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Soufflé mon amour



"Easy chocolate soufflé" sounds like a contradiction in terms. But a pal of mine from graduate school who didn't believe in dining out, mostly for economic reasons, made these soufflés often, and they really are as easy as she made them look. I've adapted her recipe over the years, and adopted it for Valentine's Day.

Although the economy is affecting our spending—and restaurant reservations can be hard to get—with a hearty dinner and this soufflé, Valentine's Day doesn't have to be a bummer. Cook dinner first: Throw an N.C. grouper steak or a grass-fed T-bone on the grill and toss a salad of local baby greens topped with roasted Brussels sprouts and chopped pecans. The ingredients should be available Saturday morning, Feb. 14, at area farmers' markets, except maybe the fish, which you can seek out at Capital Seafood in Raleigh and Durham, and at Tom Robinson's or Adam Gunter's in Carrboro.

Then with your companion(s), assemble the soufflé, made with local eggs, milk and whipping cream on a foundation of fair-trade unsweetened chocolate. Put it in the oven for 30 minutes so that you're ready to indulge the minute it comes out. You'll have a V-Day dessert that does the heart good.

Individual chocolate soufflés

Butter for greasing baking dishes
3/4 cup sugar (divided into 1/4 and 1/2 cup measures plus extra for dusting)
1/4 cup flour
1 1/4 cup milk
3 ounces unsweetened baking or cooking chocolate
5 large eggs (6 medium) at room temperature, separated
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
2 teaspoons vanilla

Note: A traditional mixer (hand held or on a stand) works better for this recipe than a food processor; be sure to keep the whites moving in a circular motion in and out of the beater blades to fully incorporate air. Individual ramekins work better than a two-quart soufflé mold, but if you don't have six 10-ounce ramekins go ahead and make the biggie.

Butter six 10-ounce ramekins or a two-quart casserole/ mold and sprinkle with sugar. Rotate dish(es) to coat the butter with sugar and shake out excess. Combine flour plus 1/4 cup sugar in a small sauce pan over medium heat. Gradually add milk to flour and sugar, stirring constantly with a small whisk, while mixture heats until pudding thick—about 3 to 5 minutes. When thickened, stir in chocolate until melted; beat in egg yolks rapidly with whisk until completely blended. Set aside to cool to room temperature. You can speed up this process by putting the mixture in the fridge.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. In a non-aluminum bowl, beat egg whites, salt, cream of tartar and vanilla until soft peaks form, 6 to 8 minutes. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, until stiff peaks form (think meringue). When chocolate mixture is cool to touch, fold it 1/4 cup at a time into the egg whites using a rubber spatula. Do not stir; gently pull spatula through center of the mixtures, and around the edges of the bowl, repeating the process several times with each 1/4 cup chocolate sauce, until light and dark merge into an even brown.

Divide batter into ramekins or turn into soufflé dish, using the same gentle folding motion for airy lightness. Bake in middle of oven for 30 minutes, checking for over-darkening edges after 25 minutes. Remove promptly when they rise above the rim of the dish in grandeur, and are dry on top. Serve immediately with whipped cream. Makes six individual soufflés or one six-serving soufflé.

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