Moelleux au chocolat is a French dessert consisting of a chocolate cake with a liquid center, often baked in individually sized portions. In English, this dessert is often called chocolate lava cake or molten chocolate cake because of the "molten" chocolate center. Individual cakes are often served in upscale restaurants, but the dessert is also relatively simple for even someone with little baking experience to bake in a home kitchen.
There is no consensus on where this dessert originated. New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten claimed to have accidentally invented molten chocolate cake in 1987 by removing a sponge cake from the oven too soon. Other sources say, however, that moelleux au chocolat is one of the oldest desserts in French cuisine. Yet another theory of its origin says that the cakes are based on a chocolate souffle cake recipe by Dione Lucas, who was one of the first to begin introducing French recipes to the United States in the 1940s.
Regardless of its origin, moelleux au chocolat does have characteristics of souffles, cakes, and even puddings. The cakes are probably most similar to a souffle cake, as recipes are generally flourless and the cakes sink in the center as they cool. Like both souffle and sponge cakes, chocolate lava cakes rely on beaten eggs for their texture and rising. The liquid center has a pudding-like consistency that thickens as it cools.
The primary ingredient in any moelleux au chocolat recipe is, of course, the chocolate. Since the cakes rely on the chocolate for their flavor, high-quality chocolate is important for a good cake. Most recipes call for bittersweet or dark baking chocolate. Some recipes include a little cocoa powder for even more chocolate flavor.
Eggs, butter, and sugar are the other essential ingredients for a molten chocolate cake. The butter is melted together with the chopped chocolate. Eggs and sugar are mixed in one of two ways: the whole eggs can be beaten together with the sugar, using a mixer to beat for a few minutes until the mixture becomes light and fluffy; alternatively, only the yolks are beaten into the sugar and the whites are beaten separately until they form peaks.
The melted chocolate and butter mixture is stirred into the egg and sugar mixture. If the egg whites were whipped separately, they are folded in last. Moelleux au chocolat can include additional ingredients such as vanilla or other flavoring extracts, espresso powder, and even sometimes flour.
Molten chocolate cakes are generally baked in individual ramekins, baking dishes, or muffin tins. They are baked only a few minutes in order to keep the center liquified and usually are served hot from the oven. Moelleux au chocolat can be served with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream, but it can also be eaten by itself.