chocolate souffles


Yesterday was mine and Gerrit’s anniversary.  Despite how much I love holidays, things like birthdays and anniversaries aren’t actually as important to me as you might expect.  Sure, I enjoy them, but I don’t really hold constantly big expectations like I do on say, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Gerrit and I agreed that we weren’t going to buy each other presents, a situation that Gerrit was feeling particularly bad about a few days ago and I just said that it doesn’t matter because really our anniversary is just an excuse to do things we normally wouldn’t.  Not that surprise presents aren’t nice, just that they aren’t always necessary.

So in the spirit of doing something we normally wouldn’t, we went down to Birmingham for a weekend trip, the highlight of which was going to eat at the Hot and Hot Fish Club.  For those of you who haven’t heard of this place, their chef, Chris Hastings, was recently named the Best Chef in the South by the James Beard Foundation (which, as I explained to Gerrit, is kind of like the Oscars of the culinary world).

I got their cookbook several months ago and have been pouring through their seasonal recipes and beautiful photographs.  And one thing that caught my eye from the very beginning was their chocolate souffle.  It looked and sounded delicious from their photos and description, and yet…I didn’t make it.  I’m going to blame that on to-bake lists that are unrealistically long.  But dining at their restaurant this past weekend gave me the push.

There was nothing that was not delightful about eating there.  Our food was dreamy and rich, but still manageable.  It all began with fresh baked bread with homemade butter and some cheese biscuits whose recipe I desperately wish resided in my copy of the cookbook.  I got a hickory grilled prime strip loin and Gerrit got a rabbit loin stuffed with fennel sausage and they were both incredible and impressive.

And then came dessert, which was a ramekin sized chocolate souffle topped with creme anglaise and whipped cream.  It tasted like hot chocolate, except with a fluffy texture you can spoon up.  The creme anglaise melted into the center of it, and the cooled whipped cream was a refreshing bite when paired with the straight out of the oven souffle.  This was one of those desserts where Gerrit and I had to carefully draw our dividing line to make sure we split it evenly.

Thankfully, this recipe is in the cookbook, and so I repeated it for dessert last night.  And to be honest, I think it was even better made at home.  There’s that whole, things are better when you make them yourself philosophy (which I definitely believe to a certain extent), and I think that I was probably a little more patient with the cooking time than they were at the restaurant.  But really, I think a major reason is because in a restaurant you can’t use your fingers to lick up all the extra chocolate and sugar left around the dish.

Elton’s Chocolate Souffle
adapted from the Hot and Hot Fish Club cookbook

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Bake Time: 15 minutes

Serves 8

For the Vanilla Creme Anglaise:
1 cup half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or 1/4 vanilla bean)
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Pinch of Salt

For the whipped cream:
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon sugar

For the souffles:
Butter, for buttering ramekins
Sugar, for sugaring ramekins
1 1/3 cups (8.75 oz.) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 large egg yolks
Pinch of salt
12 large egg whites
Pinch of cream of tartar
5 tablespoons granulated sugar

1. Begin by making the creme anglaise.  In a medium-sized saucepan, heat the half and half over medium heat just until scalded, about 5 minutes.  Remove the half and half from the heat, and stir in the vanilla.  (If you are using a vanilla bean, add the scraped out seeds as well as the pod to the half and half at the beginning.)
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, and a pinch of salt.  Slowly pour the half and half mixture into the egg mixture, whisking constantly and briskly.  Then pour the whole mixture back into the pan and cook for 3-5 minutes, until thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon.
3. Strain into a separate bowl and place the bowl in and ice bath to cool the creme quickly.  Creme can be served warm or chilled.
4. Then make the whipped cream.  Pour the heavy cream into a medium-sized bowl.  Beat with and electric beater, starting on low speed and gradually increasing the speed.  Add the sugar gradually as you are beating the cream, and beat until the cream holds stiff peaks.  Store cream in the refrigerator.
5. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Liberally coat the insides of the ramekins with butter (bottoms and sides).  Then coat with sugar, pouring out any excess sugar.  Set aside.
6. Place the chocolate in a large heat-proof bowl over a pot of simmering water to melt the chocolate until smooth (or melt the chocolate in the microwave, stirring the chocolate every 30 seconds).  Remove the bowl from the heat and add the butter, stirring until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth.
7. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and the salt.
8. In a large bowl, combine the egg whites and the cream of tartar.  Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer, beginning on low speed and gradually increasing the speed.  Add the sugar while beating, 1 teaspoon at a time.  Beat until the egg whites have tripled in volume and hold medium-stiff peaks.
9. Carefully fold 1/3 of the egg white mixture into the chocolate mixture.  Continue folding the whites into the chocolate in batches, being careful not to deflate the egg whites or over fold the mixture.
10. Spoon 3/4 cup of the mixture into each ramekin.  (At this point, they can be refrigerated for up to 2 hours).  Place the ramekins on a baking sheet and into the oven, baking for 12-15 minutes until the tops are puffed and golden brown.
11.  Serve the souffles immediately.  Cut an X in the top of each souffle.  Pour several tablespoons of creme anglaise into the center and then top each one with a spoonful of whipped cream.

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