If I had a favorite food, it would be the soufflé--the mysterious soufflé with its airy, cloud-like texture that dissolves seamlessly with each bite. In soufflés, the darkest and richest chocolates are luxuriously lightened by whipped egg whites. Its evanescent nature adds to its mysticism. If not immediately enjoyed, they slowly deflate and become dense, mere cake-like confections.
This morning, I experienced the wide range of emotions that inevitably come when making a soufflé. Anticipation mixed with fear, hoping that it would rise. The excitement and joy of taking the soufflés out of the oven, and the disappointment when they started to deflate --all capped out with delirious contentment of that first bite of velvety, rich chocolate.
And what better time to have the drama of a soufflé than Valentine’s Day? If you are looking for a way to woo your Valentine, look no further. The soufflé is the perfect end-of-dinner treat that is sure to please even the pickiest of palates. As for impressive and intricate desserts, the soufflé is one of the easier ones. I truly believe that if you can follow a recipe, you can make a soufflé. You don’t even need fancy equipment, although an electronic mixer (hand mixer or stand mixer) will simplify the task of beating egg whites.
This recipe makes 4 small servings. You can bake the souffles in whatever oven-proof dish you like, although a ramekin is the traditional vessel. (I used two different types of dishes!) For the recipe below, you can use 4 small ramekins or 2 medium-sized baking dishes. Just make sure the batter comes close to the top, otherwise, your risen soufflé will not rise over the edge of the dish! Also, be sure not to fill the soufflé dish to the very top, or it may spill over when it first starts to rise. Lastly, don’t skip any of the steps—they are all crucial to the success of this dish, especially buttering and sugar-ing the baking dish (the sugar essentially provides a “ladder” so that the soufflé can climb to the top and out of the dish!)
- 7 ounces semi-sweet or dark chocolate (no more than 70% cacao)
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- ½ cup whole milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon of strong coffee or expresso
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs separated + 1 egg white
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- Powdered sugar, for dusting
- Freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (optional)
- Special equipment: Oven-proof baking dishes, such as small ramekins
- Prepare the baking dishes by thoroughly buttering and generously dusting with granulated sugar. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 375F. The soufflés should be baked in the lower half or lower 1/3 of the oven.
- Place a pot on the stove with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil. While waiting for the water to boil, finely chop the chocolate and transfer to a heavy-bottomed class bowl or top of double boiler. Turn stove off, and place bowl on top of simmering water. Using a rubber spatula, move the chocolate around until it is all melted. (Alternatively, you may microwave the chocolate but you must closely monitor it to ensure that it does not burn.)
- Leave the bowl on top of the warm water so that the chocolate remains melted and pliable.
- Prepare the béchamel sauce. Heat one tablespoon of butter in a small pot over medium heat until it melts. Then, whisk in the one tablespoon of flour, whisking constantly until it is thoroughly combined. Continue whisking constantly for another minute. Slowly pour in the milk whisking constantly. Continue to whisk constantly until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Once thickened, remove the béchamel sauce from the heat and stir in the vanilla, coffee and salt.
- Transfer the chocolate and béchamel sauce to a large bowl. Whisk in the three egg yolks until thoroughly combined. Cover and keep warm while you prepare the egg whites.
- Whip the four egg whites in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. With the mixer running, slowly pour in the granulated sugar, and continue beating until stiff peaks form.
- Stir in ¼ of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Then, fold in the remaining egg whites, being careful not to overmix.
- Carefully pour the batter into the prepared ramekin dishes, filling it to ¼ inch below the rim. Transfer the dishes to a baking sheet, and bake for 14-18 minutes. The higher percent of cocoa in the chocolate, the faster they will bake. The soufflés are ready when they are set and firm to the touch in the middle. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve immediately. You may serve them with freshly-whipped cream or ice cream.
This recipe is adapted from The Art & Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet.