I know I’m not the only one who prefers to stay home on New Year’s Eve. I don’t care for huge crowds and the older I get, I just want to have a comfortable but luxurious night at home. I don’t usually make a special dinner but we always eat well. I like to make a cheese board and have Botarga, which is a Sephardic delicacy made from fish roe. I usually add fruit, nuts, olives and crackers.
So many of our religious holidays are set by times and prayers, and we really enjoy New Year’s because it feels like a free day to us where we can simply go with the flow. New Year’s Eve follows Shabbat this year but there is still plenty of time to whip up something special.
I like to deconstruct classic recipes to make them easier to follow and less difficult for people to experiment with. Chocolate souffle sounds daunting to most home chefs. There are lots of steps with finicky instructions. It takes time and effort — but actually much less effort than baking a batch of babka. After you do it once and understand the steps, you’ll see there isn’t much to be afraid of.
I use Julia Child’s classic recipe with a couple of small adjustments. It’s hard to get much better than a master but I like a bit more flour and salt than she used. Whether you’re creating a romantic date night at home or celebrating with your family and friends, this is a beautiful delight for your loved ones.
⅓ cup strong black coffee or ⅓ cup boiling water with ½ teaspoon of espresso powder. You can also use Starbucks Via instant coffee.
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1 tablespoon vanilla
4 tablespoons butter, divided; do not substitute with salted butter.
2 cups whole milk; do not substitute for lower fat
⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
4 eggs yolks
6 egg whites
½ teaspoon salt; I prefer sea salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
½ cup sugar
Powdered sugar for decorating
My best advice is that, when making a recipe with multiple steps, get all of the ingredients out of the cupboard and refrigerator first. With fine baking it’s important that eggs, milk, cream and butter are at room temperature before starting. In most seasons, this means taking things out of the fridge an hour before you plan to use them. Measure what you can beforehand and set aside an area for each step so everything is ready to go when you are. You can also separate the egg whites and egg yolks into separate bowls an hour ahead of time, which will help them to reach room temperature more quickly.
There are three main steps: Melting the chocolate; cooking a pudding-type base with the milk and the flour; and beating the egg whites to stiff peaks. You gently fold it all together at the end and bake it. Use the best butter and chocolate you can find; better ingredients always turn out better results.
Typically in baking if you don’t have unsalted butter you simply omit the salt from the recipe, but that won’t work here. There is salt added to the egg whites that is necessary for them to change from a liquid to a solid texture. I recommend using a stand mixer to beat the egg whites. You can be flexible with your baking container as long as it’s well-buttered. I used a 2-quart souffle dish, but the recipe can be divided into about 8 small ramekins, which will shorten the baking time to about 25 minutes. If you don’t have a round baking dish with tall sides, you can use a saucepan if the handles are ovenproof and it’s the correct size.
Place the oven rack one slot from the bottom of the oven. The souffle expands while baking and needs lots of room to move upward. Preheat oven to 425 F.
Preparing the baking dishes
You need heavy-duty aluminum foil or parchment paper to make collars for the baking dishes. Souffles will rise tall while cooking; that is why they still taste airy and creamy even after they have collapsed. I use about a tablespoon of butter to grease the baking dish, but you must also grease the inside of the collar as well. Measure out the foil about twice the length of the circumference of the rim. Fold it in thirds so it is strong and stiff, towering about 4 to 6 inches over the rim of the dish. You only need to butter the top part that the souffle will touch — this is the part that stands over the top of the baking dish — which will keep the souffle from running over the sides. If you don’t have paper tape to seal it, place another small oven proof bowl at the seam to hold the foil or paper tight to the base of the pot. This may sound like a lot of instructions just to make the collar, but it is really very simple.
Warming the chocolate
To warm the chocolate, use either a double boiler or a regular sauté pan with a medium-sized glass Pyrex bowl sitting on top. Put about 3 inches of water in the base and bring to a soft boil, then reduce the heat to simmer. Pour the coffee/coffee mixture over the chocolate and let the bowl sit over the simmering water until it’s melting nicely. Use a rubber spatula to mix and smooth the melting chocolate. Once well combined, turn the burner off but leave the bowl sitting over the water pan so that it stays supple and easy to mix in for the last step. You can cover this if you wish to with foil or a lid.
Preparing the base
Pour the flour into another saucepan and, using a whisk, mix in 2-3 tablespoons of milk into the flour until you see a smooth paste. Keep adding milk slowly, a few tablespoons at a time, whisking until the milk and flour are well combined.
Add in 3 tablespoons of butter.
Place the pan over medium heat and bring to a soft, slow boil, stirring constantly. It’s important to keep stirring, but that means it will take a little longer to bring the mixture to a slow boil. Once air bubbles up consistently, cook for 4-5 minutes while stirring. It will have the consistency of a homemade cooked pudding.
Remove from heat.
Every 30 seconds or so give the hot mixture a good stir, which helps release steam and helps it to cool. It can be warm to the touch when you add in the egg yolks, but if it’s too hot your eggs will curdle and you’ll have to start over.
Add each egg yolk one at a time, whisking it in completely until there are no streaks of yellow, and repeat until they are all combined. Set aside.
Beating the egg whites
Pour the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt into a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on medium for a few minutes until soft peaks appear; the egg whites should look frothy and be an opaque white. If you stick your finger in or raise the whisk attachment, the egg whites should softly lift up so they look like soft, fluffy clouds. There should not be any liquid egg white at the bottom of the mixing bowl. If you see any liquid just run the mixer for another minute or two.
Sprinkle the sugar over the top and mix for another 4-5 minutes on medium until the egg whites are glossy and stiff as they would be for a meringue or a pavlova. I often turn up the speed to high for the last minute to get the best results. It’s always better to feel that you over-whipped them as opposed to under-whipping them because the egg whites are the most important part of the souffle.
While the egg whites are mixing, stir the chocolate into the milk and flour mixture until well combined. If the chocolate cooled too much you will need to gently warm it so it is pliable before mixing it in. It’s OK to have some small lumps of flour remaining — you won’t notice them in the finished souffle. Once well combined, stir in the tablespoon of vanilla.
Gently add the chocolate mixture to the bowl of egg whites, folding the mixture over with a silicone spatula. The sooner you mix the egg whites with the batter the better your end result will be. It may take a few minutes of gentle folding until you don’t see any streaks of white.
Pour this mixture into the prepared baking dish immediately. Place the baking dish on a cookie sheet with edges to protect your oven from any mess.
Place the baking dish and tray onto the oven rack, close the door and immediately turn the heat down to 375 F. Set a timer for 40 minutes and don’t open the oven door, not even to peek.
After 40 minutes, pull the tray about halfway from the oven and sprinkle powdered sugar over the top with a mesh sifter; put back to bake for another 10-15 minutes. A toothpick should come out clean or almost clean. A souffle has a very different consistency than cake — it can be almost pudding-like in the middle.
You can serve the souffle fairly hot with a dollop of fresh whipped cream, but it will stay warm for almost an hour after baking.
People who are perfectionists get very wrapped up in the idea of a souffle not falling. Guess what? Unless you are a Ritz Carlton-level chef, your souffle is going to fall — it doesn’t change the taste one bit.
Enjoy and bless your hands! PJC
Jessica Grann is a home chef living in Pittsburgh.