Who can resist the allure of warm flowing chocolate in, on, or under almost anything? If there’s one dessert that brings to mind flowing chocolate, it’s the ever-popular molten chocolate cake, which has achieved iconic status on dessert menus. Baked in individual ramekins and unmolded hot, molten cakes reward us with a gush of heavenly sauce at the plunge of our forks. When they work, these homely little cakes can be a peak chocolate experience. But they can also fail—the “sauce” can disappear if baked a minute too long; the cake can rupture during the unmolding—and when they do, it’s maddening.
Recently, I set out to revise the molten chocolate cake concept to make it less tricky, more open to flavor variations, and yet as luxurious as ever. I wanted a moist and delicate cake with a truly melt-in-your-mouth texture, more like a slightly cakey soufflé than a traditional cake. And I wanted a superb bittersweet chocolate sauce to contrast perfectly with the cake. While I was at it, I decided to make a white chocolate version as well.
The first revelation was to serve the dessert in the ramekin in which it’s baked, thus eliminating the treacherous unmolding step. No more fiddling with hot ramekins with fingers crossed. It’s a relaxed and carefree presentation with a bonus: a relaxed and carefree host.
The antidote for disappearing sauce was less obvious. Many molten cake recipes require split-second timing. You bake the batter until it’s perfectly baked around the outside and perfectly underbaked in the center. This is all too perfect for me. A minute too long and the sauce has turned into cake. A better way to guarantee a pool of sauce is to set a lump of chilled, solidified chocolate sauce in the ramekin before pouring in the batter. This results in a moist, soufflé-like cake with a warm pool of melted sauce on the bottom. An extra minute or two in the oven isn’t going to make or break these cakes.
The separate sauce method also allows for the addition of flavorings, which led me to the raspberry-chocolate sauce for the white chocolate cake and an espresso sauce for the dark chocolate cake. I’ve also experimented with an excellent orange-chocolate sauce by replacing the raspberry purée with a little orange juice, orange liqueur, and grated orange zest.
Finally, let me dispel the notion that a recipe with soufflé in its title is scary and difficult. If the S-word gives you visions of Audrey Hepburn’s character Sabrina cowering before an imperious chef instructor because her soufflé didn’t rise high enough, just listen to this: What “they” don’t want you to know is that most chocolate soufflés, and certainly the little soufflé cakes I’ve created here, are even more flavorful after they’ve cooled and deflated slightly. Also, my dark chocolate soufflé cake isn’t intended to rise much in the first place. The white chocolate recipe may indeed rise well above the rim of the ramekin (but don’t panic if it doesn’t), and you can serve it at peak height or purposely wait until it cools a little for fuller flavor. After trying these luxurious little desserts, I think you’ll find that I’ve taken the worry out of producing them at home.
The secret to a hidden sauce
Start by pouring a mixture of melted chocolate and butter into a puddle on a pie plate. Freeze until firm and then scoop into six rough balls.
Put one chocolate ball in the center of each ramekin and spoon the batter on top. As the cakes bake, the chocolate melts into a warm, sumptuous sauce.