Everyone should try making a chocolate souffle at least once in their lives. They are one of the most heavenly things you can eat with a spoon, but they are a total confidence booster.
I’m not going to say they’re easy, exactly, but they’re also surprisingly not all that hard. They’re just tricky enough that when you pull those domed cups out of the oven and carry them reverently to the table, you will feel like you really accomplished something great. In that moment, you are a cooking superstar.
I’ve always found souffles charming in their very simplicity. Eggs are separated into yolks and whites. The yolks get whisked into a rich, flavorful base – in this case, melted chocolate – while the whites get whipped to stiff peaks. Fold the whites into the base, transfer it to cups, and bake. So simple!
In the heat of the oven, the air trapped inside the whipped egg whites expands; this lifts the whole souffle, giving the finished dish a foamy, airy texture – a nice contrast to the richness of the base.
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Souffles will fall eventually. You did nothing wrong – it’s their nature. The delicate structure of the whipped egg foam isn’t sturdy enough to support its own weight once the heat of the oven is no longer helping everything stay poofed. But the idea that you need to rush the souffles to the table and devour them before they collapse is silly. Appreciate their domed beauty while it lasts and then dig in at your leisure.
A few tips will help you achieve souffle success:
▪ Make sure your oven is preheated. Once the whites are whipped and mixed into the base, the souffles need to go into the oven right away.
▪ Make the base, then whip the whites. Your whites will start to deflate if they have to sit long.
▪ Mix the whites into the base in three batches. This helps lighten the base incrementally; if you add the whites all at once, it would be harder to stir them in evenly and you’d end up deflating them too much.
▪ Fold, don’t stir. Instead of stirring, which (again) deflates the whites too much, use a folding motion to incorporate the whites into the base. Cut through the middle of the bowl with the edge of your spatula, scoop along the bottom of the bowl, and then flip the batter over onto itself. Continue doing this, turning the bowl, until everything is incorporated.
▪ Don’t open the oven. Tempting as it is to peek, changes in temperature will mean less poof in your souffles.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for the dishes
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 large eggs yolks
1/2 cup sugar, divided, plus extra for the dishes
6 large egg whites
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Rub the insides of six (7-ounce or 8-ounce) oven-safe ramekins or a 1 1/2-quart souffle dish with butter. Sprinkle a tablespoon of sugar in the bottom of each ramekin (or a scoop of sugar in the larger souffle dish), then tilt and tap the dish to work the sugar into the corners and up the sides.
Combine the chocolate and 2 tablespoons butter in a heatproof bowl. Set the bowl over a small saucepan of barely simmering water – make sure the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the surface of the water. (Or use a double-boiler.) Melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally, until completely smooth.
Remove the chocolate from heat and stir in the vanilla and salt. Cool the chocolate until still very loose, but just slightly warm to the touch.
Place the yolks in a mixing bowl and sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar. Whisking by hand or in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the yolks and sugar until light yellow and the mixture forms ribbons that hold for a few seconds on the surface.
Pour the yolks over the chocolate. Use a spatula to gently fold the chocolate and the yolks together until completely combined.
Clean your mixing bowl thoroughly and make sure it is dry and free of any grease. Add the egg whites. Beat, gradually increasing speed, until the whites are quite frothy and opaque. With the mixer at medium speed, gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Increase the speed to high and beat the whites until they form stiff peaks.
Scoop about 1/4 of the beaten egg whites into the bowl with the chocolate base. Stir them in until no visible egg whites remain.
Scoop half of the rest of the egg whites on top of the chocolate base. Using your spatula, cut through the center and scoop the spatula underneath, then gently lift and flip the mixture over onto itself. Give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the folding motion. Once this batch is nearly incorporated, add the remaining whites.
Divide the souffle batter between the prepared ramekins. Bake small souffles for 18 to 20 minutes, or one large souffle for 35 to 40 minutes.
Yield: 6 servings.