1990s: Gooey chocolate cakes migrate to other restaurants: Le Bernardin, Mondrian, March Restaurant, to name a few. (When Tom Colicchio puts a chocolate ganache cake on the menu at Mondrian, he credits Bras, with whom he worked in the summer of 1989.) At Mesa Grill, Bobby Flay serves a cake spiced with ancho chili that, like Bras’s, has ganache baked into the middle. On the west coast, Wolfgang Puck puts a chocolate surprise cake on the menu at Spago; Nancy Silverton serves a similar cake at Campanile in Los Angeles. And the Hot Chocolate Lava Cake, a cake that bears resemblance to Michel Bras’s coulant, appears on the menu at Chart House. The restaurant chain, owned by Landry’s, still serves the cake today: “A rich chocolate cake with molten center, made with Godiva® liqueur. Served warm, topped with chocolate sauce, Heath® bar crunch and vanilla ice cream.”
“Can I tempt you with dessert?” asked the waiter. “The marquise au pistachio is fabulous. To die for. Or there’s a warm molten chocolate cake that’s really sinful.”
“I want chocolate cake!” said Annie.
Tom looked at Claire. She shook her head. “Nothing for me,” she said.
“Are you sure?” the waiter asked conspiratorially, wickedly.
In Gay G. Gunn’s Pride and Joi, the titular character (Joi) is torn between “passion or privilege”: a man who stimulates her mind or a financially-secure-but-boring guy. When the boring guy orders a straitlaced stone-fruit cobbler, she opts for decadence: “They shared a Caesar salad and mountains of crusty bread before settling on dessert: peach cobbler for him, and for her, chocolate decadence cake with white chocolate lava center and a spiral of whipped cream.”
2001: By 2001, the molten cake debuts at casual-dining restaurant chains. Chili’s introduces a Molten Chocolate Cake topped with vanilla ice cream (which is itself encased in magical, crunchy chocolate shell). The Chili’s version remains the chain’s best-selling dessert. (If consumed in its entirety, it will supply you with 1,030 caloric units of energy.) Almost simultaneously, the Triple Chocolate Meltdown appears on the menu at Applebee’s, a Molten Chocolate Lava Cake comes to California Pizza Kitchen, and Bennigan’s trademarks its Death by Chocolate.
2005: Betty Crocker releases Warm Delights, which are essentially single-serving bowls of cake mix. To enjoy a Warm Delight, simply add water, microwave, then top with the contents of the premade fudge packet. With Warm Delights, “You’re just three minutes away from heaven!” When Warm Delights are first released, Josh Resnik, Betty Crocker’s marketing manager, announces that “Betty Crocker Warm Delights is the perfect complement to those treasured little luxuries such as chick flicks, romance novels, or a long, hot bath. Just a minute in the microwave and you are on your way to the ultimate relaxation experience, without all the stress of putting it together.” Luxury and romance, needless to say, remain part of the cakes’ wide appeal.
2009: In 2009, just when you thought that Warm Delights were the terminus point in the molten chocolate trickle-down, your mother forwards you a recipe for “5 minute chocolate mug cake.” This is a cake whose Jean-Georges-reminiscent contents are assembled, mixed in a mug, and then microwaved. The result is a single-serving chocolate cake with a slightly moist interior. The recipe ends, “Why is this the most dangerous cake recipe in the world? Because now we are only five minutes away from chocolate cake at any time of the day or night.” Then it instructs you to “send this to twenty of your chocolate-lovin’ friends.” It’s a challenge to pinpoint the provenance of the microwave mug cake: The recipe first appeared in inboxes around 2009, and since then it’s been all over the web, emailed far and posted wide.