How To Make A Souffle

Not As Fragile As You May Think

How To Make A Souffle

Not As Fragile As You May Think

I know many otherwise confident city cooks who are intimidated by the thought of making a soufflé. You really shouldn't be. Despite a name that suggests delicacy and a fragile appearance, soufflés are actually easy to make, sturdy to cook, and a pleasure to eat. I used to think that the slightest error or tremble would cause a soufflé to collapse into an unappetizing puddle. This is not so. For the uninitiated, I'm here to tell you to have a little courage. If you do, I predict that soufflés could become a kitchen favorite.

Although soufflés may seem a bit old fashioned and in the same nostalgic food category as fondue, in fact they turn plain eggs into something special, whether savory or sweet. In The Way To Cook, Julia Child's masterpiece (a book for the kitchen counter, not the bookshelf), she explains:

"A reasonably well-assembled soufflé can be an automatic happenstance: a flavor base into which stiffly beaten egg whites are incorporated. When the mixture is baked, the heat of the oven expands the air bubbles in the egg whites and the whole mass rises. It stays puffed the few minutes needed to serve it; then, as it cools, the air bubbles deflate and the soufflé collapses. Soufflés are not difficult when you have mastered the beating of egg whites and the folding of them into the soufflé base."

Soufflés are actually stable and forgiving and there's nothing flimsy about them -- neither in their structure nor their flavor. They're also affordable: 6 eggs and a little cheese can be transformed into an impressive and big flavored centerpiece for lunch or supper for four persons.

As Julia Child described, the essentials of a soufflé are a flavored base -- usually a béchamel made with flour, butter and milk -- plus a cloud of beaten egg whites that have been whisked to full volume. If you're a purist with a strong arm, you can whisk the whites by hand in a copper bowl. But a big mixing bowl and an electric mixer are more practical and efficient to use.

The process is one of assembly: in a saucepan melt butter, stir in flour, add milk or cream and flavorings, separately beat your egg whites and gently transfer the combination to an oven-proof baking dish that has been prepared with a matching dusting of either savory cheese or sweet sugar. The dish goes into a hot oven with a temperature high enough to prompt the egg whites to rise, giving the soufflé its lift.

And will it fall? Should you walk softly while the soufflé is baking? Not to worry. This is the myth of making soufflés, maybe started by some French chef who wanted mystery to surround one of France's gifts to cuisine. The soufflé will rise in about 20 minutes and will only fall about five minutes after it's finished cooking and removed from the oven -- usually while you're serving it. You can even take a soufflé from the oven, jiggle it a bit or use a spoon to check for doneness, and return to the oven for additional cooking without causing it to deflate. It's that sturdy.

How do you know it's finished cooking? It will have risen above the top of your baking dish with surfaces that, while not exactly crispy, will be dry and golden in color. The cooking will also produce an aroma of the main ingredient (cheese or chocolate or lemon, etc.). It will have a structure that will barely move as you take the dish out of the oven. If the surface jiggles while you go to remove the baking dish, leave it in the oven for a few minutes longer until it's set.

Tips For Cooking Soufflés

 

I love being able to take a familiar and quotidian ingredient (an egg) and turn it into something unexpected and flavorful -- and what does this more than a soufflé? I hope I've convinced you that despite their reputation, they are almost bulletproof. We've added two recipes:  one is savory and made with goat cheese; the other is a dessert version with Grand Marnier. Add a salad and a loaf of favorite bread and a soufflé is a main course. Make space in the top of a just baked sweet soufflé for a pour of custard sauce or softly whipped cream and dessert will be magic.

As Julia wrote, what you really will have created is "an automatic happenstance." I would add, perhaps also a little glamour.

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