A Chocolate Time Machine at Paley's Place

At this Northwest Portland dining institution, one perfectly gooey dessert never gets old.

By Benjamin Tepler May 1, 2014 Published in the May 2014 issue of Portland Monthly

The Molten Chocolate Cake (a.k.a. Chocolate Valrhona Cake, a.k.a. Warm Chocolate Soufflé, a.k.a. Flourless Chocolate Cake) is one of the most replicated desserts in the country. From New York’s legendary Jean-Georges restaurant, where it is rumored to have originated in the mid-’80s, to Betty Crocker, you’ll find some version of this sinfully elemental dessert across the foodie spectrum. Some are too dense, others cloyingly sweet—but at Paley’s Place, this time-warped treasure oozes a perfectly calibrated flow of warm, rich chocolate during every dinner service. 

Owners Vitaly and Kimberly Paley stumbled across this recipe in the early ’90s, while working their way through Manhattan’s top kitchens, including Bouley and Union Square Café. In 1995, when they opened their now-iconic bistro on NW 21st Avenue, featuring the decadent dessert was a no-brainer. Almost 20 years later, Vitaly says the chocolate soufflé still outsells every other dessert on their menu by double digits. It simply transcends food trends: “It’s part of who we are,” he muses. “It doesn’t matter that it’s lost in time.”

Warm Chocolate Soufflé Cakes

(Makes a dozen 6 oz cakes)

  • 15 oz bittersweet chocolate (at least 64 percent cacao) 
  • ¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • ½ cup and 1 cup sugar, separated
  • 1 pinch salt 

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly butter 12 individual baking dishes (6–8 oz) or spray with nonstick vegetable spray. Set a large metal bowl over a saucepan filled with an inch or two of simmering water to create a double boiler. Melt chocolate and butter in bowl over low heat. Set aside and cool to room temperature.

2. Place egg yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. With the mixer on medium speed, add ½ cup of sugar and a pinch of salt, and mix until yolks are slightly thicker and lighter in color, 2–3 minutes. Then, using a spatula, fold the beaten yolks into the chocolate and set aside.  

3. Wash and dry mixer bowl. Add egg whites and whisk on low speed, gradually adding half of the remaining cup of sugar. Increase speed to medium, and whisk until whites form soft peaks, 3–4 minutes. Slowly add the rest of the sugar, increase speed to medium-high, and whisk until stiff peaks form, 30 seconds to a minute longer. In three additions, fold the whites into the chocolate-yolk mixture until just combined. 

4. Fill baking dishes three-quarters full. Bake until just set and a bit jiggly in the center, 12–14 minutes. Serve immediately. (It’s delicious with vanilla ice cream drizzled with honey.)

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