to be said for the ability to fashion something truly glorious from
practically nothing. Gardeners and hat makers know what I mean.
In a resourceful cook's world, soufflés belong in that category.
Take a chocolate soufflé, for instance. Eggs.
Essentially, there are only a few things to keep in mind. The
flavor needs to be relatively intense. It's all in the base, which
is diluted first by the sheer volume of egg whites that it will be
folded into, and then diluted again by the rising in the oven. Our
base of bittersweet chocolate and egg yolks is as simple as they come.
We got the best flavor — rich, complex, and lingering — from Valrhona
chocolate, which can be found at specialty food shops. According to food
historian Maricel Presilla, author of The New Taste of Chocolate: A
Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes, Valrhona has a high
cacao content (60 to 70 percent) and is a blend of the best beans.
Callebaut, another quality brand that we generally like very much,
proved disappointing in this recipe — because the cacao beans the
company buys aren't as distinctive, the chocolate isn't as assertive.
And we were surprised at how well Baker's worked. "Like other
supermarket chocolates," Presilla said, "it's made of inexpensive bulk
beans that are often over roasted to mask any flaws." The harshness
is evident when you taste the chocolate raw, but in our soufflé it
translates into robust flavor, though lacking the nuances of Valrhona.
BEATING THE EGG WHITES:
Almost everyone knows that beating the egg whites properly is key.
The air, in the form of tiny bubbles, is trapped in the egg foam; as the
soufflé bakes, the air expands, causing the soufflé to puff
dramatically. (When the soufflé cools, what does the air do?
It contracts, of course, making the soufflé fall. How could people
ever think physics boring or irrelevant?) The trick is to know when to
stop beating — the whites must stay elastic, so that the air bubbles can
expand without bursting. Adding sugar at the right time — after
"soft peak" stage — gives the foam stability. The debate as to the
supposed advantage of beating whites in a copper bowl has finally been
laid to rest, by the way. According to food scientists Shirley
Corriher and Harold McGee, it can indeed make a difference — not in the
volume of beaten uncooked whites, but in the volume of the finished
dish. (There's a particularly cogent explanation in Corriher's
book Cook Wise.) We loved the result we got with an electric mixer
and a stainless steel bowl, so we didn't bother with a copper bowl, but
if you have one, give it a try. Clean it beforehand by rubbing it
with a generous handful of coarse salt and a dash of vinegar, then rinse
FOLDING IN THE WHITES:
Folding is also important. First, add about a cup of foam to the
base to lighten it — the two mixtures will combine more readily that
way. Many cookbooks tell you to then add the remaining whites to
the base, but we sometimes do it the other way around. Food editor
Ruth Cousineau, who has made soufflés for years, feels that as long as
you are gentle and fold quickly, you shouldn't have a problem. So
scrape the chocolate mixture into the whites and then cut down through
the center. Turn the bowl with your other hand as you're cutting
down and lifting up some of the foam from the bottom of the bowl.
You'll develop a beautiful rhythm that way.
1. If the yolks aren't room-temperature, they'll cool the melted
chocolate too much.
2. Stir the yolks in well.
3. One key to a cloudlike soufflé is not to overwork the egg whites.
This is what you're aiming for — whites beaten until they just hold
stiff peaks. (Note: The operative word is just.)
4. Gently but thoroughly fold the base into the whites, preserving as
much of their volume as possible. A large rubber spatula is the
best tool for the job.
5. A chocolate soufflé is a good one to practice on because of the
difference in color — it's easy to see when the whites are fully