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Give your lucky guests this chocolate surprise

When Valentine's Day beckons, with its opportunities to demonstrate affection through food, it is nice to have something up your sleeve. Cupcakes are always pretty, with their individuality and the sense of something just for everyone at the table. But transform those cupcakes into Chocolate Lava cupcakes and you can have people sitting around the table who were never expecting something so delicious.

Everything seems to be indicated for Valentine's Day: special flowers, a lovely table, candles and music. And then there's the food: something special, by all means. The idea of "lava cakes" began some years ago when a chef figured out how to create a cake or cupcake with a liquid center. We could be coring and filling regular cupcakes here, but the thing about lava cakes is that they bake up with the liquid center straight from the mixing process.



8 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1 stick butter at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
4 large eggs at room temperature

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Prepare your muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a glass mixing bowl, using the microwave. Remove the bowl from the microwave and add the vanilla, sugar, flour, espresso powder and salt. Beat them with an electric hand mixer until the mixture is smooth.

Beat in the eggs one at a time until the batter gets light and creamy, about 4 minutes. Chill the mixture for 30 minutes.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins using a four-ounce measure and bake them for 10-11 minutes. Let them rest in the tins until they are warm to the touch and turn them out to serving plates. The outsides should look like cupcakes.

Garnish the lava muffins with ice cream, caramel sauce, fruit or whatever you like. Coffee ice cream is especially good.

A sneaky way to offer them is to sprinkle them with powdered sugar, just simply, and perhaps drizzle a little sauce on the serving plate. Wait until someone breakes one open and encounters the chocolate "lava" inside!

Your guests will find that the lava center of these muffins will act as another layer of sauce for the ice cream or whipped topping. This recipe will delight and amaze anyone lucky enough to encounter it on Valentine's Day.

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