Featured in our 2017 Christmas Guide
Holiday season finds me evaluating all the new recipe ideas I’ve collected through the year. Some recipes, like a certain Brussels sprouts and blue cheese flan, are doomed to oblivion without my even trying them, while others, like my home-oven adaptation for the usually spit-cooked German baumkuchen, are one-shot wonders destined for my Kitchen Kuriosities file. When it’s time to actually decide on holiday menus, both for myself and for my catering clients, I’m often most satisfied when I fall back on some version of an old favorite, especially when I’m able to update it with an exciting new twist.
A chocolate soufflé roll cake has been in my holiday “top ten” repertoire for many years; it was inspired by a childhood memory of a dessert served at a Viennese restaurant in Cincinnati. I’ve kept this cake in my repertoire for so long because it’s delicious, and also because it’s relatively easy and fun to make. It’s the dessert I most often call on for a last-minute showstopper. I’ve made so many that I can make it in my sleep—and I probably have, given the crazy schedule I keep around the holidays. So this year, I experimented with my reliable roll and came up with something even easier, but actually more impressive: four layers of the tender soufflé cake, filled with a mascarpone whipped cream, studded with raspberries, and drizzled with dark chocolate glaze. It’s got the drama of a napoleon with the lightness of a soufflé.
Light texture, deep flavor
The cake itself is a simple flourless soufflé: Melted chocolate is added to beaten egg yolks and sugar, stiff egg whites are folded in, and then the batter is baked in a lined jellyroll pan. The soufflé puffs but falls as it cools, so that it can be cut into panels that are delicate, but flexible enough to make assembly easy.
The recipe for the cake is the culmination of years of experimentation with the celebrated Soufflé Roll Leontine from Dionne Lucas. My interpretation delivers the full force of chocolate while adding subtle nuances from whiskey and coffee, a shockingly good complement. You can also just use coffee or even water if you want to avoid alcohol. The quality of the chocolate counts here, so use the best chocolate you can get.
Get organized before you start making the cake; you’ll need to move fairly quickly once you begin. Prepare the pan and get the oven heating. You need two mixing bowls, one for the yolks and one for the whites, but I streamline the beating by doing the egg whites first so that you don’t need to wash the beaters in between. The beaten egg whites will hold a few minutes as you beat the yolks, and you’ll just need to whisk them up again with a hand whisk before folding them into the batter. The only really tricky part of the recipe is the whites—they must hold very firm peaks but still be smooth, not grainy. If you sense that your whites are “curdling” from overbeating, throw them out and start again.
Soft filling, smooth slicing
Since there’s no flour in the cake, it’s amazingly tender and luscious, and your filling must be tender enough to make slicing easy yet firm enough to hold up the layers. The mascarpone added to the whipped cream gives some structure, as well as a more complex flavor, and the raspberries relieve the richness of the dessert (plus they look great). You can usually find fresh raspberries around holiday time—granted they’ve probably been shipped from the southern hemisphere—but you can use frozen berries in a pinch. Arrange them on the cake while they’re still frozen, but leave the cake at room temperature long enough before serving to let them thaw. They may weep a little juice, so they won’t look as perfect as fresh, but the taste will be fine.
I hope that many of you will incorporate this recipe into your own repertoire of favorites, and as you make it in the future you might want to try other fillings. Plain whipped cream is delicious, and I’ve also used classic buttercream fillings, but the cake must come to room temperature before serving or the contrast between the textures of cake and filling are too drastic. A whipped chocolate ganache also works well, and I’ve even spread the cake with softened ice cream for a Baked Alaska.
The drizzle of rich chocolate glaze is an elegant finish. Sometimes I add flecks of real gold leaf, which you can buy at an artists’ supply store.
Do-ahead timing, easier entertaining
None of the components of this cake takes long to make (despite the fact that the cake recipe looks long), but you can do each step at a different time.
• The glaze can be made up to four days ahead.
• The cake can be made up to one day ahead. Refrigerate it with a sheet of plastic stretched taut across the top of the pan so it doesn’t touch the cake surface. (It’s okay if it touches the cake a bit, though you may pull off a bit of the cake’s “skin” when you remove the plastic.)
• The mascarpone filling can be made up to an hour before assembly.
• The whole cake can be assembled the morning of the day you want to serve it, but don’t decorate the top with confectioners’ sugar and glaze until up to two hours before serving. Keep the fully decorated cake in the fridge, uncovered, until about fifteen minutes before serving (the few minutes at room temperature will take the chill of the cake). A thin-bladed knife is best for cutting neat slices.