Warm chocoate cream cakes

Individual warm chocolate cakes, those delicate mounds of dark chocolate goodness that run onto your plate when pierced with a fork — they've virtually disappeared from restaurant menus. And I can't say I'm disappointed. They were everywhere in the nineties. I couldn't open a dessert menu without seeing a "signature" warm chocolate cream topping the list. How could it be a signature dish when it was featured on every menu in town?

Some chefs embellished the hot chocolate creams with more interesting elements than others (I was a sucker for the peppermint ice cream the accompanied Rialto's warm chocolate cream one winter). Even so, I got tired of funneling ramekin after ramekin of chocolate cream mix into the oven when I worked pastry service at the restaurant. Why wouldn't the guests branch out and try something new? A luscious fruit pie or elegant opera cake, a slice of pecan pie studded with dried cranberries, or a vibrant lemon tart?

Rant over. I must admit that I chose the warm lava cake at the Nasher Musem Cafe last week. Having just been diagnosed with shingles (don't look it up until you've finished reading), I swung by the cafe and decided to drown my sorrows in something sugary.

Dark Chocolate Lava Cake with Amarena Cherry Gelato sounded pretty good. Time to get over my dessert issues and enjoy. Sadly, this was not the best warm chocolate cake I've had. The chocolate wasn't particularly tasty or rich and the cake was slightly overcooked, so there wasn't much chocolaty goo to go around. But scooping the warm chocolate crumbs onto a spoon with a bit of cherry gelato, well, that was quite nice. Dessert and a handful of prescription drugs made me forget my sorrows for a while.

Making hot chocolate creams at home is a snap. If you're not afraid to offer them at a dinner party (maybe it's old enough to be retro rather than blase?), try my favorite version, taken from Jody Adams, chef of the restaurant where I once worked. This recipe appears in her cookbook, In the Hands of a Chef, a fabulous book that encourages people to spend more time in the kitchen.

Oh, and the next time you check a restaurant menu, know that warm or hot chocolate cake, hot lava cake, hot chocolate cream — these are usually the same thing. Just check with your server.

Hot Chocolate Creams from Provence
Adapted from In the Hands of a Chef
Serves 4

9 tablespoons of unsalted butter
2 teaspoons of unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 pound of semisweet chocolate, chopped into 1-inch pieces
4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
6 tablespoons of sugar

Note: The chocolate mixture can be made a day ahead (we did this at the restaurant); prepare and refrigerate. Let it come up to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease for 4-ounce ramekins with 1 tablespoons of butter and then dust each with 1/2 teaspoon of flour.

Melt the chocolate 8 tablespoons of butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  When the chocolate begins to melt, remove from the heat and beat until smooth. (If making ahead, cover and refrigerate for up to one night. Bring to room temperature before continuing.)

Beat the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until the sugar dissolves and the eggs are foamy. Fold this mixture into the eggs.

Pour the chocolate mixture into the prepared ramekins. Bake for 12 minutes, or until just set — the centers will be slightly liquid. Let stand for 3 to 4 minutes, then turn out onto warm plates and serve.

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