Tackling soufflé was something I, like many cooks, was quite frightened of doing. Somehow, in my imaginings of myself making soufflé, my self-esteem became entangled in the worry that the soufflé would not rise. What if it didn’t rise? Oh my stars, what if it didn’t rise? A flat soufflé would mean that I was useless as a cook! Quailing at the thought of a flat soufflé proclaiming my culinary ineptitude to the world, I kept putting off making one. Plus, I’d never even eaten a soufflé, making this classic French dish seem even more rarefied: I had no clue what to expect from a soufflé in terms of taste or texture, or even appearance. The Internet wasn’t much help, as descriptions of the “perfect” soufflé ranged from its being virtually all liquid in the centre to its being mostly eggy and having no liquid in the centre.
Recently, I stumbled upon a recipe for chocolate soufflé in The New Best Recipe, a stellar cookbook that I highly recommend you buy if you don’t already own a copy. I couldn’t stop thinking about that recipe! I pondered the chocolate I would use, the accompaniments I would make, the scrumptious meal that would be brought to a smashing close with the appearance of my imaginary soufflé.
It gradually dawned on me that it was time to make my first soufflé.
My first soufflé rose beautifully! It was taller than Napoleon! I strutted about the kitchen, proud as a gander, before remembering to check the consistency of the soufflé. It was like cake batter! Surely I had underbaked my darling soufflé! I put it back into the oven for 7 minutes, thus taking a perfect soufflé and overbaking it into dense egginess. For as I now know, dear reader, the inside of the soufflé should be barely cooked, with a beautifully crisp crust to counter the liquid nature of the soufflé’s interior.
The realisation that I had destroyed my soufflé burned like a fever, the only prescription for which was more soufflé. I got my chance to slake my fever for retribution when our friend Gasoline came over for dinner a few days later. Again came the esoteric whipping of egg whites, the folding of this mixture into that. Into the oven went the batter, and out emerged… loveliness. Pure, unadulterated loveliness. Yet I worried that I had once again underbaked my soufflé, so I put it back into the oven for an additional 2 minutes. So yes, this second soufflé was slightly overbaked, but it was still ethereally delicious and I am scheming for an excuse to make it again! Believe it or not, I’m glad I overbaked my second soufflé in a row, because it taught me a valuable lesson: Soufflé is finished when the top has browned. Take it out, rejoice in its wobbly centre, and dig in post-haste!
The texture of the soufflé was intriguing. The center was barely cooked and the edges were crispy, yet light and airy. The flavour was intensely chocolatey, much more nuanced than I would have expected. This pairs beautifully with cream whipped with maple syrup and vanilla. Coffee would accompany this rich chocolate dessert very well, as would ice cream.
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For preparing the soufflé dish:
1 TBS unsalted butter, softened
2 TBS sugar
For the soufflé:
4 TBS unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ chunks
scant 1/2 cup sugar
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (I used a combination of milk, semisweet, and bittersweet chocolate), chopped fine
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 TBS Bailey’s Irish Liqueur, optional
1 TBS brewed espresso or strong coffee, optional (for a mocha soufflé)
6 large egg yolks
8 large egg whites
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Butter a 2 quart soufflé dish* with the 1 TBS butter. (Use all of the butter for this purpose, paying extra attention to the rim of the dish.) Coat the inside of the dish with the 2 TBS sugar, shaking out excess. Place dish in the refrigerator until the soufflé batter is ready.
Separate the eggs, placing the whites into the bowl of a stand mixer and the yolks into a medium bowl.
Melt the chocolate and butter over low heat, stirring frequently. Turn off heat and add vanilla, Bailey’s, and espresso, if using. (Note: Chocolate mixture will look a bit grainy. This is as it should be. It will smooth out with the addition of the egg yolks [see below].) Set chocolate mixture aside.
Beat the yolks and sugar with a whisk or an electric mixer until thick and pale yellow and nearly doubled in volume, about 3 minutes. Fold into the chocolate mixture.
Beat the whites on medium speed with the whisk attachment until foamy. Add cream of tartar and continue to beat until stiff, moist peaks form. Do not overbeat egg whites; they should NOT be dry.
Stir 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Gently fold in the rest of the egg whites. It’s okay if a few streaks are remaining; this is preferable to over-folding the mixture, which releases air. Remember that the incorporation of air into the egg whites is what makes a soufflé rise.
Pour into prepared dish* and bake 25 minutes. The exterior should be set but the interior should be a bit loose and creamy. The soufflé is done when fragrant and fully risen, or when the top is browned. Do not overbake. If necessary, check the soufflé by making a small slit at the top to peer into the soufflé. The inside should be barely cooked, while the outside should be more firm. If you prefer a firmer soufflé with less liquid in the centre, bake for 30 minutes rather than 25 minutes.
Serve immediately. Garnish with whipped cream, chocolate shavings, powdered sugar, and / or ice cream.
*If wishing to make individual soufflés, butter and sugar eight 8-oz. ramekins as you would with the 2 quart soufflé dish. Completely fill each ramekin with the soufflé mixture, making sure to clean each rim with a wet paper towel, and reduce baking time to 16 – 18 minutes.
Source: Slightly adapted from The New Best Recipe from the Editors of Cook’s Illustrated, 2004