For Gooey Lava Cake, Avoid Using Chocolate Chips

If you dined out at a restaurant anytime between the late 1980s and the early aughts, you almost certainly spied an ever-present dessert option on the menu: We're talking, of course, about molten chocolate cake, also known as lava cake. A sweets all-star of the '90s, according to Thrillist, the cooked-on-the-outside, runny-on-the-inside individual chocolate cake is laid claim to by two French chefs: Michel Bras and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. But whoever first stirred together this pastry icon, the dessert had taken over restaurants of all stripes by 1991, The New York Times reported that year, with chef Alain Ducasse telling the paper that "it reached a point where we were practically obliged to make it."

Today, molten chocolate cake — which features a runny, spill-able center that "reminds you of when you were a kid and licked the batter bowl," per chef Wayne Nish in the Times — has faded somewhat from its glory days, but can still be found on restaurant menus here and there (via Thrillist). If you happen to be a superfan of the dessert and lament its fall from grace, know that lava cake can be made at home fairly easy, using ramekins to create the individual desserts. But when you're heading to the grocery store to pick up the ingredients, make sure to avoid selecting chocolate chips.

Chocolate chips don't melt very well

There are a couple of ways to make molten chocolate cakes at home. One method, which was possibly how inventor Jean-Georges Vongerichten made the cakes, is simply to bake chocolate cake batter in ramekins, reducing the bake time so the center remains runny (via Thrillist). But the other possible inventor of the cakes, Michel Bras, utilized a different technique, preparing balls of chocolate ganache that he would freeze and then pop into the center of ramekins filled with chocolate cake batter. As the cakes baked, the ganache melted, creating the runny pool of "lava" when the dessert was cut into.

Many recipes for lava cake call upon the latter technique, but when you create your chocolate ganache — which is simply chocolate melted into heavy cream — make sure to reach for a high-quality bar of chocolate, and don't simply rely on the bag of chips you might already have at home. 

As explained by Kitchn, chocolate chips contain added stabilizers such as soy or sunflower lecithin, which help the chips keep their shape as they heat up in the oven. Therefore, chips don't melt as fluidly as chocolate without stabilizers, which is why you'll want to avoid them when making a cake whose success counts on its meltiness, Southern Living explains. So go for a bar — the higher-quality, the better — and enjoy a taste of this rich dessert that will take you right back to the 1990s.