Baking seems to be enjoying something of a resurgence lately, here in the UK. This is due in part to The Great British Bake Off, a programme which aired on BBC2 last year. Although on the one hand this was yet another reality-cum-competition-cum-food programme, it was also beautifully produced and very educational. I guess anything that encourages people to get back to basics and stop buying too much processed food must be a good thing.
To be honest, baking scares me. I have always thought of it as the preserve of my Grandmother, who baked marbled cupcakes and fruit loaves and light, fluffy little raisin sponges that I’d sneak in to the kitchen and pilfer, as she snoozed on her armchair. I know, it was naughty but I couldn’t resist. Of course, she pretended not to know. My Mother baked almost religiously every Sunday, a chocolate fudge pudding with walnuts which would come steaming out of the oven to be laced with a little whipping cream before my sister and I would wolf it down, savouring the light fluffy sponginess and the dark, rich chocolate sauce that oozed over the top.
Whilst I can happily improvise starters, main courses, cocktails, global cuisine and basic desserts, for some reason I have tended to shy from baking, in spite of the fact I love the end product and have had a few notable successes over the years. Perhaps this resistance stems from the notion that after all your hard work, once its gone in to the oven, it’s out of your hands; you can’t salvage anything if it dies in there. It’s like a crematorium; the graveyard of champion cooks. The place where a thousand cakes have gone, not to meet their maker but to end up face down in the trash, or worse, in slices sat limply on some poor unsuspecting guest’s plate as the wretched baker tries desperately to understand what went wrong. The idea fills me with dread, and has seemed like a sort of chasm in my culinary ability. So by way of facing my demons, here is my first foray back in to baking.
First up are these delightful little chocolate, almond and chilli soufflés. I wanted a soufflé that had risen, yet also had a cake-like texture, and an oozing liquid centre, so keeping the yolks is critical as they make the mixture denser and more “gloopy.” A little flour provides the cake texture, and the beaten whites make them rise to a crisp, fluffy top. The chilli is barely noticeable but provides a tiny kick that counters the intense sweetness of the chocolate. Whatever happens, if anybody tells you to flour the ramekins, don’t listen, it doesn’t help.
You will need:
For the soufflé
200g dark chocolate
150g unsalted butter
25 g ground almonds
½ tsp almond essence
1g chilli powder
For the Chantilly cream
300 ml fresh whipping cream
75g icing sugar
½ tsp vanilla essence
zest of an orange
Strawberries and raspberries, and fresh mint to garnish.
Heat the oven to 180C if a fan oven, 160C or gas mark 4 for standard. Grease 6 medium ramekins lightly yet evenly with butter. Break the chocolate into pieces and melt with the butter, ground almonds, almond essence and chilli in a bowl over simmering water. Whisk the eggs and sugar until they are light and fluffy, then gently sift and fold in the flour. Pour the mixture in to the ramekins and bake for 12 minutes. Whilst they are baking, whisk the cream, brandy, icing sugar and vanilla essence until it is a light, foamy yet still slightly runny mixture. Serve the souffles with the berries and cream, garnished with mint and dusted with cocoa.