Chocolate Caramel-Pecan Soufflé Cake

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Every year I know Christmas is coming when I find my mailbox brimming with fancy food catalogs, their pages splashed with photos of exotic treats. I’m truly dazzled by the extravagant cakes: towering layers filled with ganache and cream, doused with coconut, or wrapped in colorful fondant or marzipan, sporting spun-sugar flowers and ribbons. Inspired by their stunningly expensive glamour, this recipe evolved from a simple chocolate soufflé cake to one bathed in a shimmering cloak of nutty caramel—minus the spun-sugar bow.

Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons, plus extra, melted, for brushing
  • 1 cup superfine sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
  • 1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • 8 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon cream of tartar

For the Caramel-Pecan Sauce

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • pinch of cream of tartar
  • 1 cup pecan halves
  • ¾ cup heavy cream
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon
  • sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)

Method

Position a Rack in the Middle of the Oven and Preheat to 350°F. Brush a 10-inch springform pan with melted butter, and coat the bottom and sides of the pan with superfine sugar. Tap out any excess sugar.

To Make the Cake: Combine the chocolate and 1 cup butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave, uncovered, on medium until the butter is melted and the chocolate becomes soft and shiny, 1½ to 4 minutes. Remove from the microwave after 1½ minutes and stir; if the chocolate is not completely melted, continue to microwave as needed for 30-second intervals, stirring between intervals, until melted, smooth and thoroughly combined with the butter. Set aside.

In a Large Bowl, using an electric mixer set at medium speed, beat the egg yolks and salt until smooth. Gradually add ½ cup of the superfine sugar to the egg yolks, beating until the mixture is thick and pale yellow and forms a slowly dissolving ribbon on the surface of the batter when the beaters are lifted, 4 to 6 minutes. Whisk in the bourbon and vanilla. Gradually whisk the egg mixture into the melted chocolate and butter.

In a Large, clean, stainless-steel bowl, beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar with an electric mixer set at low speed until foamy. Increase the mixer speed to high and continue beating until the egg whites form soft peaks. Keep beating, adding the remaining ½ cup superfine sugar 1 tablespoon at a time, until stiff peaks form.

Stir One-Third of the Egg Whites into the Chocolate Batter to Lighten it. Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold the remaining egg whites into the chocolate batter just until blended.

Spoon the Batter into the Prepared Pan. Bake until the cake rises and appears puffy and firm, 25 to 30 minutes. The cake should still be moist, but not liquid, in the center, so a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the cake should not come out clean, but with very moist crumbs clinging to it.

Meanwhile, Make the Topping: Combine the granulated sugar, water, and cream of tartar in a large, heavy saucepan. Cook, gently swirling the pan occasionally, over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and starts to turn color. Increase the heat to high and boil until the syrup turns a deep amber color, 4 to 5 minutes. Watch carefully, as it can burn quickly.

Immediately Remove the Pan From the Heat and Stir in the Nuts, then the cream and salt. Use a long-handled wooden spoon to carefully stir in the cream, as the caramel has a tendency to hiss and splash as the cold cream hits it. Place the pan over low heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the caramel thickens, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the bourbon. Set aside and keep warm.

Remove the Cake from the Oven and Let Cool on a Wire Rack for 15 Minutes. The cake will fall slightly as it cools. Remove the sides of the pan. Spoon the warm caramel-pecan topping over the top of the cake and allow the cake and topping to cool completely at room temperature before serving.

Use a Long, sharp knife dipped in boiling water and wiped dry to cut the cake. Dip knife in boiling water and wipe clean for each slice. Serve slices of cake nestled next to a dollop of sweetened whipped cream or fat scoop of vanilla ice cream, if desired.

“Clearly, it is not the lovelorn sufferer who seeks solace in chocolate, but rather the chocolate-deprived individual who, desperate, seeks in mere love a pale approximation of bittersweet euphoria.”

—FROM CHOCOLATE: THE CONSUMING PASSION, BY SANDRA BOYNTON

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