During my research regarding the impact that African American cuisine has had on culinary history, one name kept cropping up in every article and blog. The name of the legendary and inspiring African American chef and culinary ambassador of Southern cooking – Edna Lewis (1916-2006)
Edna Lewis photographed by John T Hill in 1973
I was surprised and frankly embarrassed at myself for not knowing about her. Her life story is remarkable. She was born and grew up in rural Virginia in an area called Freetown which is a small community of freed slaves and their descendants. She learned to cook from an extended family that included grandparents who had been enslaved. Her father passed away when she was 12 and at the age of 16, she left her town and moved to New York. The rest is history! She wrote four cookbooks, co-owned the successful cafe Nicholson in NYC, won many prestigious awards, and was also honored with the issuance of a postal stamp by the US Post Office in the “celebrity chef” series. Edna Lewis is renowned as one of the greatest American chefs and as an African-American woman who almost single handedly revived a forgotten world of refined Southern cooking.
In my quest to know and learn more about her, I ordered her first cookbook – The Edna Lewis Cookbook. Published in 1972, this cookbook contains over 100 recipes, arranged in menu form and organized according to the season of the year or the type of meal being served: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Christmas, luncheon, or buffet. It’s such a charming book with easy to follow recipes. It’s interesting to see that there are no pictures accompanying each recipe; just photographs of Edna scattered through out. One particular recipe caught my eye especially because of its description in the book: Chocolate Soufflé. According to Edna, the first chocolate soufflé she made at Cafe Nicholson was so warmly appreciated by its customers that not only she began to make them everyday, that was pretty much the only dessert she served at the Cafe.
Now I have to warn you, Chocolate soufflés are best eaten FRESH out of the oven. The reason is that as soon as it’s out of the oven, it starts deflating like a balloon. 10 minutes later the soufflé will be completely flat but still delicious. Edna recommends serving it with some homemade chocolate sauce and whipped cream on the side. This soufflé was not only simple and delicious, but also elegant and easy. You can serve it in individual ramekins like I did or a single 2-quart dish. Hope you enjoy making one of Edna’s iconic desserts.
Recipe slightly adapted from the cookbook – The Edna Lewis Cookbook.
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 tbsp flour
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 cup milk, scalded
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3 tbsp sugar
- 3 egg yolks
- 5 egg whites
- 1/3 cup hot water
- In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and cook a few minutes without browning until the flour is well blended. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
- Scald the milk with the vanilla extract. Add the hot milk to the butter-flour mixture, stirring rapidly until the mixture is thick and smooth. Add the chopped chocolate, which will melt when it is stirred in.
- Continue stirring and add 1/3 cup of hot water. Next add in 3 lightly beaten egg yolks, salt and 3 tablespoons of sugar. Stir the batter vigorously for about 4-5 minutes, until it appears smooth and satiny.
- Preheat the oven to 450F. Place your ramekins or dish on a baking tray and put it inside the oven while it’s being preheated.
- Whip the egg whites to soft peaks. Stir the chocolate mixture well and fold in the whipped egg whites with a spatula.
- Spoon the batter into one 2-quart dish or six individual ramekins. Make sure the dishes are hot.
- Set the dishes in the oven and raise the heat to 475F for 5 minutes to make up for the heat loss that takes place when the dishes are set in, then lower it to 450F.
- Cook individual soufflés from 12-13 minutes. A single dish will take from 20-25minutes.
- Remove from the oven and dust with powdered sugar or crushed chocolate or cocoa powder. Serve with warm chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
- 1 ounce of bittersweet chocolate
- 1 ounce of semi sweet chocolate
- 1 cup water
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/2 tsp cornflour
To make the sauce, grate the chocolate and place in a saucepan with the water, sugar and vanilla extract. Bring to a boil. Let it simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add the cornflour and simmer for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and set aside until needed. This sauce can be made ahead and reheated before serving.
Check out my step by step video on my Instagram @Leena.ali. Hope you enjoy making and eating this delicious Chocolate Soufflé.