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Before the proliferation of molten chocolate lava cakes on restaurant dessert menus in the last quarter of the 20th century, there was the chocolate soufflé. Rich and decadent, yet impossibly fluffy with its warm, oozing center, chocolate soufflé is the great grandmother to all of the warm, partially baked chocolate desserts that followed. And yet, while you can find some version of that cake on menus from TGI Fridays to Jean Georges, the soufflé is far more elusive. To seek out a good one, you must dine at a proper shrine to classic French cuisine.
Those who have ordered a one in a restaurant understand that the biggest challenge with soufflé is timing. Fancy French restaurants play up this critical element with the diner to make the affair all the more alluring, with the requirement that it must be ordered at the beginning of the meal so that the staff will have ample time to "alert the pastry chef". This does not mean, as one might infer, that your soufflé is being whipped up right then and there as you enjoy your entree. Rather, the advanced notice helps accommodate delicate baking schedule, and gives everyone involved; the cook firing the order, the runner responsible for delivering it to the table promptly, and the expectant diner, the heads up that a soufflé waits for no man. Once it's come out of the oven, it's a ticking time bomb, with its delicate, fluffy surface deflating by the minute. It's a lot of fuss for something that, at the end of the day, is just chocolate and meringue, baked in an oven.
While I do enjoy some good pastry drama, I'd rather make my soufflé at home, where I am in control of the situation. For all the pomp they get in restaurants, the batter is delicate but fairly straightforward, and the ramekins can be stored in the fridge until you are ready to bake them off and serve.
When making a soufflé, here are a few tips:
- Grease the ramekins right to the edge with softened butter, then coat with a thin layer of sugar, to ensure that they rise vertically and do not catch or stick, which will cause them to rise only on one side.
- Take care not to over whip the meringue, you want it thick, smooth, and glossy, not puffy and dull, like cotton.
- Preheat the oven, and then bake in the center with the convection fan off.
- Serve straight out of the oven.
For a full tutorial, click through the slideshow to learn how it's done, then have some friends over to enjoy a chocolate soufflé without all the drama.
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