la bella toscana and celebratory chocolate soufflés

“They say they built the train tracks over the Alps before there was a train that could make the trip. They built it anyway. They knew one day the train would come. Any arbitrary turning along the way, and I would be elsewhere. I would be different. What are four walls, anyway? They are what they contain. The house that protects the dreamer. Unthinkably good things can happen, even late in the game. It’s such a surprise.”

-Frances Mayes Under the Tuscan Sun. 

If you’d asked me a year ago what my post-grad plans were I may have told you any number of things – a year in Florence, Italy wouldn’t have been one of them. Taking an Italian class during my final semester was a last minute decision (in fact, it was between Italian 101 and Intelligence Analysis) and I never expected it to have made such an impact on my life.  I’ve got a year in Florence ahead of me and I’m planning on graduate school in Italian and French upon my return. Who knows… maybe the train tracks were already built, maybe this is meant to be.  I’ve certainly explored countless options and pursued many possible paths and I’ve ended up here; I don’t know what this means my future holds but it feels right – it feels like I’m supposed to be doing this. And if not, I’ve got nothing to lose, one day the train will come.

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I’m leaving on Thursday and it has been a whirlwind of activity: between good-byes, shopping, packing, and… ahem… brushing up on my Italian.  It has been a bit quiet on the TBAAMF front but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been cooking- I’ve actually been doing quite a bit! In celebration of finally having my study visa and having all my ducks in a row for departure, here’s a recipe for chocolate soufflés with crème anglaise.

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Soufflés have an undeserved reputation of finickiness – the idea of making a soufflé is surrounded by the angst of its deflating and being totally unpresentable; keep calm and follow Julia Child’s wisdom : “Never name a dish before you serve it. Your soufflé falls in the oven? You’re now serving Fallen Soufflé.”

However, chances are, if you follow the recipe and have even remotely modern kitchen appliances, you’ll be fine – actually, you’ll be more than fine – you’ll have delicious soufflés so beautiful you won’t be able to hold back a smile of satisfaction.  Drown them in vanilla bean-specked crème anglaise and enjoy with espresso or red wine (especially Port!).  And, believe it or not, you can make them in advance – without worrying about it affecting how they rise – and store them in the fridge or freezer until you’re ready to bake.

I halved the recipes and made (5) individual soufflés in small ramekins but you could absolutely make one big one.  This recipe yields perfectly elegant soufflés but is also a terrific foundation for a bit of culinary imagination – you can try different liqueurs, add the chocolate-boosting punch of espresso, use very finely ground pistachios or hazelnuts instead of  sugar to prepare the ramekins…

Without further ado…

chocolate soufflé & crème anglaise

adapted from Cooks’ Illustrated

ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp softened butter
  • 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
  • 8 oz- bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped finely
  • 4 tbsp butter, cut into 1/4-inch chunks
  • 1/8 tsp table salt
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tbsp Grand Mariner (or other orange flavored liqueur)
  • 1/3 c granulated sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 8 large egg whites
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar

preparation

  •  adjust a rack to the lower-middle position and preheat the oven to 375F. Butter the inside of a two quart soufflé dish (or, alternatively, about 8 individual ramekins) with the 1 tbsp of butter and coat with 1 tbsp of sugar.
  • fill a small pot about a third of the way full with water and simmer.  Position a heat-proof bowl over the pot to melt the chocolate with the butter.  Turn off heat and stir in the salt, vanilla and liqueur.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment  (be sure the bowl is completely dry so the whites whip properly!), beat the whites at a medium speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and increase to a high speed and beat until you have still, moist peaks.  set aside. (I like to do this step before the yolks to prevent having to wash the KitchenAid bowl between steps – truly, the yolks should be whipped first)
  • Combine the egg yolks and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until pale and fluffy – about 3 minutes.  Fold the egg yolk mixture into the chocolate mixture.
  • Stir about 1/4 of the whipped egg whites into the chocolate mixture – no need to be gentle here, stir with some force! Gently fold in the remaining egg whites taking care to minimize deflation.
  • Spoon into the prepared dish/ramekins. (At this point you can store the prepared soufflés in the fridge or freezer until you are ready for them.) Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes (one large soufflé) or about 16 minutes for individual.
  • Resist the urge to open the oven door to check on them! … or you may very well be serving fallen soufflé! They are done when they have fully risen and the top is fully set.
  • serve immediately

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crème anglaise

adapted from Dorie Greenspan

ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped (or this is a great way to use vanilla bean paste! 1 tsp should be enough)
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter

preparation:

  • bring the milk and vanilla to a simmer; let it infuse for about 10 minutes before removing the vanilla bean pod.
  • Off heat- whisk the yolks, sugar and cornstarch together in a medium saucepan.  Whisking constantly, drizzle about 1/4 of the heated milk over the yolks to temper the eggs.  Add the remainder of the milk and continue whisking.
  • Put the pan over medium heat and bring to a boil.  Allow the mixture to boil for 1-2 minutes to achieve desired consistency before removing it from the heat.
  • Let the cream sit for 5 minutes then add the butter in small pieces, whisking until it is melted and fully incorporated.
  • Cover the cream with plastic wrap – touching the plastic to the cream to prevent a film from forming – and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready for serving.

the recipes are French but I’m Italy bound, so…

buon appétit! 

 

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1 Comment

Filed under Dessert, Uncategorized

One Response to la bella toscana and celebratory chocolate soufflés

  1. jeannie

    As always, the writing is inspiring and a joy to read. Yes, I do believe the train will come…. but first, the plane to take you to your next adventure. Bon journo. Jeannie

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