This Early Grey Chocolate Soufflé Cake comes with quite a funny backstory. I first made it ten years ago for Jivan’s nursery school potluck dinner. The other parents lost their minds over the slightly gooey confection, which is both rich and lighter than air due to the frothy egg whites being folded into the chocolate. It quickly became my claim to fame, and I was asked to make it again every year. The third year I decided to get a little fancy and bring in one of those instant whipped cream makers. You know, the ones with the C02 cartridges, which are meant to turn out perfect white peaks at the pull of a trigger? I was so proud of my new toy that I gathered the other parents to show them how it worked. You can probably guess where this is going…I pulled the trigger and whipped cream exploded onto every guest, the ceiling, the artwork-covered walls. You name it, I shot it! I have never been so mortified in my life. But, lo and behold, the other parents did request the cake again for the next potluck—proof that it’s really, really that good. And now I always hand-whip my cream — like an honest baker should.
I knew I needed to include an adapted version of this cake in Cook Beautiful. I chose to subtly infuse the cake with Earl Grey tea and adorn the finished cake with some candied citrus. Both elements offer a hit of brightness to cut through the rich chocolate. The Earl Grey boasts flavored oil from the rind of bergamot orange, a citrus fruit with the appearance and flavor of something between an orange and a lemon, with a little grapefruit and lime thrown in. As for the candied finishing element, you can use most any winter-abundant fruit — I love blood orange, kumquats, Cara Cara orange, or even cranberries draped haphazardly across the surface. And don’t attempt to tidy up this beautifully imperfect confection. Cracks in the surface and a snowfall whitewashing of confectioners’ sugar only add to the appeal and make this a perfectly festive holiday dessert.
Now, when it comes to the holiday tablescape, don’t be fooled into believing a sophisticated scape is too laborious or costly. Clusters of fruit make for stunning centerpieces. Winter citrus, pomegranates, or persimmons speak to the season and offer a pop of color. Here I simply gathered pomegranates from the market and clustered them together with some seeded eucalyptus to create a garland down the center of the table. Nestled within the greens were a few brass candlesticks with my current favorite, ochre-hue candles, to offer tons of sparkly candlelight — it’s the most flattering. And of course I always like infuse a bit of the undone into my composition. I love the subtle juxtaposition of the tied knot in the grey linen napkins. This acts as a slightly disheveled counterpoint to all the other elegant elements. Although admittedly, when Jivan saw it he said, “Come on Mom, really? You can do better than that.” Well, can’t swoon em’ all, I suppose! Oh, and that holiday glitz in the form of gold flatware? Mmmhmmmm, it’s from Target — you’re welcome!
Finally, I love to serve champagne with dessert. There is something about the fresh, crisp flavor of Moet that acts as a punctuation mark at the end of the meal. And hopefully it carries you into a celebratory night. Have a beautiful and festive holiday season!
Dark and moody, lush and decadent. Fit for the holidays! -Athena
Earl Grey Chocolate Soufflé Cake
Athena Calderone, Cook Beautiful
Serves 8 to 10
FOR THE CAKE 1 stick (4 ounces/115 g) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces, plus extra for the pan ⅓ cup (75 ml) milk 4 Earl Grey tea bags 12 ounces (340 g) fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract ¼ teaspoon kosher salt ⅔ cup (135 g) sugar, divided 5 large eggs, separated and at room temperature 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour Cocoa powder, for dusting the cake Lightly sweetened fresh whipped cream, for serving
FOR THE CANDIED KUMQUATS ½ cup (100 g) sugar 20 kumquats, cut crosswise into thin slices (2 cups/450 g)
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175˚C). Grease a 9-inch (23-cm) springform pan with butter, fit the bottom with a round of parchment paper, and grease the paper.
In a small saucepan, heat the milk over medium-high heat until simmering. Remove it from the heat and put the tea bags in the milk to steep. Cover for 10 minutes, then remove the tea bags, squeezing out any excess liquid. Set aside.
Combine the chocolate and butter in a large metal bowl, set it over a saucepan of simmering water, and stir frequently until the chocolate and butter are completely melted. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool completely. Whisk in the infused milk, vanilla extract, salt, and ⅓ cup (65 g) of the sugar. Add the egg yolks one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Whisk in the flour.
In a medium bowl, use an electric mixer set at medium-high speed to beat the egg whites together with a pinch of salt. Beat until soft peaks form, then add the remaining ⅓ cup (65 g) sugar a little at a time, and continue beating the whites until they hold stiff, glossy peaks.
Whisk about a quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then use a rubber spatula to gently fold in the remainder. Pour the batter into the springform pan, spreading it evenly across the pan. Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, or until the cake’s center is slightly gooey and its edges pull away from the pan.
Make the candied kumquats: In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup (240 ml) water and the sugar to boil over medium-high heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the kumquat slices, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the kumquats are tender and translucent, about 15 minutes.
When the cake is finished baking, transfer it to a wire rack and let it cool for 10 minutes, then gently unmold it from the pan and let it cool to room temperature. Dust the top with cocoa powder.
Serve each piece of cake piled with the whipped cream and a spoonful of candied kumquats.