Lava Cake: A Volcanic Eruption of Delights
Lava cake, also known as Molten Chocolate Cake, is a fancy delicacy that has earned itself a place in the inner circle of the world’s most popular desserts. At first glance, it looks like an ordinary chocolate cake, but once cut open, it releases a creamy chocolate coulis reminiscent of a volcanic eruption, giving it its English name. Blending perfectly the soft and molten chocolatey textures, it offers all chocolate aficionados an extremely satisfying experience, both visually and in terms of taste. It is also renowned as the ultimate romantic dessert. Thus, it is very popular during Valentine’s Day.
Classic Molten Chocolate Cake (Les Échos)
In this blog post, we take a look at this extraordinary dessert, its history and variations, and take the opportunity to learn more about volcanoes.
A lava cake with ice cream cut open to reveal its cascading liquid centre (Giphy)
Lava Cake: Who Created It?
In the U.S., French chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is often credited with this invention. He is said to have created it in 1987 “by mistake” when he failed to properly bake a large quantity of cupcakes for his mother’s birthday party. As the oven temperature was not adequately adjusted to the large number of portions to be baked, the center of these cakes did not harden to the same level as the outer layer. This lucky incident was such a hit with the guests that he wasted no time in offering it successfully in his New York restaurant Lafayette. But it wasn’t until 1991, when he added it to the menu of his restaurant JoJo, also in New York, that the lava cake gained considerable fame, becoming a staple of fine dining, before conquering the whole country and getting affordable and available just about everywhere.
However, on closer examination, it appears that it was on the other side of the Atlantic that this cake made its first appearance on a restaurant menu. Indeed, French chef Michel Bras (now considered the most influential chef in the world by his peers) is said to be the first to have imagined such a dessert: as he sipped a comforting hot chocolate with his wife and children after a long day’s skiing, he was inspired to capture the magical atmosphere of that moment in a cake. It took him two years to perfect the recipe as he had imagined it. The addition of this cake to the menu of his restaurant in the small town of Laguiole in 1981 was an immediate success, and customers from far and wide made the trip especially to taste it.
When asked about his opinion on the authorship of this dessert, he ironically replied that he didn’t know whether Mr. Vongerichten had plagiarized it but that he did know that one of the JoJo cooks at the time had previously worked for him!
Michel Bras making a lava cake (France 3)
How Is It Made?
Leaving aside the quarrels over the authorship of lava cake, we see that the two chefs actually use different approaches to achieve the same spectacular result.
For Mr. Vongerichten, the cake batter is prepared in a few minutes in the microwave, then spooned into muffin tins and baked so that the outer crust is solid without the center having had time to firm up. This recipe is the easiest to make and the most popular in North America.
For Mr. Bras, a frozen chocolate ganache is inserted into a light dough made from rice flour and almond powder. After a brief cooking at high temperature, the pastry is baked but the center remains runny, as the frozen ganache has just had time to melt, returning to its liquid state. This version is preferred by gourmet restaurants.
Whichever way you prepare it, it is often drizzled with melted chocolate and served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, which creates a delicious contrast with the melting warmth of the chocolate.
Green tea lava cake (Spot Dessert Bar)
Lava Cake: Surprising Variations
In addition to the classic cake, numerous adaptations of this dessert have been developed over the years by creative chefs, who have added their own touch of originality to this delicacy. However, none of these innovations has succeeded in dethroning the original version from its special place in the hearts of gourmets.
Some of these flavour variations, such as coffee, matcha, caramel and peanut butter, have proved popular with gourmet palates, adding an exquisite dimension to this dessert.
However, there are also some more surprising and daring adaptations that can leave you perplexed. Imagining a pumpkin, cheese, or even an onion lava cake may seem unusual, even unexpected, to those with a sweet tooth. These surprising variations defy the traditional expectations associated with lava cake, leaving room for lively debate among dessert connoisseurs.
San Cristobal volcanoe (Nicaragua)
Lava and Volcanoes
Americans call it Lava Cake, Argentinians call it volcán de chocolate… Which brings us to the subject of volcanoes!
Volcanologists estimate that there are around 1,432 active volcanoes in the world. Although there is no consensus within the scientific community, a volcano is generally considered active when it has been erupting for no more than a few decades. If it last erupted between 10,000 and a few hundred years ago, it is considered dormant. Finally, if it last erupted more than 10,000 years ago, it is said to be extinct. Some volcanoes are permanently active, while others only erupt periodically.
Today, between 500 and 600 million people worldwide live under the threat of a volcanic eruption. In fact, a large number of farming communities settle and thrive near volcanoes, despite the risk posed. This is because volcanic soils are highly fertile due to the high concentration of minerals and nutrients they contain.
What’s more, some volcanic regions attract a steady stream of tourists who come to admire the geysers, craters and unique volcanic landscapes, creating jobs and generating significant income for the surrounding communities.
Lava flow in Hawaii (Wikimedia)
However, when a volcanic eruption occurs, it can have dramatic and destructive effects on the surrounding area. The lava emitted is actually molten rock, which can vary in viscosity depending on its chemical composition and temperature. It can reach extremely high temperatures, from 500 to 1,200°C, which can cause considerable destruction when it comes into contact with inhabited areas, especially as it can flow at high speeds (up to 50 km/h) over long distances. When it cools in contact with the ground, atmosphere or water, lava can create new geological landscapes, forming volcanic rocks such as basalts and rhyolites.
Today, although it is impossible to predict the exact occurrence of a volcanic eruption, the trend is towards continuous monitoring of active volcanoes deemed to be dangerous using remote-controlled devices. Measurements are transmitted to monitoring observatories, which can issue alerts and recommend evacuation when significant changes are detected.
Whether you’re looking for an indulgent break on your own or to create a romantic atmosphere with your significant other, lava cake is sure to delight you.