Tuesday, March 31

Souffle Trails

In so many ways, spring is a remarkable season to watch unfold. As the snow slowly recedes, we see birds return, days lengthen, lakes open and creeks babble. We also witness the earth begin to bake--literally--under the spring sun.

The baker in me is always fascinated by this. As the frost is heated out of the ground, it makes the soil rise, much like a souffle baking in an oven. The effect is most noticeable on trails that have been heavily trod during the winter, where our feet and snowshoes have driven the frost deeper into the earth. These trails rise high and light, sometimes with a delicate crust that breaks away when you step on it.

Like a souffle, the effect is short-lived. Soon the frost is dissipated and the ground settles back down. And it makes me think it's about time to dig out my souffle cake recipe again.

Chocolate Souffle Cakes
Serves 4

These little cakes are great for entertaining, as they must be prepared in advance and need only a little last-minute effort to get them on the table when you're ready for dessert. You can make the batter and hold the filled dishes in the fridge for up to 24 hours, or freeze them for up to a month. After you've finished your dinner main course, pop them in a preheated oven for about 20 minutes and serve them simply garnished and hot from the oven. Recipe can be doubled or tripled.

  • 4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, plus more for the ramekins
  • granulated sugar for dusting
  • 2 tablespoons coffee-flavoured liqueur such as Kahlua (or water)
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
  • 4 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • pinch salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 3 egg whites, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (2 ounces) icing (confectioner's) sugar

special equipment: four 6-ounce ramekins, about 3 1/2" diameter and 2" high

Lightly butter the ramekins. Dust with granulated sugar and tap out the excess.

In a small microwave-safe bowl, mix together the liqueur and instant coffee. Microwave on high for 10 seconds to warm the liquid, then stir to dissolve the coffee.

Melt the chocolate and 4 tablespoons of butter in a large metal bowl over simmering water or in the microwave. Stir until smooth and glossy. If you've used the microwave to melt the chocolate/butter, transfer the mixture to a large bowl before continuing.

Whisk the coffee liqueur mixture, salt and vanilla into the chocolate mixture. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time.

In a medium bowl, use an electric beater on medium speed to beat the egg whites until foamy. Increase the speed to medium high until soft peaks begin to form. Increase the speed to high and slowly beat in the icing sugar. Beat just until the peaks are stiff and glossy, being careful not to overbeat or the egg whites will become dry and clumpy .

Gently whisk about 1/4 of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Add about half of the remaining whites and gently fold them in with a broad rubber spatula. Add the remaining whites and gently fold until just blended and no white streaks remain.

Divide the mixture evenly among the ramekins. Chill uncovered for at least an hour.

If you'll be serving the souffles within 24 hours, cover them each with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake. If you'll be serving them later than that, wrap each in plastic, seal in a freezer bag, and freeze for up to one month.

To bake from the fridge:
Heat the oven (a toaster oven works great too) to 400 F. Set the ramekins on a shallow baking sheet for easier handling (not necessary if using a toaster oven), and bake until puffed and risen about 1 inch, about 16-18 minutes in my toaster oven.

To bake from the freezer:
Do not defrost first. Set the frozen ramekins out on the counter for 20 minutes while the oven (or toaster oven) is preheating to 400 F. Place the ramekins on a shallow baking sheet for easier handling (not necessary if using a toaster oven), and bake until puffed and risen about 1 inch, about 20-22 minutes in my toaster oven.

I like to use the toaster oven for these so I can watch their progress (my regular oven doesn't have a window). I take them out when they're high and airy-looking. Don't worry if your timing is a little off. If the souffles are a little underdone, they won't be as high and they'll be a little soft in the centre like a lava cake, but they'll taste wonderful. If they're a little overdone, they'll be a bit more cakey and will benefit from some whipped cream as garnish.

To serve:
Serve straight from the oven, still in the ramekins. These little souffles will start to lose their pouf almost immediately so have your dessert plates ready—lining them with a small paper doily or napkin will help prevent the hot ramekins from sliding around—and any garnishes you plan to use.

These are so rich and delicious, they can be served as they are with perhaps just a dusting of icing sugar and a mint sprig. But it's also fun to dress them up a bit. A few fresh raspberries or strawberries and a dollop of very lightly sweetened whipped cream make a nice contrast to the ultra rich chocolate souffles. A few chocolate shavings on top is, perhaps, gilding the lily, but I couldn't resist.


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