Monday, September 1, 2008

Chocolate soufflé

Writing about a chocolate soufflé reminds me of a college ballroom dance competition. Imagine all the geeky girls (engineering and computer science majors), shedding their glasses and baggy sweatshirts to dress like hookers for a day. For the practice sessions, we wore our usual baggy attire plus heels. But for the competition, you had to look the part, and rumba in denim overalls just didn't cut it. I have to admit that it was great fun for about 15 hours a year. Since it was for the sake of the "sport" (yes, back then, there was talk about making ballroom dancing an Olympic sport), we felt totally justified getting out of our own skin and feeling sexy, glamorous, dare I say it... easy.

Chocolate soufflé is like those tight, low-cut dresses -- it's the cheapest trick in the food porn book. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you'll agree that it's out of character for me. Who can't get people to drool over this short black skirt in a ramekin? But just like with the ballroom dance competition, I have a good excuse. I am testing recipes for my Eggspertise class. After multiple requests from my students, I finally decided to offer an egg class. And what egg class would be complete without a soufflé?

I got attracted to the chocolate soufflé because of its practicality. You can make it the day before and keep it in the fridge until ready to bake. That's not the case with most soufflés. Oh sure, most soufflés will hold for an hour or two before baking. You can also make the base in advance, reducing the last minute work to beating and folding in the egg whites. Still, no matter how you twist or turn it, soufflés are a hassle right when you should be working on your entrées or entertaining your guests. I prefer desserts that don't need baby-sitting at or right before the dinner party and chocolate soufflé fit the bill.

I used the recipe from the 1997 edition of Joy of Cooking with a very minor modification. I used 7 oz of chocolate instead of 8 because my favorite chocolate (Valrhona with 70% cocoa content is sold in 3.5 oz bars, and I didn't feel like buying an extra bar for 1 oz). No harm done -- the soufflé was extremely chocolaty.

Individual Chocolate Soufflés

Serves 8 (can easily be halved to serve 4)

Step 1: Mis en place (that's the cooking term for "getting organized")
  1. Wash a large mixer bowl (see the savory soufflé post for washing instructions).
  2. Go through all the steps to figure out what ingredients you'll need and measure them.
  3. This is a good time to get the eggs out of the fridge and to separate them (see the savory soufflé post for egg separating instruction). Collect all the yolks in one small bowl and all the whites in the large mixer bowl. Keep them at room temperature.
  4. Preheat the oven to 375F.
Step 2: Preparing the baking dish
  • eight 7-8 oz ramekins with straight sides
  • Butter
  • granulated sugar
Generously butter the ramekins and sprinkle with sugar over the sink. Turn ramekins to make sure the sugar covers the inside evenly. Then turn them upside down and tap them on the side of the sink to shake out excess. Do not smudge, or the soufflés won't rise evenly.

Step 3: Making the base
  • 7 oz chocolate with 65-75% cocoa content
  • 6 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 Tbsp rum, coffee, or water (I used coffee)
  • 6 large egg yolks
  1. Place the chocolate, butter, and rum (coffee or water) in a large heat proof bowl. Set the bowl in a skillet of hot, but not simmering water, and whisk the chocolate until the mixture is smooth.
  2. Remove the bowl from the skillet and let cool for 10 minutes.
  3. Whisk in the egg yolks.
Step 4: Whipping egg whites and folding them in
  • 6 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • Heaping 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  1. Beat the whites in an electric mixer with the whisk attachment on low speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar, increase the speed to medium and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, increase the speed to high. Beat until the peaks are stiff, but not dry. Do not over beat or the whites will become clumpy.
  2. Use a rubber spatula to fold one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate base. Then fold in the rest of the whites. Folding is not stirring! Here is a video on how to fold in the whites correctly. The reason you don't add the whites all at once is to lighten the base first and make the consistencies of the base and the whites more compatible.
Step 5: Baking the soufflé

Divide the chocolate mixture evenly between ramekins. Tap them gently on the table and smooth the top with the flat of a knife.

Ahead-of-time note: If you are not ready to put the soufflés in the oven immediately, they can wait in a warm, draft-free place, covered with an inverted large bowl or pot for up to 1 hour. Alternatively, you can cover ramekins with plastic wrap and put them in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Note that if the soufflés are refrigerated before baking, the baking time will be longer.

Place the ramekins on a baking dish. Place the baking dish with ramekins in the middle of the oven. Don't open the oven door for at least 15 minutes. Bake until the soufflés puff up and form a top crust , 17-20 minutes (20-25 minutes if refrigerated). Err on the side of undercooking as these soufflés are best with a creamy center. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Liquid center variation:
To satisfy truly obsessive chocoholics, push a dark chocolate truffle into the center of each soufflé right after pouring the mixture into the ramekins. I made truffles for my soufflés with my friend's Cory Clark's Shootflying Hill Dark Chocolate Sauce by refrigerating the sauce and rolling it into balls. Would make an outrageous Valentine's Day dessert! Too bad I am writing about it in August. But hey, it's never to early to polish up on your soufflé technique.

If you want to learn more about soufflés, I highly recommend Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and the 1997 edition of the Joy of Cooking.


tantra flower said...

Oh Helen, cheap trick or no, this sounds absolutely divine. I may have to cancel my evening plans.

Question re: 2nd step of Step 3 (Making the base): Is "cook" supposed to read cool?

Seriously, I can't stop looking at that souffle. Food porn indeed. I must try Valrhona chocolate.

OT, but I owe you a big thanks. From the time I became aware that fish could be eaten raw, the very thought of it gave me the worst case of the willies you could imagine. But thanks to your blog entry, I ate raw tuna! And I LOVED it!!! I wasn't brave enough to eat it by itself; I tried it in sushi and it was WONDERFUL. I thank you. My friends thank you!!!

Cheers! TF

Helen said...

Hi there Tantra Flower,

Thanks so much for noticing that terrible misspelling. I need a culinarily savvy spell checker :) Yes, it's supposed to be "cool," not "cook."


Lunch Buckets said...

Hey I'm all about the cheap and easy - I'd totally ask your souffle to dance :)

petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Hello Helen, *laughing* Every time I think of souffle's I think of the film,Sabrina,in which Audrey Hepburn is sent to Paris and attends culinary school where she flops at first, but eventually shines in making them. They're intimidating to me. Have yet to make one for that reason, but I know I'm cheating myself.
p.s. Thank goodness I've got you on both my blogs, Petra Michelle and Whose Role...? when you made blog of note, so that I may return and recreate these lovely dishes! Petra

Kat said...

Is it ok to point out spelling mistakes? I think you meant "Heels" and not "heals".

Helen said...

Hi Kat,

Thank you! Yes, spelling corrections (and any other ones) are greatly appreciated :)


Tinuviel said...

I am in LOVE with your blog.
I've never had the time to comment, but I've added you to my Blog-List since July.
It is one of the few blogs I follow up close.

Lilly's Life said...

That looks amazing - and doesn't look 'easy' at all. I am so inpsired to make this today. Thanks!

ClaireWalter said...

I live in Colorado now, but when I was growing up in Connecticut and was a grown-up in NY and NJ w/ boat-owning friends who fished, bluefish was one of the reliable standbys. Your fine photos don't show the toothy fish being bludgeoned on deck, but everything else is as I remember it -- except, of course, I don't remember any preparation being as sophisticated or as elegantly side-dished as yours.

Claire @

Lisa said...

I would like to taste this... but i dot think Im able to make it myself

Helen said...

Hi Lisa,

Some of the students I had in my Egg class had absolutely no cooking experience, and all their chocolate souffles came out great. It's really not hard. Try it :)