I love these fluffy national holidays. Every day is a holiday. Isn’t that cool? EVERY DAY.
Some are more fun than others, obviously, and some are way more fluffy. My favorites center around desserts and other junk food. I especially like them when, like today, they present a challenge as well as an opportunity to stuff my face.
It’s National Chocolate Soufflé Day.
(Get it? A fluffy holiday? Oh, come on.)
People think that soufflés are these ticking time bombs, the most difficult dessert to make, impossible for the average cook to get right. To those people, I say:
Of course, I say that as a fairly experienced cook with an unnatural interest in food and its inner workings and possibly a dash of natural cooking talent (she said, blushing, because above all she was humble…)
Here’s the thing: in my experience, if the average cook can’t pull off a recipe it boils down (I’m sorry–the English language is full of food imagery so there are bound to be plentiful puns and yeah, I kind of like them) to one of two things:
- It’s the kind of recipe that requires you to feel certain intangibles that can’t be easily quantified (the proper consistency for a macaron batter, the firmness of a properly cooked steak–these things can be explained but it takes practice and attention for most cooks to get them right).
- It hasn’t been explained well enough.
Sometimes it’s both. I believe this is the case with soufflés.
A traditional soufflé is made by separating some eggs and then turning the whites and the yolks into two separate substances–sort of a custard and sort of a meringue. But not exactly, and obviously it depends on whether the recipe is savory or sweet. Basically, you’re trying to maximize the egg’s culinary potential: all the creaminess and all the fluffiness in one cohesive dish.
This can be daunting. Custards are finicky. Egg whites are finicky. They both require precision and that je ne sais quoi that so often leads to failure. Thus, easier versions of the recipe have been developed.
Alton Brown’s recipe, for example, doesn’t even require you to separate eggs. He throws them in the blender with butter and sugar, thus creating a creamy, fluffy texture without the stress.
Looking at his recipe, I thought:
With this method, you could really turn any baked good into a “soufflé.”
Now, you might think that “fudgy brownie soufflé” is an oxymoron, and you’d be right–a soufflé is by nature not fudgy, and fudge in no way resembles a soufflé. However, in testing my theory, I decided to add a little fluff to my favorite brownie recipe (it comes out of that famous red-and-white checkered cookbook that your mother probably has in her kitchen if you don’t). It’s called “Fudgy Brownies.”
I Frankensteined the two recipes together, and this is what came of it:
Fudgy Brownie “Soufflé”
½ cup unsalted butter
3 oz unsweetened baking chocolate, roughly chopped
4 extra large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Heat oven to 325 degrees F. Coat four small ramekins with softened butter and granulated sugar (like greasing a cake pan, but with sugar instead of flour—the sugar helps the soufflé grab the walls of the ramekin and rise higher).
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt together the butter and chocolate. Add vanilla extract and stir well. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside
- Puree the eggs and sugar in the blender for one minute. Reduce the speed and, with the blender still running, remove the center of the lid. Drizzle in the chocolate/butter/vanilla mixture. Crank the speed back to high and blend for about fifteen more seconds.
- Add the flour mixture to the blender. Blend on medium for about ten seconds, just until the flour is all mixed in.
- Divide the batter evenly among the four prepared ramekins.
- Set the ramekins in a larger baking dish. Bring the whole thing to the oven and set it on the rack before adding about an inch of hot water to the large baking dish (you don’t want any to get into the soufflé! This water helps manage the temperature in the ramekins, since water never gets hotter than boiling).
- Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the soufflés comes out clean (something you wouldn’t necessarily do with a traditional soufflé, but clearly these aren’t traditional).
- Remove pan from oven and let sit for about five minutes, leaving the ramekins in the water bath.
- Carefully remove the ramekins from the water bath. Serve warm.
(Get the printable recipe here.)
Okay, these aren’t soufflés, but neither are they brownies: they’re a hybrid. You might say I just made little chocolate cakes, and that wouldn’t be too far off; they’re firmer than a soufflé and can be turned out of their ramekins without collapsing, but still light and fluffy, with that fudgy brownie flavor. The method is not too far off from a génoise, which is possibly the lightest and fluffiest cake next to angel food, but still, it’s not a soufflé. I just don’t think you can really make a soufflé without making the custard, whipping the egg whites, and carefully folding them together (Sorry, Alton)–but you can make a deliciously light yet fudgy, oxymoronical chocolate cake.
(If you want a REAL soufflé recipe, grab a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Read the recipe two or three times, all instructions and introductions included, carefully set up your ingredients and equipment, and go for it!)