisture. This is not a method endorsed by slow cooker manufacturers, so try this technique at your own risk.
avoid dark edges
To prevent the cake from having dark edges:
America’s Test Kitchen suggests a foil collar at the back of your slow cooker.
You could also try lining the pot with parchment paper before filling with the batter.
We’ve also seen a suggestion of turning the crockpot insert halfway through the cooking time. But if you are home to do this step, just bake a real cake.
Slow Cooker “Cakes”
Like it or not, this ooey-gooey type of soft cake is what you can expect from a slow cooker. If you are looking for different results, just use a traditional recipe and a regular oven.