There are many ways to enjoy chocolate together, but the chocolate soufflé shares that intimacy in ways other desserts don’t. The urge to eat a soufflé adds to its appeal. After all, the word souffle means breath in French. A breath is evanescent, here then it’s gone. That characteristic texture, which is made from a dough that relies on air bubbles created by frothy egg whites, means that the raised structure is tenuous, delicate, unstable, like love. By the way, a lava cake is not the same as a chocolate soufflé.
The texture of a chocolate soufflé is unique in that it combines a crunchy exterior with cake-like edges that move into a soft, foamy, melting interior (if you don’t overbake it). If it’s made with a ganache base instead of custard, the sweetness is tempered by the intense flavor of the chocolate itself. Then there’s the puddle of crème anglaise that is often poured into the center of the chocolate mass just before eating. The crème anglaise is a cream made from milk, sugar, egg yolks and vanilla. I prefer it slightly warm and on the side so I can pour it where I want it in amounts that feel right. Although in restaurants it is more common to see the soufflé served in individual molds, that seems too limited to me. To experience the best of the fluffy, melty cakey dessert, it should be made in a larger container, preferably one that will serve two to four. If we’re not all dipping into the thing together with our own spoons and eating it straight out of the china bowl, the best way to eat it, in my opinion, is to dip a big spoon into the proud, elevated dessert to get a little bit of all the textures and serve in individual bowls. Then, each diner can dress it with the pastry cream sauce to their liking.
There are restaurants throughout the Southland that excel at preparing chocolate soufflé. I’m sure you have your favourites, from casual cafes to dining palaces. Do yourself a favor and make a date for one with a friend or two. You might even forgo dinner earlier. I’ve reached out to our listeners and these are some of their favorite spots with some of my own added. There are many others, but always call ahead to make sure they are still doing them.
But despite its luxury, making chocolate soufflé is within your reach. Is not difficult. There are just a few techniques that are easy to master. And even if you don’t manage to make one that rises three to four inches above the rim of the baking dish, it will still have all the attributes that will make you swoon.
One of the reasons the chocolate soufflé is such a festive dish is the wait. It can be made ahead of time, but only to the extent of making the beaten egg whites, which create the fabulous rise and texture. So if you ordered one or are making one for a special friend, there’s a built-in 30-minute flirt time when the anticipation builds as you wait for the moment when you can sink your spoons into that loose molten center and get lost in chocolate heaven. The chocolate base is easy to make and can be made ahead of time and refrigerated. If you make your baking dish ahead of time, all you have to do when you’re ready to serve is beat the egg whites, fold them in at the base, and bake without opening the oven door to peek. Or you can make them entirely ahead of time, including the egg whites, refrigerate and bake when ready, especially with those individual ramekins.
I recommend watching a couple of videos from different manufacturers first, so you can clearly see the techniques at work, and also how there are different ways to approach the same result. For example, the NY Times has 10 different recipes for dessert. This video with Claire Saffitz for the NY Times is a good place to start. She uses the ganache method, and in a previous Bon Appetit video she shared the trick of using melted vanilla ice cream for the crème anglaise, which I think is great. Melissa Clark’s Bittersweet Chocolate Souffle includes a deep dive into the genre. David Lebovitz’s essay on his Top Souffle Secrets is great to read even though it doesn’t focus on chocolate. Here is her very simple double chocolate souffle from her book, “The Big Book of Chocolate.” Here is a video on how to fold the egg whites into another mixture.
Have fun! And that myth of tiptoeing around the kitchen and not slam the oven door? Don’t worry about that!