When was the last time you ate melted chocolate cake? Or even more specific, when was the last time you baked a melted chocolate cake at home? If the answer is anything other than “recently” and you don’t have a particular aversion to chocolate, it might be time to reset the clock. It may be that, for reasons of year of birth or opportunity, you have never tasted this once high-end dessert of the 90s and that you come to it stripped of all cultural baggage, like an empty vase that has not yet been filled with his pleasures. Or, you can come loaded with the sentiment at the heart of Jon Favreau’s 2014 film Chief, where the “chocolate lava cake” is presented as the avatar of a kitchen with an antiquated white tablecloth (“out of place” in the words of the food critic of the film, played by Oliver Platt, brother of the real food critic of the New York Magazine, Adam Platt). You may have come across too many mediocre renditions, as melted chocolate cake remains ubiquitous in every restaurant, grocery store freezers, and even at Hershey’s Kisses and Ding Dongs — the “Big Mac of desserts” as the called author Mark Bittman in 2013. Whatever the reason, it’s time for all barriers to his pleasures to drop and for you to make melted chocolate cake at home as soon as possible.
My colleague Merlyn recently lamented that she wasted her time and money on a random and unsuccessful recipe for melted chocolate cake (which abound online as “melted lava cake”, “chocolate lava cake”, ” au chocolat Valrhona”, “chocolate truffle cake”. “, etc.) rather than following the classic Jean-Georges Vongerichten recipe that we have here on the old Food & Wine website. It should be noted that the chef World-renowned Michel Bras is often credited with originating the shape – a liquid chocolate center surrounded by a more firmly baked cake – as a “chocolate coulant” in 1981, but his method has some differences fundamentals of the JGV version that exploded into every restaurant in New York some six years later.The idea that melted chocolate cake is simply undercooked is a huge point of contention for ChiefCarl Casper, titular, when the aforementioned reviewer claims he “didn’t even have the guts not to bake the cake” because Bras achieved the double consistency by encasing a cylinder of frozen ganache in cookie dough. Vongerichten’s recipe, however, is not so much undercooked – which sounds more like a faux pas than a method – but carefully controls the cooking of a batter made from tempered egg, sugar, salt and flour, with melted sweet and sour Valrhona chocolate. A little finicky, yes, but infinitely more home-cooking friendly than trying to whip up a competent ganache from the get-go.
We don’t tend to be hyperbolic around these parts – 44 years of publishing tends to blame you for the supremacy of a particular method, chef or dish – but Food & Wine said Vongerichten’s recipe was “perfect” when it aired in 1999, and it hasn’t diminished with age. With a little practice, perhaps cooling the batter in individual ramekins and baking them one at a time in your first batch, this dessert is almost magically easy to master. Plus, these cakes come together in less than an hour, and once you’ve reached your comfort level, they’re endlessly adaptable to your tastes. Want peanut butter in the mix? Make a ball in the center or follow this recipe. The same goes for jam or preserves, marshmallow, caramel, cheese (don’t hate it until you try it) or any other melting substance you can imagine. You can even add hot spices, hot sauce, instant coffee crystals, candy, or whatever your heart desires to the mix. Serve it with ice cream or sauce. Experiment until your senses burst with joy, critics and snobs be damned. Molten chocolate lava cake (or whatever you call it) is a delight that transcends decades. And yeah, that’s a hill I’m ready to die on.