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Impress your valentine by making a souffle

It's so old-school, yet still one of the most impressive desserts that you can serve. So for Valentine's, the annual I-heart-you day, why not go all the way -- and make a chocolate soufflé?

From the French verb souffler, which means "to blow" or "to puff," this simple mixture of egg yolks and egg whites is simpler than you might imagine (but you don't need to tell anyone this). The ingredients are similar to what you'd find in a chocolate mousse, but cooked.

One afternoon a couple of years ago, I had lunch at Bistro Paul Bert in Paris, one of the city's best old-timey spots, and for dessert, I had the most incredible chocolate soufflé -- with its crunchy, sugary crust, it was a perfect contrast to the cloudlike middle.

I vowed to make one just like theirs, but first, I consulted with my friend David Lebovitz, a former pastry chef for Chez Panisse, who lives in Paris, too.

The secret to a successful soufflé?

"There's really no secret," says Lebovitz. "It's just melted chocolate, stirring in a few ingredients, then folding in egg whites. The first thing I ever baked was a chocolate soufflé, when I was 15. I used a Pyrex measuring cup to bake it in."

Pyrex? 15? I could do this.

So I did. First try.

I used Lebovitz's recipe for double chocolate soufflé from his book The Great Book of Chocolate (Ten Speed Press, $16.99), which calls for a sprinkling of chopped chocolate between the layers of the soufflé batter, giving the soufflé an even more chocolaty taste. If that's not enough -- because there never can be enough chocolate -- I opted to use his white chocolate sauce instead of a crème anglaise to top it with. The appeal of this classic French dessert, he says, is simple: "I think they're both dramatic and at the same time, warm and cozy."

Triple chocolate soufflé

Serves 6

Sugar (for dusting insides)

Butter

5 ounces (2/3 cup) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

1/4 cup whole milk

6 tablespoons sugar, divided

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 large egg yolks

4 large egg whites

1/3 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (see note), chopped

White chocolate sauce (recipe follows)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter and dust with sugar six 4- or 6-ounce custard cups. In a bowl over simmering water, melt the 5 ounces chocolate with the milk. Remove from heat, and whisk in 3 tablespoons of sugar, vanilla and the egg yolks. Set aside.

2. In a very clean, dry bowl, whip the egg whites on medium speed until they begin to hold their shape. Now add the other 3 tablespoons of the sugar, and whip until soft peaks form.

3. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. To do this, first add a small bit and incorporate (this will make it easier to incorporate the rest of the egg whites). Now carefully fold in the remaining egg whites.

4. Fill the ramekins halfway with the soufflé batter. Sprinkle in the chopped bits of chocolate. Now add the rest of the batter, filling almost to the top.

5. Bake for 14 minutes, or until the soufflés are firm, yet jiggly when nudged. Drizzle with white chocolate sauce and serve warm.

Note: You might want to add white chocolate chips, or (gasp!) peanut butter chips to this, for a different twist.

Nutritional analysis per serving, souffl é only: 260 calories, 20 grams fat, 22 grams carbohydrates, 7 grams protein, 108 milligrams cholesterol, 50 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 60 percent of calories from fat.

White chocolate sauce

I wanted to make something different from a cr è me anglaise for chocolate soufflés, so I tried out this recipe from David Lebovitz's The Great Book of Chocolate. It's easy and fabulous.

Makes enough to drizzle on 6 soufflés

1/2 cup heavy cream

2/3 cup white chocolate, chopped (see note)

Pour the cream into a heavy saucepan, and turn on the heat to medium-low. When the cream simmers, remove from heat and whisk in the chopped pieces of white chocolate.

Note: Use the best white chocolate you can find, such as Valrhona or El Rey.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 211 calories, 14 grams fat, 17 grams carbohydrates, 2 grams protein, 27 milligrams cholesterol, 43 milligrams sodium, no dietary fiber, 63 percent of calories from fat.

Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef. Read her blog and watch her cooking videos on www.cowgirlchef.com. You can also follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/cowgirlchef.

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