Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chocolate Soufflés

I couldn’t agree more with Mary that Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to stay in and cook, rather than go out to a restaurant. While I love dining out, on this particular holiday I’d rather stay in and make a special meal with a special someone. I like to use the occasion to make recipes that may seem a little too time consuming or perhaps too elegant for just any ordinary night of the week. It’s a fine time to not worry about calories, splurge on an expensive cut of meat, open up that bottle of wine you've been saving, and most importantly, take pleasure in the time spent preparing and enjoying the meal together.

As cliché as it may sound, I believe that cooking for someone shows that you care about them. And since Valentine’s Day is all about the love, what better way to show it then by preparing a special meal for those you care about? Whether it’s your significant other, your friends, family or maybe a furry friend, go ahead and take the time to cook them something really special. I guarantee they’ll feel the love.

These Chocolate Soufflés are just the special sort of thing for a Valentine’s Day dinner. They are elegant and impressive, yet surprisingly less difficult than they appear. It’s not all about looks though, as these puppies are also a treat to eat. The consistency reminded me of a warm chocolate mousse, light and fluffy and full of deep dark chocolate flavor. If you’re strapped for time, the soufflés can even be prepared a day or two ahead of time which I think makes them doubly delicious.

For a classic soufflé recipe, I turned to my New Best Recipe cookbook. This cookbook is a great one to have in your arsenal, as it contains thousands of recipes for just about every classic American dish that you can think of. Not only that, but each dish is cooked using multiple variations and techniques until the perfect combination is found. Each recipe includes this commentary and provides very precise yet easy to follow techniques to achieve the desired result. I think of it as my encyclopedia for cooking. When I want to try and make a classic dish for the very first time, such as chocolate soufflé, I know I will find a foolproof recipe there.

For the souffles you will need butter, chocolate, sugar (I like the sound of this so far), 6 egg yolks, 8 egg whites, salt, vanilla (just pretend the vanilla is included in the picture here), flavored liquer and cream of tartar.
You can make the souffle in either a 2-quart souffle dish or in individual ramekins. Whichever vessel you're using, you'll want to butter and then sprinkle the insides with sugar. The sugar coating adds flavor and allows the souffle to grab onto the sides of the dish as it bakes, encouraging a nice crust. Way to go sugar!
Next, get your chocolate. I'll use any excuse to measure. I just love my digital scale.
I used bittersweet chocolate chips because quite honestly, I was feeling lazy about chopping up chocolate. They worked just as well though, so go ahead and use em if not feeling like chopping either. Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over just simmering water, or in the top of a double boiler.
Once melted, remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the salt, vanilla, and liquer. Hello there Kahlua, you certainly look ready for some soufflé action.
If you haven't separated the eggs yet, go ahead and do so. I used to use the egg shell method when separating egg yolks. That's where you use the empty halves of the shells to move the egg back and forth until the whites slip away from the yolk. I would have shown you a picture of this, but it’s difficult to hold the camera with your hands full of eggs. See?
Recently though I’ve switched to a different egg separating method. I like to crack the egg into a bowl and gently lift the yolk out with my cupped hand letting the whites slip back in to the bowl through my fingers. Something like this:
The next step is to mix the egg yolks with salt until they're thick and pale yellow. I may have forgotten to take a picture of what this looks like, but the description is very accurate. After about 3 minutes you'll have a pale yellow mixture that is slightly thickened. Add the egg yolks to your melted chocolate mixture and combine.

Next up, it's time to beat the egg whites until they make moist stiff peaks. What are moist stiff peaks you ask? They’re something like these beautiful fluffy clouds:
But wait, there's a better way to tell when they're moist stiff peaks and this is what I love about The Best New Recipe cookbook. The authors find ways to describe steps to you that you might be puzzling otherwise. For example, in the case of the moist stiff peaks, they instruct you to test their doneness by resting a raw egg in the peaks. If it gently holds the egg up, you know they're ready. See?
Now how in the world did they figure that out?

Ok, I could watch those egg whites hold up that egg all day long but it’s time to move on! Take your beautiful egg whites and fold them in to your chocolate mixture. You’ll start by vigorously folding in about a quarter of the whites to get the mixture prepared for the rest of the whites and then once those are mixed in, you will gently fold in the remaining whites.
Once the egg whites are mixed in completely your soufflé batter is done! Pour the batter in to your soufflé dish or ramekins until they are all the way filled. As you can see I did not have enough to completely fill 4 ramekins. That lacking souffle will still be delightful, just shorter than everyone else. Kind of like myself.
At this point the souffles could be covered with plastic wrap and put in the fridge for up to two days until you're ready to bake them. But I couldn't wait, so they went straight into the oven and when they came out they looked a little something like this:
I served the soufflés with some lightly whipped cream and a sprinkling of toasted sliced almonds. I wouldn't skip the whipped cream. It's delicious as it melts and mixes with the creamy center of the soufflé adding the perfect counterbalance to the dark chocolate flavor.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Chocolate Soufflés
From The New Best Recipe

5 tbsp unsalted butter, 1 tbsp softened, 4 tbsp cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 tbsp plus 1/3 cup sugar
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped coarse (or chocolate chips)
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp grand marnier (I think any flavored liquer could work here, I had Kahlua on hand, so I went with it)
6 large egg yolks
8 large egg whites
1/4 tsp cream of tartar (link)

Adjust oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees.

Butter the inside of a 2-quart souffle dish, or if making individual souffles, 4 eight-ounce ramekins. Coat the inside evenly 1 tbsp sugar (pick up souffle dish or ramekins and tap all over to distribute the sugar evenly, shake out the excess); refrigerate until ready to use.

Melt the chocolate and the remaining butter in a medium bowl set over a pan of simmering water (or a double boiler)-link. Turn off the heat and stir in the salt, vanilla, and liquer; set aside.

In a medium bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the yolks and remaining 1/3 cup sugar with mixer set on medium speed until thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Fold into the chocolate mixture. Clean the beaters and bowl. Beat the whites with the electric mixer set on medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and continue to beat on high speed to stiff, moist peaks. ( The mixture should just hold the weight of a raw egg in the shell when the egg is placed on top.)

Vigorously stir on quarter of the whipped whites into the chocolate mixture. Gently fold the remaining whites into the mixture until just incorporated. Spoon the mixture into the prepared dish or ramekins. (If using ramekins, fill them completely, wiping away any excess around the rim.) If you are making the souffles ahead of time, at this point cover and refrigerate for up to two days.

Bake until the exterior is set but the interior is still a bit loose and creamy, about 25 minutes for a 2-quart dish, and 18 minutes for individual ramekins. Serve immediately.

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