What to bring to a casual dessert and wine gathering of chicken-keeping neighbors? A cake that requires 9 eggs (well, I used 8 because the Golden Comets are laying jumbos.) I made Chanterelle’s Chocolate Souffle Cake from Luscious Chocolate Desserts by Lori Longbottom. There are only 4 ingredients: bittersweet chocolate, unsalted butter, eggs, and sugar. Quality of ingredients matters. I like baking with Trader Joe’s 72% Bittersweet Belgian Chocolate. Whenever good butter (that is, organic, or the European-style) is on sale, I buy pounds and freeze. Yes, the flavor of butter comes through. Don’t scrimp!
The other thing that matters when doing a “simple” dessert like this is technique. When a recipe says to beat the egg yolks and sugar until thick and pale, you can’t just take a whisk and combine. Those egg yolks need to go from almost orange in color to a pale lemon. The mixture should double in size. When a recipe asks you to beat the egg whites until a soft peak forms, you have to stop at that moment when the egg whites fall off the whisk like the tippy-top of a soft serve ice cream cone. Too early and the souffle won’t be airy. Too late and the egg whites stiffen and collapse. I learned the difference by purposely ruining whipped egg whites. I wanted to see what happened if I pushed them too far. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
The chocolate and butter gets melted, whisked and then cooled. But, not cooled to where it solidifies or separates. It should pour in a glistening stream. But, too hot and the folded in egg yolks curdle. With experience you’ll develop an eye for when it is right.
Even the baking requires care. If you don’t know what “puffed and jiggly means” you might take the cake out too soon and it will ooze and taste raw, or if baked too long it will be dry and grainy. I ended up leaving my cake in the oven ten minutes longer than the recipe suggested. It was perfect.
Describing all of this would take pages in a cookbook – it’s not usually done. Julia Child did, and that’s why people look at her recipes with both fear and awe. I try to do it in my books, but in a reasonable and edited way.
Don’t be intimidated! If you have hens, you have good eggs, and so you should bake! Find recipes that use ingredients you love. This cake, made with four wonderful ingredients – chocolate, butter, eggs and sugar – requires technique, but even if things go wrong, the end result will still be delicious. It might be better suited for an ice cream parfait, but it’ll still be good. It’s really hard to ruin good chocolate.
And never forget that inspired decoration can hide all sorts of faults. My cake cracked, but who noticed with those adorable hens stenciled on the top?