The first time I ever tried a molten chocolate cake I was at a restaurant called Shallots in my home town of Chicago. At Shallots they topped the cake with a solid disk of chocolate which allowed them to label the desert the “Top Hat.” I remember vividly as they brought the gleaming white plate to my table, its centerpiece was a round chocolate cake the size of a silver dollar and about the thickness of a hockey puck. The plate was further dressed with plump berries, chocolate drizzle, snowy powdered sugar and a dollop of parve ice cream all in a very artful fashion. I speared the cake with my tiny desert spoon and as I did, it released a wave of hot chocolate ooze that creeping its way over my plate, commingled with the berries. I remember thinking at the time that desert didn’t get better than this and that surely no confection in the world could stand up to the awesome goodness of what I had just eaten.
Imagine my surprise upon moving to New York and learning that here too there was a version of this desert. Except here it was called “The Opera” or “Lava Cake”. In fact the more restaurants I went to the more I realized that there is some manifestation of this cake at almost every kosher restaurant in New York. “Strange”, I thought, but I wrote it off as ‘imitation being the sincerest form of flattery’ and perhaps I was growing tired of pastry chefs and my palate began to sophisticate causing me to desire a less rich ending to the meals that I was eating but still all around me I saw tables ordering the Molten Chocolate Cake undisputed King of the kosher desert scene.
Eventually, as all Jews do, I found myself covering Kosherfest and while I was wandering the aisles I came upon a man whose exhibit featured huge plates of nothing but molten factory made chocolate cakes, packaged, frozen and shipped. These confections were microwave ready and only needed to be plated and garnished in order to create the home made illusion. He had been doing this for a number of years and sold to some of the most prestigious kosher restaurants in the business. Learning that nine times out of ten the single most regularly ordered kosher desert was something you could pull out of a freezer safe box and nuke, solidified the momentum I had already begun building in trying other deserts when I ate out. I began asking the all important question “is that made in-house?’ every time a waiter would list the deserts for me. I learned that despite the molten chocolate cake regularly being brought in, many of the other deserts served throughout kosherdom are in fact home made and over the years as I have sampled my way through them, eating some truly wonderful things. But knowledge is useless if not shared so here is a short list of deserts and their descriptions that I can thoroughly recommend and that I urge my loyal readers to try the next time you dine out.
Lemon meringue tart from Pardes. This tart is sweet, creamy and refreshing. It serves as a perfect end to a meal. I also have it on very good authority that Chef Wendel at Pardes makes an amazing Chestnut Soup with chocolate flan that I have not yet had the opportunity to try but am eager to sample.
Roasted Pear at Prime KO. Roasting the pear caramelizes the fruits natural sugar making the depth of sweetness much greater while not being cloying. It’s served with a ginger ice cream that works beautifully with the dish
Va’Bene’s Fragole con Zabaglione. Zabaglione is an exceptionally light custard made with a sweet white wine. The body of this desert is ethereal making for a very light finishing course. Despite it’s lightness it is very flavorful and is prob the best kosher Zabaglione served outside of Italy. Va’Bene also makes a really stellar tiramisu if you feel the need to augment your desert with something a little more substantial.
Apple Cinnamon Bread Pudding from Wolf and Lamb. Served with a warm apple chutney this desert could easily be breakfast. Even though it it almost exclusively carbohydrates I found the bread pudding to be very light and tasty.
Le Marais Marquise au Chocolat. This is the dish for any serious chocolate lover. It is a mousse cake with a crust of pine nuts and candies citrus accents. The mousse is rich and velvety with just enough crunch from the pine nuts while the citrus cuts through the richness keeping this dish from being overpowering.
To any and all reading this feel free to send me your desert recommendations to either my email [email protected]or @TheKosherCritic on Twitter