Winter is definitely here, even in Los Angeles. Oh, we still have plenty of sunshine, but at night the temperature can dip surprisingly low (well, it sure feels low). Whether winter means 40F. or -40F., when bone-chilling cold comes around, it’s time for some deeply warming food and drink. And nothing says “warmth” like chocolate.
Winter brings out the chocoholic in me. The darker the chocolate, the better. If it’s bittersweet and hot, I’m there, whether it’s a steaming bowl of hot chocolate or a meltingly warm dessert like molten center chocolate cake, chocolate bread pudding, or brownies still warm in the pan. The ultimate in hot chocolate desserts is the ethereal soufflé – hands-down my favorite. Simple to prepare, as desserts go, yet sublimely elegant. And even a small, individual portion of soufflé is incredibly satisfying.
Whenever I mention chocolate soufflé, my guests gasp as though I’ve prepared some miracle. They seem to think a soufflé is labor intensive, mysterious, and way too fragile. But the truth is…if you can whip egg whites and melt dark chocolate, you’re nearly there. The most time-consuming part of chocolate soufflé is preparing the dishes. And the best part of all – and what makes it perfect for entertaining – is that chocolate soufflés can be prepared up to a day ahead, kept in the refrigerator until the dinner dishes are cleared, then simply popped in the oven to bake while you relax. Dessert doesn’t get much better than that!
Raspberry Souffles with Hidden Chocolate Truffles
The best way to eat soufflé is in a dish that’s all-to-yourself. I like to make it in individual portions so everyone gets their own. I’ve made chocolate soufflés in dishes ranging from the classic ribbed white dishes (or ramekins) to coffee cups, demitasse cups, custard cups, and more. As long as the vehicle has straight sides to guide the soufflé upward, it will crown beautifully. And individual desserts is bake quickly, so you can enjoy them sooner. If I end up with an extra dish or two full of batter, I simply wrap in plastic and freeze, then bake another day (or night, when it’s ‘mom’s movie time’).
The recipe below gives you lots of guidance on making a sensuously satisfying soufflé. If you’re a visual learner, or just want a bit more direction, be sure to check out the video of me making chocolate soufflé in the cookbook club section (registration is free) of Gourmet.com. And while custard sauce (recipe below) is the classic accompaniment, whipped cream is also a great option. Or, try my favorite - a miniature scoop of ice cream (I love coffee) dropped right into the center of the hot souffle. The ice cream melts halfway, creating a lovely blend of liquid custard sauce and bracingly cold ice cream against the hot chocolate. Oh yeah. Choose a rich, dark chocolate, and this dessert will warm your soul on a cold winter’s night.More Cold Nights, Hot Chocolate ideas and recipes follow after the jump
Bittersweet Chocolate Soufflés with Vanilla Custard Sauce
This is the ultimate dessert soufflé. It delivers dark chocolate in an elegant party dress, and is also the only soufflé that can be prepared up to 24 hours in advance and held in the refrigerator before baking. Since the sauce can be made in advance as well, the combination is perfect for entertaining.
Equipment: Eight (5½- or 6-Ounce) Individual Soufflé Dishes, Double Boiler, Silicone or Rubber Spatula, Small Saucepan, Whisk, Large Bowl, Stand Mixer Fitted with a Whisk Attachment or a Hand Mixer and a Medium Bowl, Pastry Bag Fitted with a ½-inch Plain Tip, Baking Sheet, Fine-Mesh Strainer
- 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (up to 70 percent cacao), finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon (½ ounce) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
- 1 tablespoon (½ ounce) unbleached all-purpose flour
- ½ cup (4 ounces) whole milk
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon instant espresso powder
- dissolved in ½ teaspoon water
- Pinch of salt
- 3 large eggs, separated, plus 1 additional egg white
- ¼ cup (1¾ ounces) granulated sugar
- Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
- Vanilla Custard Sauce (below)
- Preheat the oven to 375°F and position an oven rack in the bottom third. Generously butter the soufflé dishes (including the rims), dust them with sugar, and tap out the excess.
- Melt the chocolate: Pour 2 inches of water in the bottom of the double boiler and bring to a rolling boil. Off the heat, place the chocolate in the top of the double boiler. Turn the heat off and set the chocolate over the steaming water. Stir occasionally with the spatula until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Leave over the warm water until needed. Alternately, melt the chocolate in the microwave and set aside.
- Make the béchamel: Melt the butter in the small saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat, add the flour, and whisk well to remove any lumps. Return to the heat and cook for 1 minute, whisking constantly. Remove the pan from the heat and add the milk slowly, whisking constantly to remove any lumps. Return the pan to the heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, until thickened to the consistency of thin pudding. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla. Whisk in the espresso powder and pinch of salt. With a clean spatula, scrape the melted chocolate into the large bowl. Add the béchamel sauce and whisk to blend. Whisk in the egg yolks. Cover and keep warm while you whip the egg whites.
- Whip the egg whites: In the very clean bowl of the stand mixer, whip the 4 egg whites on medium speed until they form soft peaks. With the mixer running, rain in the granulated sugar and beat until firm peaks form. You can also use a hand mixer and a medium bowl. With a spatula, gently stir one-fourth of the egg whites into the chocolate béchamel sauce to lighten the mixture. Fold in the remaining whites just until there are no more streaks of whites.
- Fill the dishes and bake: Transfer the soufflé batter to the pastry bag. Pipe the batter into each soufflé dish, filling it to ¼ inch below the rim. Transfer the dishes to the baking sheet. Bake for 14 to 18 minutes (higher percentage chocolates will bake more quickly), until the soufflés are set and firm to the touch in the center. Serve immediately, dusted with confectioners’ sugar and accompanied by individual pitchers of custard sauce. For an over-the-top dessert, break open the tops of the soufflés and, instead of the custard sauce, pour in caramel sauce and chocolate sauce, then top with generous spoonfuls of whipped cream. Pass additional sauce and cream around the table. Ooh-la-la!
Getting Ahead: The soufflé batter can be piped into the dishes up to 24 hours before baking. Set them on the baking sheet, wrap with plastic so that the chocolate does not absorb flavors, and refrigerate. Unwrap and transfer the sheet of soufflés directly to the oven for baking.
Vanilla Custard Sauce
Makes 2 1/3 cups
Custard sauce, also known as crème anglaise, is a smooth, velvety sauce, a great for companion for desserts that benefit from a pool of cool creaminess to highlight and complete their flavor and texture. Because it is a custard, it may be flavored in many ways by infusing spices, nuts, citrus zest, tea leaves, and more into the milk portion before beginning the cooking process.
Equipment: Large Bowl, Medium Saucepan, Paring Knife, Small Bowl, Whisk, Silicone or Rubber Spatula, Instant-Read Thermometer, Fine-Mesh Strainer, Medium Bowl
- 1 cup (8 ounces) whole milk
- 1 cup (8 ounces) heavy whipping cream
- ¼ cup (1¾ ounces) sugar
- 1 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 5 large egg yolks
- Fill the large bowl halfway with ice and water and set it aside. Combine the milk, cream, and sugar in the medium saucepan and warm over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved. (If you are using vanilla extract, proceed to Step 2.) Use the tip of a paring knife to cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Turn the knife over and use the dull side to scrape out the seeds, and add both the seeds and the pod to the saucepan. Heat until the mixture just begins to simmer. Remove from the heat and let steep for 30 minutes, or until you like the flavor.
- Heat the milk mixture to just below the boiling point. Remove the pan from the heat. In the small bowl, whisk the egg yolks together. Slowly pour about 1 cup of the hot milk into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly, to temper the yolks. Slowly pour the yolk mixture back into the hot milk in the saucepan, whisking all the while. Return to medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly with the spatula, until the custard thickens and registers 178° to 180°F on the thermometer.
- Immediately strain the custard sauce through the strainer set over the medium bowl to remove any tiny bits of scrambled egg. (Save the vanilla bean: Rinse it thoroughly, allow to dry, then use it to make vanilla sugar.) If you’re using vanilla extract instead of the vanilla bean, add it now and whisk to blend. Press a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the sauce then set the bowl into the bowl of ice water. Once the custard sauce has completely cooled, use or store in the refrigerator until needed.
Storing: Keep the custard sauce for up to 5 days from the day it was made, refrigerated in an airtight container with a piece of plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface to prevent a skin from forming.
What The Pros Know: Be very careful that you do not allow the mixture to boil once you have added the egg yolks, for they will scramble and cause the sauce to separate. If you have an instant-read thermometer, watch for a temperature of 178° to 180°F, a point—just under boiling—at which the egg yolks will thicken, but not scramble. When testing the temperature, remove the pan from the heat to prevent the eggs on the bottom of the pan from scrambling while the thermometer takes a few seconds to register. If the custard begins to boil, immediately strain it through a fine strainer, then smooth it out by pouring it into a blender and blending on “liquefy” for 10 to 15 seconds (be cautious with hot liquid in a blender—never fill it more than halfway, and remove the center portion of the lid to allow steam to escape). Strain again and cool as directed.
Tools of the Trade:
Recipes and Photos are reprinted with permission from Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC. The Art and Soul of Baking © copyright 2008 by Sur La Table, Inc.