It used to dominate restaurant menus across the country, and for good reason.

By Adina Steiman
Updated February 04, 2020
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Remember molten chocolate cake? Like plaid shirts and flowy floral dresses, it was a staple of the '90s. And if food trends follow style trends at all, this iconic dessert is definitely due for a comeback. Sure, plenty of chefs these days turn up their noses at it and consider it hopelessly passé, but that doesn't matter—molten chocolate cake was always secretly a dessert for the home cook anyway.

Tender little chocolate cakes that mix up in a flash and bake in 12 minutes are the very definition of doable weeknight dessert. While you could always serve them to your loved one (or ones) for Valentine's Day, the essential brilliance of this recipe is how easily it slips into any dinner scenario. I defy you to name a meal that wouldn't be improved by a chocolate dessert that oozes (sorry, I have to use that word because that is what this cake does) more chocolate. What's more, the cake itself is practically all chocolate (and eggs and butter)—there's only 2 tablespoons of flour for the entire recipe.

Jennifer Causey

Like most iconic recipes, the origins of the molten chocolate cake are shrouded in history and conflicting accounts (Food & Wine Restaurant Editor Khushbu Shah sums up the saga here). It seems that molten chocolate cake originated as either an accidentally underbaked cake (made by Jean-Georges Vongerichten) or cake with a ball of frozen ganache in its middle that melted in the oven (made by Michel Bras). I choose to believe the former, since it's the underbaked version that's kindest to us time-strapped cooks who can barely manage a main course, let alone dessert.

The only tricky thing about this recipe is timing. You'll want to serve the cakes right when they come out of the oven. You can either start making the dessert about a half hour before you want to serve it, or prep the batter and pour it into the ramekins a few hours in advance, stashing the unbaked cakes in the fridge and adding a few minutes to the bake time to compensate for the chill. Settle on your strategy, and then the only thing to do is:

1. Gently melt the butter and chocolate

First, preheat your oven to 450F. Yes, 450F. The high heat, combined with the small baking pans, is what delivers cakes with a fully baked exterior and a molten middle. After buttering and flouring four ramekins, you'll melt some butter and bittersweet chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water. Don't have a double boiler? Neither do I. Just use a large heatproof glass or metal bowl set over a saucepan of water instead.

2. Whisk the eggs, yolks, sugar, and salt

Next, the eggs. Use an electric mixer (a hand mixer works great here) to beat the whole eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and salt until lusciously thick and pale—almost beige. All the air you're beating in adds loft to the cake without the need for leaveners like baking powder.

3. Combine with flour and (barely) bake

Now's the time to move fast. Quickly whisk the chocolate-and-butter mixture to combine, then fold it into that silken egg mixture along with that tiny amount of flour. Keep folding—and rotating the bowl—until no streaks of flour remain and the mixture is just blended, then divide among the ramekins and transfer on a baking sheet to the oven. Bake until the outsides are firm but the middle is soft (I'd start checking the cakes after 10 minutes). Let cakes stand in their ramekins for 1 minute, then invert onto dessert plates and wait 10 seconds before removing the ramekins.

4. Serve with... everything

These cakes make a statement all on their own, oozing their insides onto white plates. But you can also dust them with powdered sugar or crushed pistachios, or top them with whipped cream, or pair them with ice cream or berries or creme anglaise. The same versatility that allowed the molten chocolate cake to infiltrate countless restaurant menus will make it easy for you to dream up your own take on it. Just don't say it's only for Valentine's Day.

Get the Recipe: Molten Chocolate Cakes