Salted Caramel Whoopie Pies

March 10, 2010

This past weekend the Tufts’ student theatre group—Pen, Paint, and Pretzels; affectionately abbreviated to 3Ps—put up an amazing production of Eric Bogosian’s “SubUrbia.” The play was incredibly powerful and scarily relatable. The acting was great and the set was phenomenal. So at the end of the show I enthusiastically applauded the cast. I decided that I would treat them to a little something extra. Some people give bouquets of flowers, I give baked goods. Because after all, flowers are nice to look at, but their beauty is short lived. Food is equally temporary, but at least you get to eat it. Booyah roses.


In one scene, the hyperactive Buff (played brilliantly by Greg Berney) waxes poetic about Oreos. The show’s producers got really into the whole Oreo thing; they even placed a Technicolor Oreo on the posters. I know what you’re thinking, and the answer is no. I didn’t make them oreos. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So I decided to make Whoopie Pies, which are kind of like Oreos on sterioids. Instead of crisp cookies, the creamy center is sandwiched by two moist chocolate cakes. I decided to swap out the normal buttercream filling with a salted caramel frosting. This added some depth to the cookies, befitting the play’s intensity.

Whoopie Pies originated up here in the Northeast, specifically in Amish-country, Pennsylvania. The Whoopie Pie’s popularity has reached an all-time high.  Swanky dessert places hawk reimagined whoopie pies for ridiculous prices (think Finale).  Even Nabisco has hopped on the bandwagon, selling a bastardized Whoopie Pie in the form of “Oreo Cakesters.” This version requires the use of Dutch-process cocoa powder. This gives the cake a more distinct flavor. If you don’t know the differnce between Dutch-processed and non-dutch cocoa powder, then check to see if the box specifies. If it says “Natural,” then you probably have non-dutch. Go for European brands, such as Valrhona. Hershey’s Special Dark is partially dutched. Generally, brands will label accordingly, saving you the time and trouble. If you want to learn more, check out David Lebovitz’s encyclopedic FAQ about cocoa powder.

But enough cocoa-powder musings. Back to “SubUrbia!” The entire play takes place in front of a 7/11. The characters saunter in and out of the parking lot and pass the days and nights by loitering out front. So I figured that I would re-create the Giant Hostess Cupcake for the cast. Hostess is the quintessential convenience-store snack food, so it would only be right to make that.


The show was awesome, and hopefully the cast enjoyed the desserts.

RECIPE FOR WHOOPIE PIES

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1 cup firmly-packed brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup DUTCH-PROCESSED cocoa powder
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease baking sheets.

In a large bowl, cream together shortening, sugar, and egg. In another bowl, combine cocoa, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

In a small bowl, stir the vanilla extract into the milk. Add the dry ingredients to the shortening mixture, alternating with the milk mixture; beating until smooth.

Drop batter by the 1/4 cup (to make 18 cakes) onto prepared baking sheets. With the back of a spoon spread batter into 4-inch circles, leaving approximately 2 inches between each cake.

Bake 15 minutes or until they are firm to the touch. Remove from oven and let cool completely on a wire rack.

MAKING THE FILLING

*  1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

* 1 cup marshmallow cream such as Marshmallow Fluff

*1 cup salted caramel (see recipe below)

* 1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat together butter, caramel, marshmallow, and vanilla in a bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes. Shmear the inside of halve the cookies, and then top them off.

ASSEMBLING THE WHOLE THANG

When the cakes are completely cool, spread the flat side (bottom) of one chocolate cake with a generous amount of filling. Top with another cake, pressing down gently to distribute the filling evenly. Repeat with all cookies.

Deep, Dark Salted Butter Caramel Sauce

(this makes way more than a cup, but believe me, you won’t mind one bit)

1 cup sugar
3 ounces (6 tablespoons) salted butter,

1/2 cup plus two tablespoons heavy cream, at room temperature

Melt the sugar over medium high heat in a large pot (at least two or three quarts) whisking or stirring the sugar as it melts to ensure it heats evenly. If the sugar begins to clump, then you’ve been over-stirring. Should this happen, let it sit for about twenty seconds, before you continue to stir. Cook the liquefied sugar to a nice, dark copper color. Add the butter all at once and stir it in. Once you turn off the heat, pour in the heavy cream (The sauce will foam up quite a bit when you add it; which is why you want the larger pot), whisking it until you get a smooth sauce. If any pieces of hardened sugar remain, they can be strained/picked out.

You use it right away or pour it into a jar and store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. When you take it out, it will likely have thickened a bit but 30 seconds in the microwave brings it right back to pouring consistency.


Valentine’s Day Clincher: Molten Chocolate Cake

February 7, 2010

Chocolate is a requisite for Valentine’s Day.  I still remember picking out chocolates in hopes of winning the heart of my third grade crush, Anya. Unfortunately for me, another boy was competing for Anya’s heart, and he shrewdly took credit for my act of love. Oh the agony! I despondently watched as he proclaimed himself her “Secret Admirer.”
While it didn’t exactly work out as planned, there’s no denying the aphrodisiacal powers of chocolate. So when you’re planning a dinner date for V-Day, dessert is a huge consideration. And while there’s no denying the romantic allure of posh dessert spots like Finale or Burdicks, they can be a little draining on the wallet.

The solution—make it yourself. It’s cheaper and far more rewarding. Spending money on a girl will make her blush, spending time on a girl will make her purr. Girls love it when you take them to a swanky restaurant, but if you slave over a good dessert, you’ll have her eating out of the palm of your hand. But guess what? You don’t even have to slave over the dessert. So for all those guys out there with ladies to impress; it’s easy to do, just follow these steps.

Step 1: Cut a hole in a box

Just kidding. I highly doubt you’ll score many ladies with that sort of gift. Here’s a better option.

First, you should invite a girl out to dinner. You can either take her to a restaurant (Sushi or Tapas are options that strike a nice balance between informal and fancy). If you’re a little more confident in your cooking skills, get some pasta from Dave’s Fresh and dine at home/dorm. If it’s a first date though, I’d keep it in neutral territory, like a restaurant.

Step 2: Prepare dessert yourself. A mediocre meal can be remedied with a phenomenal dessert. This final course is the clincher, which is why you should make it yourself. She’ll appreciate the fact that you made it yourself, and best of all—it’s a guaranteed way to get her back to your place.

You should make either the chocolate soufflé or the molten chocolate cake. Both desserts are flashy enough to wow her and easy enough to keep your pre-date day stress free. And best of all, these desserts can both be made ahead of time. Just make them right before you go and place them refrigerator. When you get back, put them in the oven and bake them and voila! Hot, freshly baked dessert! The last thing you want to be doing when you bring her home is fretting over the dessert in the kitchen. By prepping everything beforehand, all you have to do when you get back is put it in the oven. What you decided to do after dessert is all up to you.

If you wanna make the Soufflé…
I detailed this one in the soufflé post, so just click here for that recipe

If you wanna make the molten chocolate cake…

Molten Chocolate Cake
(adapted from New York Times recipe, which in turn was taken from “Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef” by Mark Bittman and Jean-Georges Vongerichten)

INGREDIENTS
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, plus more to butter the molds
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons flour, plus more for dusting

METHOD

1. Beat together the eggs, yolks, and sugar with a whisk or electric beater until light and thick.

2.) In a double boiler (Saucepan of simmering water with a bowl on top), melt chocolate and butter together until the chocolate is almost completely melted.

2. Pour in the egg mixture, then quickly beat in the flour, just until combined.

3. Butter and lightly flour 2 8-ounce molds, custard cups, or ramekins. Tap out the excess flour, then butter and flour them again. Divide the batter among the molds.

(At this point you can refrigerate the desserts until you are ready to eat, for up to several hours; however, you must bring them back to room temperature before baking.)

4. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bake the molds on a tray for about 11 minutes; the center will still be quite soft, but the sides should be set.

5. Once baked, take ramekins out of oven. Immediately place a serving plate on top  of the ramekin. Acting quickly, flip ramekin/plate over. The cake should unmold itself onto the plate. Serve immediately.

Ps: It’s good with vanilla ice cream and a couple of sliced strawberries.


Giant Hostess Cupcake

January 21, 2010

Ah, slushy old Medford, how I’ve missed you! The Tufts campus seems slightly more formidable than before; the previously walkable cement pathways have been with slushy canals. Now, walking from building to building takes a certain degree of skill and blind courage. These deadly slush-puddles hearken back to the mine-laced paths of Vietnam that I read about in all those Tim O’Brien books. With weather like this, I think I’d take the Vietcong over a merciless Mother Nature.

Unfortunately it takes me days to get adjusted to my dorm bed, which is good news for all of you. With a week of sleepless nights ahead of me, I have all the time in the world to flog.

Growing up, I never really got the chance to indulge in mass-produced sweets. Sure, my mom would make me pancakes and muffins for breakfast, but she’d die before feeding me those saccharine cereals like Lucky Charms and Cocoa Krispies. When it came to packing me lunches for school, she would opt for homemade cookies or blood oranges rather than those Hostess or Little Debbie confections. Whatever the case, I’ve always enjoyed Hostess Cupcakes. The moist chocolate cake with the crème filling is so perfectly matched that it almost seems mundane. In an age when the average candy bar has twenty million things going on (pretzel wrapped in special dark chocolate nougat encased with caramel and milk chocolate), there’s something to be said for Hostess’s minimal design.

Here was my chance to remake the forbidden fruit of my childhood. But since I had grown up, it was only fitting that the cupcake did too. So I supersized it. The cake is eye-catching with those distinctive swirls and alters the chocolate-cake formula just enough to surprise all your dinner guests. It’s deliciously retro, with one bite transporting you back to a time when people were blissfully unaware of trans-fats and high fructose corn syrup.

Below you’ll find the assembly steps, and below those you’ll see the recipes. This idea is courtesy of Deb over at Smitten Kitchen

Step one, take your favorite chocolate cake recipe (like the absurdly easy and supremely delicious one-bowl Hershey Chocolate Cake)
*NOTE: If you’re using this cake recipe (and you should), then double the recipe and use two 9 inch pans

Step two. Once cakes have fully cooled, halve one cake horizontally. This should leave you with three cake layers—one full size, and two halved layers. I used unflavored dental floss to slice my cake.

Step three. Cut a four or five inch circle out of the center of the full-sized cake. Hold onto it for snacking, since you won’t be using it for the cake.

Step four. Carefully place one of the thin cake layers on whatever dish you plan on serving the cake. Then carefully line the doughnut shaped cake layer on top of that one.

Step five. Fill the cake layer with the marshmallow frosting (see below for recipe), making sure to leave about a half cup behind for decoration.

Step Six. Carefully place the other half-sized layer on top of the cake. At this point you can frost the cake with the chocolate ganache (again, see below)

Step Seven. Using a pastry bag (or the ol’ fashioned circumsized sandwich baggie trick), finish off the cake with that distinctive white squiggle. If you want to be historically accurate (I would’ve said anal, but that’s a word that should never appear in a cake recipe—ever), make sure to have seven full loops.

RECIPE NOTES: After making and serving this cake, I think that it would be easier to probably just fill the middle with the marshmallow frosting. That way everyone gets a uniform amount of the filling. If you want the appearance of a the Hostess cupcake when you halve the cake, you’re gonna have to do it the long way. Everyone who ate the cake loved it but said that they wanted more filling, so if you decide to make the cake, you might consider putting a dollop of the frosting on each person’s plate.

OTHER NOTE: Remember that discarded center part of the cake layer from step three? You can totally go all Russian Nested Doll (or Matryoshka doll) with this leftover and make a hostess cupcake with it. Just go through the same steps as before. It’s a tad bigger than a normal hostess cupcake but it’s manageable.

Hershey Chocolate Cake, doubled for your convenience

2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
2 cup sugars
8 eggs, at room temperature
22 ounces of hershey chocolate syrup (the contents of two 16oz cans or measured out from one of the BIG bottles)
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour two 9-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with parchment paper.

Cream butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy.

Add eggs, one at a time, mixing all the while. Then add chocolate syrup and vanilla.

Add the flour and mix until just barely combined.  Don’t overbeat, or the cake will toughen.

Pour batter into the pan and bake for around 45 minutes, or until just set in the middle (test by placing a toothpick in the center, if it comes out with a few crumbs, it’s done). Let it cool thoroughly in the pan.

Crème Filling—Seven Minute Frosting

2 large egg whites
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Combine all the ingredients in a double boiler (simply a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water) and beat with a handheld electric mixer at high speed until frosting is thick and fluffy. This should take around 7 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and continue to beat until slightly cooled. Use frosting the day it is made.

Ganache Frosting

1/2 pound semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/4 stick (2 tablespoons) unsalted butter

Place cream sugar and corn syrup in a saucepan and bring to a boil under medium-low heat, whisking constantly. Once the sugar has dissolved, add chocolate and whisk until the chocolate has melt. Once they’ve fully blended, add butter and whisk until smooth.

Transfer frosting to a bowl and let it cool (stirring it occasionally) until it is spreadable. If you want to hasten the cooling process, just pop it in the refridgerator.


“Mini Chocolate Burgers”

January 13, 2010

I had my first—well, my first dozen—macrons in May and was instantly smitten with their taste and cute little design. Since that fateful encounter, I’ve toyed with the idea of making them, but their fragile nature proved too intimidating—until now. My mom’s book group is reading My Life in France (at my suggestion) and I thought that this Parisian cookie would the perfect little snack.

Before we go any further, I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page. We’re talking about macarons, not macaroons. The french cousin to the Macaroon, Macarons can have a variety of fillings and can be identified by their domed tops and tutu-esque ruffled circumference, known as the “foot.”

I decided to use David Lebovitz’s recipe for the French Chocolate Macarons, despite his claim that chocolate macarons are the most difficult ones to make. Go big or go home, that’s what I always say.The recipe called for powdered almonds, but there were none to be had in my local grocery store. I could’ve gone to a specialty shop, but collegiate laziness reared its ugly head—forcing me to buy sliced almonds (Diamond sells blanched, sliced almonds). I pulverized them in the food processor for a good minute. Then I added the powdered sugar and the cocoa, blended them for a good thirty seconds. When it came time to add this mixture to the meringue, I carefully sifted it for good measure.

As for the meringue, there’s a fair bit of debate about how long to age the egg whites before whipping them. Some people leave the whites out for a couple of hours while others swear that a full 24 hours is needed. I just left them in a covered bowl for four hours before whipping them. The main point is that the whites have to be at room temperature to achieve their maximum loft. After folding in the chocolate mixture, I just piped them out using a small plastic sandwich baggie. Yea, I could’ve used a pastry bag, but I didn’t have one. This works just as well and is way cheaper. Just snip off a quarter inch of the tip and you’ll be in business.

Either my oven’s on steroids or the cooking time is way off. My macarons were overcooked by at least five minutes. Next time I’ll put them in for 10 minutes and see what happens. Besides that, they turned out beautifully, complete with that distinctive little foot.

Since I made this first batch for a bunch of peers, I decided to go with chocolate ganache rather than the prescribed prune filling. My baking cohort, Jess, thought that the macarons looked exactly like “little chocolate burgers.” Which got me thinking, maybe White Castle should start offering macarons. After all, McDonalds has its signature McFlurries, and Wendy’s sells Shakes—shouldn’t White Castle get in the dessert game? A variety of Macarons would make the perfect companion to a crave case of those mini burgers, affectionately known as sliders. I’ll be sure to get in touch with the suits over there and let you guys know what ends up happening. Until then, bon appétit!

Chocolate Macrons (adapted from David Lebovitz)

Makes about twenty cookies
Macaron Batter
1 cup powdered sugar
2/3 cup blanched sliced almonds
3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, at room temperature (set them out in a covered bowl for three or four hours hours)
5 tablespoons granulated sugar
Chocolate Filling
2/3 cup heavy cream
1.5 teaspoons light corn syrup
3 ounces of semisweet chocolate, finely chopped (chocolate chips are great time saver)
2/3 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (180 degrees C).

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and have a pastry bag with a plain tip (about 1/2-inch, 2 cm) ready.

Pulverize the almonds in a food processor for a good minute with the pulse setting. Then add powdered sugar and cocoa and process for another thirty seconds.
Beat the egg whites with a mixer until they begin to rise and hold their shape. While whipping, beat in the granulated sugar until whites hold stiff peaks, about 2 minutes.

Sift in the dry ingredients, carefully folding them in with a flexible rubber spatula. Once the mixture in uniform in color and smooth in texture, then place it into a pastry bag or a little sandwich bag. David makes a great disaster-saving suggestion: stand your bag in a tall glass if you’re alone. I used a small bowl and it worked perfectly. With only two hands, we bakers can do only so much…
Pipe the batter on the parchment-lined baking sheets in 1-inch circles (about 1 tablespoon each of batter), evenly spaced one-inch apart. I found that making a swirled shape helped me keep perfect circles when piping out the batter.
Rap the baking sheet a few times firmly on the counter top to flatten them, then bake them for 10 minutes. Once they’ve fully cooled, detach from baking sheet.
To make the chocolate filling:
Heat the cream in a small saucepan with the corn syrup. When the cream just begins to boil at the edges, remove from heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth. Stir in the pieces of butter. Let cool completely before using.
Assembly
Spread a bit of batter on the inside of the macarons then sandwich them together. (You can pipe the filling it, but I prefer to spread it by hand; it’s more fun, I think.)
I also tend to overfill them so you may or may not use all the filling.
Let them stand at least one day before serving, to meld the flavors.
Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or freeze. If you freeze them, defrost them in the unopened container, to avoid condensation which will make the macarons soggy.


Peppermint Bark

December 20, 2009

There are certain foods that you only crave around the holidays. For some, that culinary craving might be candy canes in December, cranberry sauce in November, Hot Dogs in July, or Peeps in April. Peppermint bark falls in that category, at least for me. I enjoy peppermint bark a lot, but I associate it so closely with Christmas  that my pepperminty appetite lies dormant for 11 months of the year.

I was at the grocery store stocking up on Clementines when saw candy canes and chocolate/white chocolate chips on sale. So easy! So timely! So tasty! I knew then that I just had to do it.

I went without a recipe, relying on my memory to put the bark together. Luckily, bark is one of the easiest things to make. First you prepare your candy canes by crushing them, making it one of the best stress-relievers out there. I did this by simply bagging the candies in a Ziploc baggie and then hammering away at them with a pot until you get the right size. You don’t want to end up with candy cane powder, but they should be manageable bits.

Some people temper their chocolate, but with this recipe I didn’t bother. Too much work, especially considering the fact that the chocolate gets covered up with other layers. The general rule of thumb is that you stop heating up chips once the majority have melted and to stir constantly (assuming you’re using a double boiler). If you’re using a microwave, do it on a lower heat setting and check it frequently—no one likes his chocolate well done.

I distinctly remember chilling the chocolate layer before adding the white chocolate; however I think I chilled it for too long because the white and dark sections didn’t really stick together. The white part was entirely independent of the darker subterranean layer. That’s what I get for not consulting a recipe.

Not that anyone really cared. People enjoyed it all the same. This was probably my last Tufts cooking gig before I head off campus on Monday. Nothing sounds quite as delicious right now as a well-stocked kitchen. Mmmm…

Peppermint Bark (makes probably 4 servings if you’re planning on gifting it for people. But why give when you could receive?)

8 candy canes, crushed

12 ounces of bittersweet chocolate

20 ounces of white chocolate (I cheated and used “Premier White Morsels” from Nestlé)

1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract

1.) Line a 13x5x2 pan with parchment paper.

2.) Melt dark chocolate in double boiler/microwave, then add peppermint extract, stirring until combined. Pour melted chocolate in pan. Place in refridge for 5 or ten minutes. Pull it out a couple minutes before step three is done.

3.) Melt white chocolate chips and place on top of dark chocolate layer. Smooth top with a spatula and then sprinkle that crushed up candy cane mixture on top.

4.) Let set in refridge for half an hour or so.


Pumpkin White Chocolate Chip Cookies

October 31, 2009

Cookie

White Chocolate is pretty lame. If Chocolate were Vincent Chase, then white chocolate would be Johnny Drama. For those of you who don’t watch Entourage, I’ll make another comparison. If the Beatles were made of chocolate, then Ringo would be white chocolate. For the sake of completion, let’s say that John is unsweetened, George; semisweet, and Paul; milk chocolate.

White Chocolate

Let me put the pop culture references aside and examine the bastard child of the cacoa bean on a more basic level. Lacking any cocoa solids, white chocolate instead consists of sugar and cocoa butter—the fatty excess of the cocoa bean. You know how they say Dutch-process on some cocoa? Well, the “processing of cocoa” is essentially the removal of cocoa butter from the cocoa bean. The higher the concentration of cocoa solids, the more bitter the chocolate. Unsweetened baking chocolate is simply 100% cocoa solids. You should keep in mind that half of what you see in stores isn’t even true white chocolate. Look at the labels—Nestlé sells White Morsels, which lack the subtly chocolate flavor imparted by the cocoa butter. These chips are simply sugar and partially hydrogenated oils, no cocoa butter. These cheap imitations tarnish white chocolate’s already-low reputation.
So I’m not a big fan of white chocolate. But I realize that there are times when it can be put to some good use. This pumpkin cookie recipe is one of those times for white chocolate to shine.

Pumpkin

Much like bananas, pumpkin helps create a moist baked good. While there are plenty of spices that go with pumpkin–from nutmeg to ginger to allspice—this recipe boldly chooses to go with cardamom, which creates a more unique and full-bodied cookie. Oh, and who can forget the ever-dependable cinnamon! Cinnamon is one of those spices that goes well in virtually every autumnal dish.

A very fluffy dough
The texture and flavor of these cookies make it one of my favorites. And it’s best with white chocolate. It complements the pumpkin and spices so well. Chocolate chips would overpower those subtler flavors, making this recipe one of those few times I’ll pick up whiteys. So without further ado…

Plated cookies

Pumpkin White Chocolate Chip Cookies (AKA The Pumpkin Blumpkin)
Makes around 36 2.5-inch cookies

Ingredients
2 cup regular flour
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 sticks of salted butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
½ brown sugar, packed
1 cup of cooked pureed pumpkin, canned (unadulterated)
1 egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 oz white chocolate chips
2/3 cup of chopped walnuts (OPTIONAL)

1.) Preheat oven to 350ºF.

2.) Combine flour, spices, and baking soda in medium bowl.

3.) In larger bowl, whip softened butter and both sugars until creamy

4.)Whip in pumpkin, egg, and vanilla extract until well mixed

5.) Gradually beat dry ingredients into the larger bowl

6.) Stir in nuts and chips

7.) Place golf-ball sized globs of dough on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten them slightly, as the dough won’t spread all too much on its own.

8.) Bake for 11-14 minutes, until sides are golden brown and center is soft. Let cool for two minutes before removing from cookie sheet.


Chocolate Soufflé

September 3, 2009

Hey, Soufflé

Sorry to have been out of commission for the past couple of days. I had a few things going on, but I hope to churn out three more posts before I take that giant leap back into the collegiate world on Sunday. Don’t worry, I’ll still be flogging at Tufts, probably two or three times a week. But enough about boring logistics—let’s talk food!

I came to a startling realization the other day. I have no blog entries about chocolate! The absence of chocolate is even more upsetting given the overwhelming number of dessert posts. The only thing remotely chocolaty on this blog is the mint chocolate chip ice cream, and that doesn’t really count. So for all the chocoholics out there, please accept this post as a token of my apologies.

So I figured we should start off with a bang. Chocolate Soufflés! “Soufflé” literally means “puffed up” in French, and it is one of the most decadent desserts you can serve. So many post-dinner sweets are flour-based. Honestly, practically every homemade dessert I’ve been served this summer has been a cake. And I’ve been craving a soufflé ever since I read Julia Child’s musings on Gran Mariner varieties in her memoir a couple of weeks ago. When soufflés began to show up in my dreams, I knew that I just had to make one.

The recipe I follow is absurdly easy. Featured on the New York Times’ Minimalist column, this recipe is both foolproof and delicious. Unlike many soufflés, no roux is needed. A roux is a mixture of butter and flour that is the base to most savory soufflés. Even these roux-based soufflés are pretty straightforward. If you know how to whip and fold egg whites, then you know how to make a soufflé. That’s the most difficult part.

On that note, check out this quick tutorial in egg white whipping if you are unfamiliar with the technique or want to know more about the process than you ever really wanted to…Whipping the whites

All this ballyhoo on egg whites leaves the poor little egg yolks in the dust. But they are just as important to the soufflé! The yolks, along with some granulated sugar, are the foundation to a good soufflé. The yolks and the sugar have to be whipped until they are a pale yellow. At this point, they will be quite thick, dropping from the beaters in a continuous stream. The ribbon should be visible even once it falls back into the base (see photo above). From here, I added two ounces of bittersweet chocolate that I fretfully melted in the microwave. As long as you’re careful, microwaves are fine, but double boilers significantly reduce the risk of burning the chocolate. When microwaving chocolate, use a low power setting (like 50 percent) and remove it before all the chocolate melts. Stir the bowl until all the tiny pieces of unmelted chocolate have been combined. The difference between luscious and burnt is a matter of seconds when you’re dealing with a microwave. Just keep you’re eye on the bowl as you microwave and you’ll be fine. Once these are combined, you’ve got your base. Now for the whites!

This the way the described ribbon should fall

This the way the described ribbon should fall

I whipped my whites with the cream of tartar and the pinch of salt, and once the whites reached soft peaks, I began to gradually add the sugar. Soon, I had glossy stiff peaks, like clouds in a bowl.

Stiff Peaks

Stiff Peaks

After whipping the whites, I took a scoop and fully blended them into the base. You don’t have to be delicate with this particular scoopful, just mix it until fully combined. Once this is done, carefully fold in the rest of the whites into the chocolate. Folding is another technique that is integral to the soufflé-making process.

Carefully folding egg whites into the chocolate base

Carefully folding egg whites into the chocolate base

Whipped egg whites are always folded into the contents of the other bowl; I’ve never seen it done the other way (i.e. adding mixture to egg whites). Folding allows you to incorporate the whites without losing their airiness. Bad folding will totally undo all the work you put into whipping the whites. To fold, use a spatula to scoop the batter over the whites. Never press down as this crush the little air bubbles inside the albumen. Gently do this until the whites are moderately incorporated. It’s more important to maintain the airiness than totally blending the mixture. A small swirl of white won’t kill your dish.

I decided to use small ramekins for individual soufflés rather than one big one, because who can truthfully say they enjoy sharing? After about seventeen minutes in the oven, the poofed up soufflés were practically jumping out of their ramekins in excitement. You know if a soufflé is done if it begins to crack along the top. They began to lose their loft about minute after getting pulled out of the oven, so make sure to serve it immediately. Don’t do what I did and take it out of the oven and take photos of it for a minute before bringing it to the table.

sinks quick, so get it to the table

Chocolate Soufflé (makes two servings—two individual ones or one big one)
Recipe courtesy of Mark Bittman of the New York Times, The Minimalist
Ingredients
About 1 tablespoon butter for dish
1/3 cup sugar, plus some for dish
3 eggs, separated
2 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, melted (carefully done in a microwave-safe bowl, as described above)
Pinch salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 2-cup or one 4-cup soufflé or other deep baking dish(es). Just take some butter and rub it around the dish with wax paper, or you can hold the stick of butter in your hand like a pen and rub it around the dishes. Sprinkle each dish with sugar, invert it and tap to remove excess sugar.

2. In a large bowl beat the egg yolks with all but 1 tablespoon sugar until light in color and very thick; the mixture will fall in a ribbon from beaters when it is ready. Mix in the melted chocolate until well combined; set aside.

3. Wash beaters well, then beat egg whites in smaller bowl with salt and cream of tartar until whites hold soft peaks; continue to beat, gradually adding the remaining tablespoon sugar, until they are very stiff and glossy. Stir a good spoonful of whites thoroughly into egg yolk mixture to lighten it; then fold in remaining whites, using a rubber spatula. Transfer to the prepared soufflé dish(es).
NOTE: At this point you can cover and refrigerate the uncooked soufflés for a couple of hours. If you’re hosting a dinner party, you can make this right before the guests arrive and then bake it towards the end of dinner. That way, you can dine with your guests!

4. Bake until center is nearly set, 15-20 minutes for individual soufflés and 25 to 35 minutes for a single large soufflé. It will be done when the top has a few cracks on top. Try not to open the oven door too much. Serve immediately.

NOTE ON THE DONENESS OF A SOUFFLE:
Some people like their soufflés totally dry, which results in a longer-lasting loft. If you want yours this way, then you could test for doneness the same way as you would a cake—the reliable toothpick test. If you’re like me, then you enjoy your soufflés a little on the softer side. A little gooey in the center, these “medium rare” ones don’t puff up as much and sink a little more quickly. It’s all personal preference, but either way you’ve got a winner on your hands.Yum!