Thursday, February 14, 2013

Like the molten chocolate cake at Arby's? So does dessert's famed creator

Francesco Tonelli
Warm Valrhona chocolate cake with cocoa bean brittle and vanilla bean ice cream prepared by chef Jean Georges and Chris Beischer of Mercer Kitchen in New York City.

By Krista Simmons, TODAY contributor

In a world where food trends are fleeting, it's comforting to know that some things stand the test of time. Jean-Georges Vongerichten's molten chocolate cake is one of those dishes, acting as a sweet and steady beacon of warm cocoa amidst decades of chef shifts, dazzling fusion, and mind-bending modernist technique. The dessert has become so popular since the Alsace-born chef introduced it in 1988, in fact, that it's now on Arby's fast food menu.

But it's not just chains that have glommed on. Everyone from the likes of fast casual concepts such as Chili's to the esteemed kitchens of Daniel Boulud have riffed on the idea. It's a natural pick-up because the dessert is inherently decadent, surprising and romantic.

And it's easy to play with. Its malleability and simplicity are what make it so attractive to chefs.

Chocolate pairs really well with so many flavors, like coconut, raspberry, passion fruit and caramel, so sorbet or ice cream flavors of that nature go perfectly alongside the ooey gooey cake.

Vongerichten likes to toy around with those flavors, as well as adding a little something special to the center on occasion.

“Keep the cake neutral and then play with the embellishments,” he told “You can put nuts or dried raisins or even a fried banana in the center. I baked one with raspberry, and it was delicious.”

When asked how he feels about Arby's adapting his recipe for the masses, Vongerichten seems flattered instead of being peeved. “When you deal with dessert and pastry, it’s a very exact science. They did a great job. I've tried it,” he said with a chuckle. “The original is better, of course. ”

It's a fascinating progression for a dessert that resulted from a kitchen mistake.

“It started with a warm moist sugar cupcakes we were preparing for a big party of 500 people,” Vongerichten told “The temperature dropped with that many in the oven. I almost ripped my hair out. I got a standing ovation for it.”

Twenty-five years later, you'll still find the warm chocolate cake on menus. Which isn't at all surprising if you've had a taste. As soon as your fork pierces into the warm center, a lava flow of luxurious chocolate oozes out. It's a visual pleasure that's similar to bursting the yolk of a perfectly fried egg.

“It's very sexy,” Vongerichten said. We agree.

Want to make these gorgeous cakes for your Valentine? Here's how it's done by Vongerichten:

Chocolate molten cake
Makes 4 individual cakes
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, preferably Valrhona
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 450°. Butter and lightly flour four 6-ounce ramekins. Tap out the excess flour. Set the ramekins on a baking sheet.

In a double boiler, over simmering water, melt the butter with the chocolate. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the egg yolks, sugar and salt at high speed until thickened and pale.

Whisk the chocolate until smooth. Quickly fold it into the egg mixture along with the flour. Spoon the batter into the prepared ramekins and bake for 12 minutes, or until the sides of the cakes are firm but the centers are soft. Let the cakes cool in the ramekins for 1 minute, then cover each with an inverted dessert plate. Carefully turn each one over, let stand for 10 seconds and then unmold. Serve immediately.

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