When it comes to building a hit dessert menu, presentation sells. No matter your customer base –gourmands, families, tourists or millennials – the gooey oozing burble from the heart of a round chocolate cake encourages dessert sales.
The chocolate lava cake has a spot on nine percent of all menus, trailing only carrot cake in ubiquity, according to Datassential’s 2017 MenuTrends report. Once lava cake is added to the dessert menu, it’s often difficult to pry it off, as they sell all year and turn a profit.
“The first time you try a chocolate lava cake, it’s like magic,” says Chef Wade Wiestling, vice president of culinary development for the Morton’s steakhouse chain, whose classic take on the dessert has been a bestseller for over two decades. “But they’re actually quite easy to make.”
The dessert can be pumped out of limited space and has a concise ingredient list that allows new pastry recruits to master the prep quickly. But the cake’s enduring popularity – and recent renaissance – is mostly due to the ease of tweaking it.
At Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery in St. Louis, owner Tamara Keefe uses high-gluten bread flour to produce a chewier texture and folds a Madagascar chocolate candy bar into the center to amp up its richness. Woodlands Resort in Woodlands, Texas, uses an Itakuja chocolate that’s double fermented in passion fruit pulp to add subtle citrus notes. Chef Ryan Witcher then adds espresso ice cream, candied Satsuma zest and a passion fruit caramel sauce.
Check out these three dessert trends that bake new life into the lava cake.
1. BREAK THE MOLD
Inspired by classic Jersey Shore “waffle ice cream” sandwiches, David Burke bakes a traditional chocolate lava cake between two cocoa-flavored waffles at Tavern 62 in New York. They sell like hotcakes because a hint of maple syrup anglaise and scoops of cinnamon ice cream blend the familiarity of breakfast with the luxury of dessert.
WHY IT SELLS: By ensuring his lava waffles are an easily dividable dessert, Burke allows diners to spread the calories around and increase the price. “Charging $8 or $10 for a dessert can be a waste of labor,” says Burke. “Making a shared dessert takes as much time but allows for higher prices.”
2. SWEET AND SAVORY
To avoid single-note chocolate flavors, Jennifer Paul of Canoe in Atlanta fills her cake with a peanut butter ganache and pairs it with crispy peanut butter brittle and bacon-praline ice cream. Adding extra salt to the peanut butter and brown sugar to the pralines allows the dish’s nutty flavors to take center stage and latch onto the bacon, creating a country strong profile (yes, Elvis) that stands up to the chocolate.
WHY THEY SELL: Diners love peanut butter cups – a flavor uncommon in lava form – but it’s the prospect of eating bacon-praline ice cream that often reels people in. “People look at it,” says Paul, “and they say to themselves, ‘We’re probably not going to be able to get this anywhere else.’”
3. ADD TEXTURE TO LAVA CAKES
At his eponymous restaurant Makoto in Miami Beach, Florida, Japanese-born Chef Makoto Okuwa uses a lava cake framework to pay homage to three favorites: fudge brownies, caramel and ice cream cones. His lava cake is filled with miso, passion fruit and white chocolate – a saltier, more acidic take on caramel – and paired with ice cream rolled in rice cracker bits to mimic the crunchiness of a cone. Then his sake foam adds a wisp of Japanese flavors.
WHY IT SELLS: Okuwa’s sake-scented version fills the restaurant with floral aromas and each plate is a real looker, including trails of berries for extra color.
MAKE SOME LAVA
- For maximum meltability, prepare the cakes just prior to service.
- Thoroughly mix all base ingredients to eliminate flour pockets.
- Over-whipping incorporates too much air, creating a soufflé rather than lava.
- Let the batter rest so the fats solidify, and the rise is even.
- Be sure to adequately grease molds to prevent sticking.
- Don’t even think about overbaking. When it doubt, pull from the oven.
- During dessert rush, under-bake large batches, then reheat during service.