When I hit the road, I always make a point to seek out awesome food. So when business travel brought me to Seattle, I knew that I needed to sample some of the city's tastiest desserts. I'll never say no to chocolate in any form, especially when it takes the form of a freshly baked molten chocolate cake. We gave you a first look at Hot Cakes Molten Chocolate Cakery in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood soon after it opened. In the time since, it's been drawing lines out the door for their menu of molten cakes, boozy milkshakes with sophisticated pairings like Scotch and smoked chocolate, and other decadent treats.
Because, no surprise, everything looks so good, you'll need a guide to ordering. And how could we give you that intel other than by trying all the items? So we did just that, trying all the items written on their chalkboard menu the day of our visit (as opposed to trying their takeaway sauces and cookies). Note: the folks at Hot Cakes rotate their menu on a regular basis to switch in seasonal ingredients, so be sure to check out their website to see what the latest offerings are.
They are open most days from 11:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m., though the locals I've spoken to say the later in the day it gets, the more crowded the shop is liable to be. Monday through Friday they have $5 happy hour specials. Without further ado, here's a peek at the eats.
Molten Chocolate Cakes
The namesake cakes require 10 to 15 minutes for baking, but are well worth the wait.
Dark Decadence Molten Cake
This cake ($8) is made with Seattle's Theo chocolate, salted caramel and nib toffee, and served up with vanilla ice cream. It's dark and decadent, and it's also the original, the alpha molten cake, if you will. How good is it? Good enough that you might consider breaking up with someone just to justify eating this. The word fudge-tacular comes to mind. Chocoholics, this is your cake for date night or when you want to treat yourself. For folks with dietary restrictions, this is both gluten-free and dairy-free (if you skip the ice cream, that is).
Hazelnut Molten Cake
A molten cake with a Nutella-like center? Glory! This cake ($8) is ridiculously rich and was the seasonal offering when we made our visit. The hazelnut is a perfect counterpoint to the dark chocolate, creating an overall vibe that's a little more bitter than the other molten cakes but a must try for dark chocolate fanciers and those who can't get enough Nutella. A scoop of vanilla ice cream rounds this dessert out nicely.
Vegan Dark Chocolate Molten Cake
If you're vegan, you'll rejoice, for this is a ridiculously good molten chocolate cake ($8). If you're not vegan, don't worry, it's so big on flavor that you won't even miss the dairy. Somehow the texture of this cake seemed, if possible, more molten, more dark and rich than the non-vegan cakes. What's the white stuff on the side, you ask? Vegan coconut ice cream drizzled with vegan salted caramel sauce—and it's delicious.
Peanut Butter Molten Cake
You might want to order a glass of milk because this cake ($8) sticks to the roof of your mouth. Rich and heavy, this is more in the peanut butter camp than the chocolate one, and with good reason—it has both peanut butter fudge and peanut butter caramel. If you're enchanted at the thought of a fudgy cake version of a peanut butter cup, this one is for you.
Rhubarb Crème Brûlée
There's your run of the mill crème brûlée and then there's amazing crème brûlée. Hot Cakes' rendition ($7) is as close to perfection as I've had. Impossibly smooth and not too eggy, the custard is delicate and velvety. The seasonal rhubarb compote capably walks the line between sweet and tangy. If you love crème brûlée you must try this. If you think you don't love crème brûlée, you must try this.
Rhubarb Bread Pudding
Bread puddings can easily veer into leaden territory. Not so with this iteration ($8) which was light, spongy, and hard to resist. Topped with the same vanilla rhubarb compote as the crème brûlée, this bad boy came drizzled with caramel and a side of vanilla ice cream.
Grilled Chocolate Sandwich
A grilled chocolate sandwich ($7.50) with caramel dipping sauce? Sounds like an utter sugar bomb, I know, but stay with me here, because this sandwich is awesome, and not in an I'm-a-kid-and-I-like-eating-things-so-sweet-they-make-my-teeth-hurt way. Firstly, the innards are filled with a dark chocolate ganache, but the game changer here is the potato bread. It has a pleasant sourness which balances out the sweetness of the caramel. It's a genius pairing, whimsical yet sophisticated and it comes adorably packaged in brown paper and tied up with string.
Dark chocolate, cream, olive oil, and breadcrumbs come together in this not too sweet, thick and rich pudding ($8) that's served up in an adorable jar and available to go. While this is a tasty pudding, it tastes like milk chocolate, so dark chocolate lovers may want to pass.
Warm Chocolate Chip Cookie with a Scoop of Vanilla Ice Cream
What can we say? This is an enormous, awesome chocolate chip cookie topped with creamy vanilla bean ice cream ($6). The cookie itself has that tasty, toffee-like quality to the crumb and it's studded with plenty of chocolate. If the aliens come, I hope their flying saucer looks like this: a perfect, buttery soft cookie, with a dome of vanilla ice cream on top.
Smoked Chocolate Whiskey Cake
This slab of chocolate cake ($6) could feed a small family, but you'll probably want to save it all for yourself. The whiskey is well integrated and compliments the smoked ganache. The overall effect is boozy, smoky, and mysterious. The cake crumb is light in texture yet the overall effect is substantial.
The Flight of Ice Cream and Caramels
This trio of limited edition vanilla and caramel ice creams was a fun way to sample Hot Cakes' housemade caramel sauces ($9). This particular flight was made up of a sweet yet earthy dandelion caramel sauce, a super spicy pistachio paprika caramel, and a bright and luscious Meyer lemon caramel. You might not expect lemon and caramel to pair so well together, but the citrus is a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the caramel.
Shhhh, don't tell Dumbledore, but this Butter Beer ($5) has a touch of alcohol. Specifically, it's a mix of butterscotch, fresh apple cider, ginger and sparkling wine, though you can get it sans bubbly for the kids. This drink was lighter tasting than the drinking caramel and you could taste the wine, in a good way.
Sure, you've heard of drinking chocolate, but how about drinking caramel? This drink ($4) is made with rich salted caramel and fresh cream. It's definitely on the sweet side, but surprisingly light. The foam compliments the sweetness nicely. Add some Mezcal ($9) to balance out the sugar rush.
You can choose from the Dark or Northwest drinking chocolates. We picked the Dark and it was just as rich yet balanced as you'd expect a drinking chocolate would be that was perfected by the former Head Chocolatier of Theo Chocolate. Try it with Scotch and Solerno ($9).
The milkshakes ($7) at Hot Cakes were a thing of great beauty. Ultra thick doesn't even begin to describe them; these guys took ages to melt, ensuring that every last sip was frozen and textured, not the equivalent of melted soup.
The trio of shakes pictured above was comprised of the gold standards: dark chocolate, vanilla bean, and salted caramel. The dark chocolate shake was dense with rich, and the vanilla bean was thick and sweet. If you've been shy about jumping onto the salted caramel bandwagon, this shake, with its sweet yet slightly dark caramel flavor, would be a good gateway beverage.
The folks at Hot Cakes are all about the smoked + chocolate pairing and naturally it works well in the context of s'mores. It's a bold flavor that's mellowed (or should it be mallowed?) out by the addition of a fancy marshmallow and graham cracker crumbs.
Attention, there are real rhubarb bits here. Like the rhubarb compote that made appearances on the crème brûlée and bread pudding, this shake skirted the pitfuls of rhubarb infused treats—it was neither too tart nor too sweet. A sprinkle of Hawaiian sea salt gives it a unique flavor boost. This shake just goes to show that strawberry isn't the only pretty pink shake in town.
Like their non-alcoholic counterparts, the boozy shakes ($10-$13) at Hot Cakes delivered on texture and thickness.
What would you do with a drunken sailor? Well, if it's from Hot Cakes, you'd drink that bad boy down. This peanut butter, caramel, and whiskey combo ($10) is salty yet sweet, just like you hope your drunken sailor would be.
This shake ($10) is made with espresso and rye. Though it goes by the name "Extra-Dark", we found it was actually lighter in flavor than the regular salted caramel. The espresso wasn't as prominent as serious coffee drinkers might hope. With such a rich menu to choose from, unless you're enamored of caramel, there are other drinks or treats that might be a better choice here if you're making a special trip.
Laphroaig & Smoked Chocolate
This milkshake ($13) was easily the most divisive of Hot Cakes offerings. Those who love Scotch said it was very smokey and "tastes like you kissed a very bad French man" while others though the smokiness was overpowering after a couple of sips.
This mint julep ($13) was like a gentle grandma's mint julep—sweet and sort of cozy, and not overly minty. It's not so boozy that you'll get tipsy, but it's plenty tasty.
Visually arresting, this delicate-looking drink ($8) is comprised of elderflower liqueur and vanilla ice cream. The overall effect was very floral, and the taste was reminiscent of lychee. It's just the sort of drink you could imagine enjoying on the island of Kaui.
This float ($8) combines rich vanilla ice cream and Seattle Dry Cider, a locally made, small-batch hard cider that puts Washington state's famous apples to good use. The cider is made with a blend of Granny Smith, Fuji, Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Gala apples and promises it's "One of the driest ciders on the market."
But how does it taste with ice cream floating in it? Results were split. Those who loved hard cider liked the tartness and crispness of the drink, while others felt the overall effect was medicinal. Once the ice cream had a chance to melt, the overall effect was mellowed and it was largely reminiscent of those last bites of apple pie a la mode.
Last, but certainly not least, these gold foil wrapped treats ($5) are Hot Cakes' take on Hostess. You know the drill. Chocolate cake inside. Chocolate coating outside. The twist? Their snack cakes are organic and filled with dark chocolate cream.
I'll admit these were an impulse purchase as I walked out the door. They aren't on the proper "chalkboard menu", but you can find them on display in the store or order them online. If you've been drooling through this post with no immediate plans to travel to Seattle, they have a number of shippable items including the Bling Blings, a selection of their caramel sauces, cookies, and both their Dark Decadence and Vegan Molten Cakes.