For years, I read of the terror of the soufflé. "Leave the kitchen and be quiet," recipes cautioned, "lest you make the soufflé fall in the oven." Fiction books were full of anecdotes of 1960s-era housewives, their stereotypically tiny waists accentuated by a carefully-tied apron, being subjected to ridicule and humiliation for attempting and failing a soufflé (usually caused by well-meaning but rambunctious children jumping in the kitchen) while the boss was visiting.
Well, happily, that is all one huge exaggeration. A well-made soufflé will hold its shape perfectly well in the oven. Sure, if we have a Northridge-style earthquake, it might fall, but the oven will shut down anyway thanks to the modern marvel of seismic gas shut-off sensors. You don't even have to run to the table with it, though you can't leave it sitting on the stove for hours.
A chocolate soufflé is a marvel: with practice, you can create the soufflé in the time it takes to preheat the oven, bake it, and impress the hell out of your dinner guests.
Bailey's Chocolate Soufflé
8 oz. good semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 stick unsalted butter, divided
1 Tbsp. strong coffee (cold leftovers from breakfast are fine)
1 Tbsp. Bailey's Irish Cream
6 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar, divided
4 Tbsp. crème fraîche (available at Trader Joe's and upscale supermarkets)
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Prepare four 6" ceramic, oven-proof ramekins (or six 4" ramekins): Take 1/4 stick (2 Tbsp.) of butter and rub each ramekin in turn, all the way up the side. Then take 1/4 cup sugar and swirl it around inside the first ramekin, dumping the excess into the second ramekin. Continue until all the ramekins have been buttered and sugared.
3. In a double boiler over simmering water, melt the chocolate chips, butter, coffee and Irish cream, stirring constantly with a heatproof spatula, then let cool in a sink half-full of water.
4. Beat the eggs and 1/2 cup of the sugar until the whisk or the beaters leave visible trains and the resulting mixture is lightened and fluffy.
5. Beat the egg yolk mixture into the chocolate mixture until it is completely incorporated.
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6. Using a clean whisk and a clean metal bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks (this means that when you insert the whisk, remove it, and turn it upside down, the peak on the tip of the whisk doesn't flop over). If you have had trouble beating egg whites, add 1/4 tsp. cream of tartar to the egg whites.
7. Whip one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture any which way (i.e., don't worry about folding--you are lightening the mixture). Then fold the remaining egg whites into the mixture in two batches. Don't worry if the egg whites are not completely incorporated; a hint of white here and there is not a problem.
8. Put an equal amount of the soufflé mixture into each ramekin, smooth with a spatula, and bake for 20 minutes, until the middles are still jiggly but the edges have started to harden a bit.
9. Bring the soufflés to the table, gash each one in the center with a spoon, and insert a dollop of crème fraîche into the middle while still hot. Serve immediately; you may need to put a pot holder down on each plate to keep the hot ramekins from cracking the cold plates.