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chocolate rises up
It’s time to talk about chocolate soufflé. Hey, where ya going? Come back! There’s no need to panic just because I mentioned a dessert notorious for a persnickety nature. I’ve been making chocolate soufflé at home for years, and you can make it, too. Chocolate soufflé makes a great dessert after a not-too-heavy meal. It’s fine if you’re celebrating something, but it’s also ideal as a “just because” ending to your repast. Souffles make people feel special, because there’s something almost magical about them. When you stop to think that you’ve taken a “heavy” ingredient like chocolate and have caused it to rise about the edge of a soufflé dish with no help except that from beaten egg whites, you can see why.
When I was a kid, soufflés began with the making of a béchamel sauce---a milk-based sauce thickened with the butter-and-flour mixture that the French call roux. But I’ve adopted the newer thinking about chocolate soufflés, which eliminates the roux (saving a step). In this soufflé, melted chocolate (cooled until just slightly warm) is combined with lightly beaten egg yolks and a few other ingredients. The egg whites, beaten with sugar to soft-peak stage, are folded in, and the soufflé is then baked.
Use the best-quality ingredients you can find here, especially for your chocolate. I use bittersweet bar chocolate, which produces a deeply chocolate soufflé probably best for adults. However, if you prefer, you can use a good semisweet chocolate, which will simply give you less of a chocolate wallop. Please do not use chocolate chips from the grocery store! Even the brands with high cacao percentages usually aren’t of very good quality. I use instant espresso powder, too, but you can use instant coffee granules or even omit the coffee altogether, if you choose. And, while my soufflé is made with alcohol, there is a way to use orange juice instead (more on that later).
Now, about your soufflé dish. You’ll need a 1.5 quart dish, and it should be light-colored to provide contrast with the dark soufflé. My soufflé dish is white porcelain, and it measures 8-1/8 inches outside diameter by 3.5 inches high.
Of course, you’ll need eggs to make a soufflé. I use eggs graded “large” and yes, size can make a difference! You’ll also need to separate those eggs, as many soufflés require more whites than yolks to give them their “lift”. Separate the eggs as soon as you take them out of the fridge; they always separate more easily when cold. In my experience, I have found that white eggs are easier to separate than brown eggs, but that could just be me. Place the egg whites into a bowl of about 3 quart capacity. The bowl must NOT be plastic, and it must be very clean and absolutely grease-free if you want the whites to beat up well (the same applies to your beater(s); they should be free of any trace of grease/fat). It’s important to remove the eggs from the refrigerator some time before you want to bake the soufflé. While the eggs separate more easily when cold, the whites will have much greater volume if beaten when at room temperature. So separate your eggs, cover whites and yolks with plastic wrap or wax paper, and allow both to stand at room temperature while you’re doing something else.
In my opinion, the perfect accompaniment to a chocolate soufflé is lightly sweetened whipped cream, and that doesn’t mean the stuff from pressurized cans! You’re going to the trouble of making a soufflé, so serve it with freshly-whipped cream. Lightly sweetened is my preference, though some people prefer it unsweetened. If you’d rather, you can serve the soufflé with a previously-made crème anglaise or chocolate sauce.
One thing that you’ve heard about soufflés for years is certainly true: they don’t wait! They must be served as soon as they come out of the oven, as they’ll start deflating quickly. But if your soufflé does deflate, hey, it’s not the end of the world. It’ll still taste fine; it just won’t be as pretty.
Ready to get started? Here’s my recipe:
Souffle au Chocolat
4 eggs plus 3 egg whites (all from eggs graded “large”)
1 or 2 teaspoons instant coffee granules OR instant espresso powder (optional)
2 tablespoons warm water (even if you’re not including the coffee/espresso, don’t omit this!)
5 ounces best-quality semisweet OR bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into thin pats
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup liqueur (see Notes)
1 teaspoon freshly-squeezed, strained lemon juice (see Notes)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Lightly sweetened whipped cream or crème anglaise and/or chocolate sauce
Fresh raspberries, if desired
Separate the eggs. Place the 4 yolks in a large bowl. Place all 7 whites in a separate, very clean, non-plastic bowl (or the large bowl of an electric mixer). Lightly cover the bowl of egg whites and allow to stand until they’re approximately room temperature.
If using instant coffee granules or espresso powder, add to warm water in a small cup; set aside. In small microwaveable bowl, combine finely chopped chocolate, butter pats, and salt. Microwave at medium (50%) power for thirty seconds. Stir thoroughly. Continue microwaving at medium (50%) power for short intervals until almost melted. Stir until melted and smooth. Stir in dissolved coffee/espresso or, if you’re not using either, the warm water. Cool until just slightly warm.
Whisk yolks lightly to mix. Whisk in the slightly warm chocolate mixture, then gradually whisk in liqueur(s). Set aside to cool to room temperature, whisking occasionally. Mixture will thicken as it cools.
Meanwhile, adjust rack to center of oven. Butter the interior of a 1.5 quart soufflé dish; be sure to butter the sides all the way up to the top, as well as the interior bottom. Using sugar in addition to the 3/4 cup called for in the recipe, sugar the soufflé dish. Place a couple of tablespoons of granulated sugar into the buttered dish; tilt the dish until the inside is covered in sugar. Pour out any extra sugar and set the dish aside. Have ready the lemon juice and 3/4 cup granulated sugar.
When the chocolate-yolk mixture has cooled to room temperature and the egg whites are at room temperature, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Whisk the chocolate-yolk mixture thoroughly to loosen it.
Add lemon juice to egg whites. With whisk beater of electric stand mixer or sturdy hand-held electric mixer, begin to beat the whites at low speed. Gradually increase speed to high. When whites are very foamy and have increased in volume, begin adding sugar, about one tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until all sugar is added and meringue stands in soft peaks. Do not overbeat.
Add a large spoonful of meringue to the chocolate-yolk mixture and whisk it in thoroughly to lighten. Working quickly, add the remaining meringue in three additions. Use a large rubber spatula to fold in each addition and scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. Don’t fold in the first two additions too completely, and fold in the last addition just until no white streaks show. Quickly turn the soufflé into the prepared dish (the dish will be filled to within about an inch of the top). Spread the soufflé level and place in the preheated oven. IMMEDIATELY REDUCE OVEN TEMPERATURE TO 350 DEGREES F.
Bake the soufflé for 40 to 42 minutes. When it’s done, it will have risen slightly above the edges of the dish, and the center will barely quiver (if at all) when the dish is lightly tapped. When baked for the lesser amount of time, the very center of the soufflé will remain slightly “saucy”. Remove from oven.
Serve IMMEDIATELY, using a large spoon to portion out the soufflé. Accompany as suggested above.
---For the liqueur, use a flavor that will go well with chocolate (if you’re using instant coffee or espresso, the liqueur should go with that, as well). I sometimes blend two liqueurs; I like a half-and-half blend of orange and hazelnut liqueur. If you would rather use orange juice, it’s best to use freshly-squeezed orange juice (strained so that it’s free of pulp or seeds); use the same amount. Over low heat, warm the orange juice slightly. It should just be warm, not hot or boiling. If the orange juice is added to the chocolate mixture when cold, it can cause the chocolate mixture to harden too much.
---If you have no fresh lemons, you can use 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar instead.
Chocolate Recommendation of the Month:
Sahagun Handmade Chocolates
In a petite shop on a one-way street in Portland, Oregon, Elizabeth Montes is very busy. As she has done for some years, she is quietly creating remarkable chocolates, yet few people know about her, as she’s overshadowed by a couple of bigger local names. It’s time to remedy that. Sahagun Handmade Chocolates are fresh, flavorful, and genuine. There’s no pretense here, no “mission statement” on the (minimalist) website about their use of only the finest ingredients or how the chocolates are carefully crafted to order. Why would that be necessary, when you can taste all of it and more in the chocolates themselves?
This is truly a small-scale business, and Ms. Montes seems to like it that way. While the selection of chocolates isn’t huge, it shows a good deal of thought (and occasional whimsy), and much of what’s available tends to change often. For example, as I write this, there are Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) Chocolate Skulls on the website, a set of three posada skulls cast in bittersweet chocolate. Each is painted, so they’re surprisingly attractive. Closer to Christmas, you’ll find Sundrops. These vegan spheres of dark chocolate are filled with sunflower seed butter and raw blackberry honey. Perhaps the most constant offering at Sahagun Handmade Chocolates is the Oregon Kiss: Valrhona milk chocolate, organic Oregon hazelnuts, and a bit of fleur du sel piped into a bittersweet cup.
You’ll find the full range of Sahagun Handmade Chocolates in the Portland boutique, located at 10 NW 16th Avenue. Some items are available in-store only, such as the Hot Chocolate and Iced Chocolate (intriguingly, the latter is made with coconut milk). But Ms. Montes has taken pity on those of us who can’t be in Oregon frequently, and she always has a few chocolates on offer in her online store. For more information, head over to the website, www.sahagunchocolates.com.
Stephanie (HandOverTheChocolate@comcast.net) has had a strong affinity for chocolate from a very early age. Family members claim that, as a child, she was able to hear chocolate being opened in the kitchen no matter where she was in the house. Stephanie was baking by the time she was 6 and ran a short-lived baking business out of her parents’ kitchen when she was in high school. She has a Master’s Degree in Foods from Virginia Tech but no formal training in cooking or baking. Consequently, she is a home cook, not a chef. Prior to beginning this column, she had written about chocolate for some 8 years.