Did you know each 15 gram portion of Nutella contains two whole hazelnuts, some skimmed milk and cocoa?
Two whole hazelnuts? I’m not sure which marketing mogul thought up the line above for Nutella’s latest TV campaign, but to me two hazelnuts doesn’t sound like the biggest step towards a healthy, wholesome breakfast.
When I was little we were only allowed Nutella on very special occasions. To be more specific, we were only ever allowed it on holiday in Italy, which my Mum somehow managed to convince my brother and I was the only place you could buy the stuff. And while my littler loaf self looking forward to the future would chastise me for being such a boring old grown up, I’m glad my Mum limited our intake: for all the Ferrero company might dress it up with nutritional advice and fancy ad campaigns, Nutella on toast is essentially eating chocolate for breakfast. And sugar. Lots of sugar.
Nowadays my favourite breakfasts tend to rotate between slightly more sensible options – avocado on toast, bircher museli or homemade English muffins – and an occasion to open the Nutella jar is most likely to involve some sort of baking, but that’s not to say I’m not open to trying a new (and much more naughty) spread.
Enter Speculoospasta (also known to the Americans as Biscoff Cookie Spread). Made with nearly sixty percent ground up Speculoos biscuits (plus a bit of oil and sugar syrup) it looks like peanut butter, smells like heaven and tastes like creamy cookies, spice and Christmas all rolled into one rich, round mouthful. It also sounds like a heart attack on a plate, but for the purposes of a baking blog I’m absolutely fine with that. I’m not telling you to spread it on your toast every day, just to enjoy it on the odd occasion: a finger full when you’re in need of a pick me up, a late night stolen spoonful from the jar, or something really special like these Speculoos soufflés.
Speculoos spread is not readily available in the UK. You can buy it online and pay extortionate shipping fees (often more than the jar itself) and I just today discovered that Le Pain Quotidien sell a version from their various cafés, but otherwise it’s a pretty rare treat. So when the lovely Giulia of Mondomulia offered to bring me some back from Belgium as a present, I knew I needed to make something memorable.
After several fingers full had been scooped from the jar by yours truly and an enormous scoop enjoyed by Carnivorous Boyfriend, I set the jar aside and started to work on these soufflés. Having never made a soufflé before, and unsure about where to begin, I ended up adapting this Bon Appetit recipe for peanut butter pastry cream, substituting the spread and leaving out a little sugar. It tasted like Speculoos spread but smoother and creamier and slightly more subtle. So far, so good.
On Friday night I made a chocolate soufflé base, dropping a large spoon of Speculoos pastry cream in the middle of each one and baking for around 12 minutes. Excited that they’d risen (albeit a little unevenly) we dove in, unsure of what to expect. To be honest, they weren’t quite right: the middle just the wrong side of runny and the edges tasting ever so slightly of egg, but overall the chocolate and Speculoos spice shone through and we had no trouble polishing them off.
The next morning I set to work on adapting the recipe, using my batch of Speculoos pastry cream as a base. The chocolate had been a bit overpowering in the previous incarnation and the middle undercooked, so I decided to make my soufflés using only the pastry cream and a little beaten egg white and sugar. Using David Lebovitz’s recipe for Chocolate Caramel Soufflés, I lined my ramekins with butter and granulated sugar, chopped milk chocolate, folded in fluffy egg whites and into the oven they went.
And I’m really pleased with the results. They rose a little higher than I was able to catch on camera – perhaps not the towering works of art you see in restaurants but enough to justify their ‘puffed up’ name – and sugar and salt sprinkled at the last minute created a lovely crunchy top. Beneath this golden crown the texture was beautifully light, leading down to a soft and yielding middle tasting of creamy, hot, Speculoos-spiced biscuity goodness.
If you’ve never made soufflés before, this might not be the most sensible place to start, but it’s a seriously delicious one. Served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, you get an experience that is at once hot and cold, rich and smooth, crunchy and creamy.
I’m not going to say it’s good for your waistline, but it’s definitely good for your soul. This is a dessert that will put a smile on your face. Enjoy.
For the Speculoos pastry cream
375ml full fat milk
110g single cream
1 large free range egg + 1 yolk
1 tbsp flour
1 tbsp cornflour
55g golden caster sugar
140g Speculoos or biscoff spread (you could also substitute peanut butter, but might need to up the sugar content slightly)
For the soufflés
125g Speculoos pastry cream (see above)
4 large free range egg whites
30g granulated sugar, plus more for dusting and sprinkling
60g milk chocolate, chopped into chunks
Sea salt crystals (optional)
For the Speculoos pastry cream
Bring the milk and cream to a simmer in a medium saucepan.
In another bowl, whisk together the egg and egg yolk. Add the sugar, cornflour and flour to eggs and whisk to combine.
Gradually whisk the hot milk and cream into the egg mixture, then return to the same saucepan. Bring to the boil, whisking constantly to avoid burning or lumps for one minute then remove from the heat.
Whisk the speculoos spread into your hot pastry cream. Strain into a bowl and season with a pinch of salt. Cover with cling film, directly touching the surface of pastry cream to avoid getting a skin. Set aside until ready to use – this pastry cream can be made up to a day before you want to make the soufflés, just make sure it has come back to room temperature before cooking with it.
For the soufflés
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees C. Grease four ramekins (approx. 125ml volume) with butter. Pour some granulated sugar into each one, tipping to shake out the excess so it coats the sides.
Whisk the egg whites in a large clean bowl until frothy. Gradually add the granulated sugar and continue whisking until stiff, glossy peaks form.
Fold a quarter of the whipped egg white into your pastry cream to loosen it, then gently fold in the milk chocolate chips. Fold in the rest of the egg whites carefully, making sure you deflate them as little as possible. Under – rather than over – mixing is preferable here so a few little streaks of white are fine.
Divide the mixture between the four ramekins and run a palette knife over the top to smooth. Run your thumb round the inner edge of each ramekin, through the soufflé mixture, creating a shallow, even channel as you go. This will help your soufflés to rise evenly.
Sprinkle the tops with granulated sugar and a little sea salt (if using), then bake for 10 – 14 minutes. I have to be a little vague here as oven temperatures vary. Mine took a little longer, but it may be because my oven is quite old!
Remove from the oven and serve immediately. Split open at the table with very cold ice cream scooped in, this is the dessert that dreams are made of.