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We tried the Reddit-famous mashed potato volcano — and it was a blast

Sure, mashed potatoes are great, but have you ever tried filling them with molten hot cheese?
Our potato volcano isn't the prettiest, but it sure is lavable.
Our potato volcano isn't the prettiest, but it sure is lavable.Emily Gerard / TODAY

If there’s one thing the enthusiastic home cooks of Reddit like more than old-timey recipes, it’s a gimmick. Put them together and you just might break the internet … or at least the Old_Recipes subreddit. Hungry and bored the other day (a real 2020 mood), I came across a popular post from Redditor lilsebastian17 who had found a recipe for a mashed potato volcano in their grandmother's 1942 edition of "Joy of Cooking." Despite never having seen or heard of one, I could picture it immediately. Who could resist something called a potato volcano? Not quarantine Emily, that's for sure.

At TODAY Food, we've had tasty results verifying the colorfully named and Reddit-famous "Red Dog Toast" and so-called "murder cookies." A potato volcano seems like something that should be served at a dinner party, or at least to a big family. In my household of two, the only excuse I could think of to make it was that it would bring me joy, just as the original cookbook authors intended. We're getting joy where we can these days, people! Take it and run!

The recipe as it is written did become slightly more of a choose-your-own-adventure situation than I bargained for. First off, it assumes you are starting with mashed potatoes that are ready to go. OK, so use your favorite method of making mashed potatoes or better yet, plan to do this next time you have three cups left over. Shape your mashed potatoes into a mound and dig out the center. For this part, I abandoned the 1940s housewife I had been channeling and tapped into my inner child instead. It is contemplative, soothing. Less soothing is figuring out how to “melt 1/3 cup butter.” I don't know how butter was sold in 1942, but my butter comes in half-cup sticks of 8 tablespoons. I did my best to guess this amount and rounded up just to be safe (more butter makes me feel more safe). You combine it with egg yolks, seasoning and grated cheese — no kind specified! Drunk on power, I chose shredded cheddar and hoped for the best.

Then, all that's left to do is funnel it inside the volcano's core and pat the whole thing down with more melted butter and an unspecified amount of breadcrumbs. I used homemade breadcrumbs that were rather irregularly sized. My volcano began to look very sedimentary, indeed. The recipe says to bake until "brown" at 380 F, a temperature I can say with confidence I have never once used. What an adventure! These are the kinds of adventures we are allowed to have when stay-at-home orders are in effect.

Will this cheese-filled volcano erupt?
Will this cheese-filled volcano erupt?Emily Gerard / TODAY

Due to the rocky boulders of my breadcrumbs, my volcano browned unevenly. You may have better luck with store-bought, uniformly sized breadcrumbs. Although burning it might have been thematic, I was not about to let this experiment become inedible. I took it out, cut into the center and held my breath for cheese lava to come oozing out. Nothing happened. I poked around my mashed potato mountain, destroying the aesthetics and wondering if cheddar was a bad cheese choice. The recipe offers an option to "Try filling with Welsh Rarebit, page 193." Of course, I didn't have access to page 193, so this was a moot point for me, but now I wonder if it's the key to a volcano of more dramatic effect.

My cheese lava didn't ooze out dramatically, but it was still delicious.
My cheese lava didn't ooze out dramatically, but it was still delicious.Emily Gerard / TODAY

Ah, well. The dish was delicious. If you have ever eaten mashed potatoes and thought, "What if they were crispy and also cheesy?" this recipe is for you. My pretend dinner guests and I dug in while talking about the trips we'd just returned from, movies we’d seen recently in theaters, new restaurants we'd been scouting out and absolutely nothing that rhymes with "shmoronavirus" or "shmandemic." My lava failed to flow, but it made a welcome destination for my fork. I want to crawl inside this hot core of molten cheese and stay there, ideally until I can get a vaccine. It's a potato volcano vacation!