Most people think of one dish when they think of Chili’s: baby back ribs. Ever since that “I want my baby back...” jingle, ribs have been the star (along with comically oversized margaritas). But regulars covet something else: The Molten Chocolate Cake, oozing with warm chocolate ganache and topped with vanilla ice cream covered in a chocolate shell. The dessert debuted in 1998, and now Chili’s sells more than 6 million a year — not bad for a chain that started out as a lone Dallas hamburger joint. Readers like Nikki Lazzara from Park Ridge, IL, have been asking us how to make the cake, but Chili’s won’t give up the recipe. So our chefs created this perfect imitation.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Make the cakes: Brush four 1 1/4-cup brioche molds (or use 10-ounce ramekins or jumbo muffin cups) with the 2 tablespoons melted butter. Dust the molds with cocoa powder and tap out the excess.
Whisk the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a small bowl. Bring the milk and 3/4 cup water to a simmer in a saucepan over medium heat; set aside.
Combine the vegetable oil, 4 tablespoons room-temperature butter and the sugar in a stand mixer and beat with the paddle attachment on medium-high speed until fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping down the bowl and beater as needed. Add 1/2 cup cocoa powder and the vanilla; beat 1 minute on medium speed. Scrape down the bowl. Add 1 egg and beat 1 minute on medium-low speed, then add the remaining egg and beat 1 more minute.
With the mixer on low speed, gradually beat in the flour mixture, then the hot milk mixture. Finish mixing the batter with a rubber spatula until combined. Divide the batter evenly among the molds, filling each slightly more than three-quarters of the way.
Transfer the molds to a baking sheet and bake until the tops of the cakes are domed and the centers are just barely set, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer the baking sheet to a rack; let the cakes cool until they pull away from the molds, about 30 minutes.