Let’s celebrate National Chocolate Soufflé Day
February 28, 2020
Today is National Chocolate Soufflé Day. I’m not quite sure who decides these things. It could be traced to Hallmark for greeting-card-appropriate events, such as Grandparents Day. I’d look to social-media influencers for posting those related to pets and hairstyles. While I remain baffled about how today became dedicated to a specific dessert, why not take the opportunity to make a chocolate soufflé?
To begin, a soufflé is a baked dish made from a base of whipped egg whites, beaten egg yolks and a little flour. The list of ingredients you next incorporate will determine the flavor profile of your soufflé, which can be a savory main course or sweet dessert. The French word souffler means "to blow up" or more descriptively "puff up," which is exactly what happens when it’s baked.
Because soufflés are such showy creations, they’re surrounded by a bit of mystique and some degree of fear from most home cooks. This is the dish you order at a fancy restaurant on a special occasion, not something you can successfully whip together in your own kitchen. But, if you’re willing to give it a try, you’ll discover it’s not that difficult and definitely worth the effort.
One of the fundamental steps to a tall, puffy soufflé is how you prepare the baking pan. The interior is coated with a thin layer of softened butter, then dusted with either sugar or flour depending on the type of soufflé. This creates a rough surface that the batter clings to as it rises; with this scaffolding, it’s much easier for the batter to evenly rise.
Another key is to follow the French technique of “mise en place,” which refers to the process of organizing and arranging all your ingredients and tools before you begin to assemble your recipe. This also includes reading the recipe through at least twice to make sure you don’t overlook anything and the bowls are large enough for each step.
For the chocolate soufflé in the photo, I consulted several sources, from Joy of Cooking to Julia Child, before opting to create my own version, based largely on Julia’s approach, but with an easier-to-navigate ingredient list and sequence of steps. For example, she has you whip the egg whites after most of the batter ingredients have been combined. It makes more sense to do this first and have the whipped whites ready.
How you whip your egg whites will make or break your soufflé. As you beat egg whites, you incorporate air. The protein in the egg white forms a delicate skin around the air bubbles. It’s critical to have thoroughly clean whisks and bowls (never plastic) for the egg whites to properly whip. The slightest trace of oil or yolk particles will prevent the structure from forming, and the air bubbles will disintegrate. Because they are so thin and fragile, once they’re whipped, you’ll need to handle them with care.
One of the fallacies about soufflés is that a loud noise will cause them to fall, embarrassing the cook and disappointing her hungry guests. The secret is already out: every soufflé will eventually fall. Inside the oven, heat expands the air in the egg whites; out of the oven, the air cools and the soufflé deflates. To solve this problem, have everyone seated with spoons ready as you carry the puffy cloud to the table.
I’ve included how to make the soufflé in the photo, as well as a recipe for chocolate lava cupcakes, which have a molten interior of creamy chocolate, reportedly invented when a baker undercooked a soufflé – so easy, even mistakes are delicious.
1 t softened butter
1 t sugar
3 egg whites
1/4 C sugar
4 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate
2 T strong coffee
3 T flour
1 C half & half
1 1/2 T butter
2 t vanilla
2 egg yolks
Preheat oven to 425 F. Coat the interior of two 12-oz ramekins with butter. Sprinkle with sugar and discard excess; set aside. In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in 1/4 C sugar until stiff, glossy peaks form; set aside. Place the chocolate and coffee in a medium bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water. Once chocolate has melted, stir in the flour until smooth. Gradually add the milk, whisking after each addition. Add butter and bring almost to a boil. Remove from heat and whisk in vanilla. One by one, whisk the egg yolks into the sauce, stirring quickly to keep eggs from cooking. Using a spatula, scrape the chocolate mixture into the bowl of beaten egg whites and fold gently to combine. Pour half the batter into each of the prepared ramekins. Place dishes in the oven and reduce heat to 375 F. Bake until puffed and starting to crack, about 35 minutes.
Chocolate Lava Cupcakes
1/2 C butter
1/2 C sugar
1/3 C flour
1/3 C cocoa powder
Preheat the oven to 400 F. Generously butter a 6-cup muffin tin. Dust with sugar and tap out excess; set aside. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Stir in salt and beat in eggs one at a time. Add flour and cocoa; beat just until combined. Divide the batter evenly among prepared muffin cups. Bake just until the tops of the cakes no longer wiggle when the pan is slightly shaken, about 9 minutes. Remove pan from oven and allow to stand for three minutes. Using a thin knife blade, loosen the edges of the cupcakes from the pan and tip out onto a serving plate.