I don't know what it is about the French, but have you noticed that everything in French sounds so much better? For example, Chocolate and Zucchini has wonderful recipes, but it is the French slant (including her periodic lessons on French idioms relating to food), that gives it a certain, well, dare I say, je ne sais quoi. Or think of the word souffle, and one can only respond with a monosyllabic "oooh" in awe. The French have kind of mystified food, and even their most basic dishes can seem humble yet refined at the same time. Movies are made about French food (Ratatouille, Julie and Julia...), with the message that French food is attainable yet underscores just how enlightened their cuisine really is.
This was brought to mind recently when some friends and I had an excursion to the city this past weekend and had dinner at a quaint French place called Cafe Claude. It's tucked away in an alley, and the average passerby would easily pass by it. Once inside, we were transported away from the city bustle, and it wouldn't take too much imagination to think we were in Paris--if it weren't for our entertaining, yet French-accent deprived, waiter. I can't remember what my dish was called, but I remember the taste vividly--the melding of the rare tuna steak with an onion and bacon infused cream sauce, that left me extolling its qualities and completely satisfied. Bacon (and butter) really does make everything better.
In honor of my French food experience, I'm going to share the chocolate souffle a friend and I made (having two people make this the first time really helps to make it less intimidating). With the exception of one or two that were slightly amiss, they came out rather fetching, and tasted the way you would imagine a souffle should--a little dreamy. I've actually been waiting to make this again before posting it here, since some of the souffles did fall and I had only my iPhone with me to take pictures, but I decided to go ahead and post this anyway. I think Julia Child would approve.
Adapted from Sherry Yard's The Secrets of Baking Makes 6 8-oz. ramekins
Coating the ramekins:
- 2 T. unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup sugar
Lightly brush the ramekins with the melted butter, and coat completely with sugar. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 425F, with rack in the middle.
- 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 3 large egg yolks, room temperature
- 2 T. corn starch (though Sherry Yard suggests potato flour)
- 8 large egg whites, room temperature
- pinch of cream of tartar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- powdered sugar
1. Chop the chocolate into 1/4 in. pieces, and place in a medium heatproof bowl.
2. Heat the heavy cream until boiling, and pour over the chocolate. After about 1 minute, stir the chocolate and cream until all of the chocolate is melted. Set aside.
3. Whisk egg yolks with corn starch in a small bowl, and set aside.
4. Using an electric mixer, whip egg whites until large bubbles form. Add the pinch of cream of tartar. Continue to whip until soft peaks form (egg whites begin to cling to the beater). Slowly add in sugar, while whipping. Stop whipping once the egg whites can stand up (medium peak stage).
5. Stir the egg yolk mixture into the chocolate mixture from #2 using a spatula.
6. Gently fold 1/3 of the egg whites into the combined mixture from #5, then fold in the rest. Be careful to not deflate the egg whites.
7. Fill each of the ramekins to the rim with the batter. Run a knife around the inside wall of the ramekin to create a pocket of air, which will help the souffle rise straight (we forgot this step!).
8. Place filled ramekins on a baking sheet and bake for about 15 minutes. The sides should be dry. Gently (and quietly!) remove the souffles from the oven, dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.
(the sunken souffle!)