My Childhood Dream of Chocolate Soup Has Come True
These last few weeks have been so serious.
Endless handwashing. Relentless cooking and cleaning. Unceasing worry. Repeat.
It’s no wonder I’ve been thinking so much about my childhood, when the hardest thing I ever had to do was choose between Easy Mac and Chef Boyardee.
Born in 1996, I was a kid during what was probably the golden age of microwave meals. Mom’s cooking (and she is a very good cook) didn’t stand a chance when commercials for Hot Pockets and Kid Cuisine filled my dreams with images of hamburger-stuffed pizzas and rainbow-sprinkled brownies that I cannot believe I actually ingested. Some of my favorite foods, both frozen and fresh, were as follows:
Go-to snack: Five saltine crackers with cream cheese.
Birthday request: Duncan Hines Signature Strawberry Supreme Cake Mix with accompanying strawberry frosting. A pink monstrosity loved by nobody but me. Bonus points if it was served a la mode with Braum’s strawberry ice cream, studded with big chunks of frozen fruit.
Special treat: For most of my life, a blue box contained what I thought was the greatest food in the whole world: Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. I ate this so often that my mom once told me that I would turn into a noodle if my habit continued. This image — of me, armless and tubular—was so frightening that I cried and threw up, but it wasn’t enough to scar me permanently; I still prefer Kraft to any baked, truffled, “gourmet” mac and cheese to this day.
When Mom and Dad were out: Microwave dinners. Score. Always in the freezer and ready to be transformed by Chef Mic were Swanson’s single-serving chicken pot pies and Michelina’s fettuccine alfredo with chicken and broccoli (I’d eat all of the broccoli first to get it “out of the way” of the creamy good stuff).
Sometimes I ate real food. Mostly I remember what my dad’s mom, Mama Gin, cooked for us on Sundays. My favorites were her mashed potatoes with brown gravy at lunch and banana pudding with Nilla Wafers for dessert. She also made a mean chicken spaghetti, which is a very Southern amalgamation of spaghetti baked with chicken, cream of mushroom soup, canned pimentos and water chestnuts, and cheddar cheese.
But more than anything, I still daydream about the one dish she never cooked: chocolate soup.
One fateful afternoon, Mama Gin corraled 5-year-old me into the backseat of her car. We were going to a place called Chocolate Soup, she told me. I was mystified.
“Chocolate soup…” I mused, picturing teacups filled with a rich mahogany elixir.
“Would it taste as magical as it sounds?”
We pulled up to a building in Dallas’ Preston & Royal shopping center, and sure enough, its facade read “Chocolate Soup” in swooping, bright red letters. I was sweet-toothed and salivating at the possibilities of what lay inside.
Imagine my dismay when my eyes were soon greeted not by giant cauldrons of bubbling chocolate goo, but by poofy dresses and tiny shoes.
Chocolate Soup, I learned, was the name of a boutique children’s clothing store with locations in Houston and my Dallas neighborhood. In the early 2000s, if you wanted to buy your daughter a seersucker jumper or Christmas onesie, this was the place to go. The stores have since closed.
I never got to try chocolate soup.
Nearly two decades later, I spent a weekend in Lyon and had lunch at a traditional bouchon called Les Ventres Jaunes. There I ate île flottante, an adorable “island” of poached meringue floating in crème anglaise, a milky vanilla custard. The snowball-sized mound of whipped egg whites was playfully garnished with chopped walnuts and a maraschino cherry.
“This is basically dessert soup,” I thought to myself with every delightful spoonful.
And then I paused, thinking of chocolate soup for the first time in years. I still had never eaten anything like it in my two and a half decades of life.
Well, all it took was 18 days of pandemic-mandated isolation (and a serious yearning for chocolate and childhood comfort) for that to change.
Armed with a whisk, two chocolate bars, and suddenly all the time in the world, today I made what might be the highlight of all of my quarantine cooking: île flottante au chocolat, aka chocolate soup.
It was pretty perfect.
My 5-year-old self would have loved everything about the dessert of her dreams: the cool, creamy crème anglaise, which tastes exactly like what it is (essentially, straight-up melted chocolate), but doesn’t feel too decadent. The pillowy meringue that squishes satisfyingly between your teeth. The literal cherry on top. Who wouldn’t like that — kid or adult?
If you want to try it for yourself, one helpful article from The Guardian analyzes and combines techniques for floating islands recipes by Anthony Bourdain, Mary Berry, and more — and it includes tons of pictures. I went with David Lebovitz’s version because it’s the simplest, also seeking guidance from Gabriel Kreuther’s recipe in Food & Wine that uses a dark chocolate base.
It’s easy. You start by making the crème anglaise: egg yolks whipped with sugar, then combined with warm, vanilla-scented milk, all stirred over low-medium heat until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Then you add your chocolate of choice; I used mostly dark with about an ounce of milk chocolate.
While the custard chills, you poach the meringues, which is easier than it sounds. Use two spoons to form the whipped egg whites (just one to two tablespoons worth; they’ll flatten into pucks if you make them too big) into beautiful quenelles — or, as Lebovitz suggests, humble blobs to honor this dessert’s homely origins. Drop them into simmering water for about four minutes, flipping halfway through. They’ll double in size in the pan and then deflate a bit when you transfer them to a towel-lined baking sheet. They’ll look like delicate clouds, but they’re actually pretty sturdy, so don’t worry about breaking them.
Finally, plate them however you like. Maybe you’ll want to use toasted pistachios like Kreuther, caramel à la Lebovitz, or the sundae-style toppings I had at Les Ventres Jaunes. I went with chocolate shavings and a halved cherry.
For maximum chocolate-soup enjoyment, I recommend getting into a childlike state of mind. Preface your dessert with your favorite meal from your youth. Play a movie or game you used to love. Look at old photos.
Whatever you do, don’t think about anything adult while you’re eating chocolate soup. It feels way too good to be a kid again.