I had a great new experience last week. I was asked by a local book club to present a talk on One Soufflé at a Time, which I had reviewed in a post on July 15. One of my bluesky kitchen followers is a member of the book club and had recommended me. Well, I’ve been writing book reviews for my newsletter for ten years, but I had never given one in front of an audience. But I’m a former English teacher; surely I can remember how to talk about a book in real life. In addition to the book review, I prepared a dish to compliment the chicken salad and mini carrot soufflés the ladies were having for lunch. I chose the Summer Vegetable Pesto that I had shared on the Recipe Page back in the summer, a delicious accompaniment for any main dish. This is a book with soufflé in the title and Anne Willan is known for her soufflés; therefore, somehow soufflé had to be in the presentation. Unfortunately, we were having the presentation in the hostess’ living room, so actually making a real soufflé was out of the question. Solution? Just pretend and have a virtual reality cooking demonstration. I brought all the equipment needed – ramekins, bowls, whisks, sugar, butter wrappers for greasing the soufflé dish, and vinegar and a paper towel for cleaning out the bowl. I wore my La Cuisine Maison apron and my chef’s hat from culinary school to provide authenticity. In my mind, I was Julia Child on PBS! It was fun and the ladies loved it. Soufflés can be intimidating: every cook is afraid they will fall (See #10 below!) Hoping to ease everyone’s fear, I explained that soufflés are method driven, once you know the do’s and don’ts, anyone can make one. I shared my Soufflé 101 check list and Anne’s recipe for Chocolate Soufflé (go to the Recipe Page for that one.) I wrote Soufflé 101 a few years ago for a soufflé class and I’ve used it several times; fortunately, the information hasn’t changed. Hope you will use it, too. Don’t be afraid to try a soufflé. They are delicious, impressive, and really easy.
Important Soufflé Points:
A soufflé is made of two components:
- A base – usually a thick, milk-based white sauce (the classic béchamel sauce), but it may be made from creamy, cooked cereals, or thick vegetable purées, or for sweet soufflés, egg yolks, cream, and liqueurs or extracts for flavor. The base is the basis for the flavor, the character of the soufflé. The flavor in the base should be intense since it will be diluted by the volume of the egg whites. The egg yolks in the base are what “sets” the soufflé.
- Whipped egg whites – the whites provide the “puff” that causes the soufflé to rise. They are folded into the base just prior to baking. Air is trapped in the egg foam; as the soufflé bakes, the air expands. When the soufflé cools, the air contracts (the reason the soufflé falls).
- An oven temperature of 375 – 400°F will result in a soufflé with a creamy texture. The soufflé should bake in the lower third of the oven.
- The same soufflé baked at 325°F for a longer time will result in a soufflé that is firmer and more uniformly cooked. Large soufflés bake better at a lower temperature for a longer time period.
- Most soufflés can be prepared ahead, frozen in their uncooked state for up to 2 weeks, and then baked straight from the freezer. The baking time is doubled. A soufflé mixture can be prepared a few hours ahead of time and held in the refrigerator until baking time.
- The egg whites must be whipped in a clean bowl, with no grease residue on the bowl or beaters. Pour a teaspoon or two of vinegar into the bowl and wipe with a paper towel. Also wipe the beaters. The vinegar also helps to stabilize the egg whites.
- The egg whites must be completely free of any fat from the yolks –any speck of yolk will cause the whites to be less stable and they won’t whip up. Eggs are easier to separate when cold, but for maximum puff and volume, they should come to room temperature before whipping. Fresh eggs work best as they are more stable and make better soufflés.
- The key to a successful soufflé is the beating of the egg whites and knowing when to stop beating—the whites must stay elastic. They should be stiff, but not dry. The whites should be just firm enough to form a peak that does not fall over when the whisk is lifted. They should slip a little when the bowl is tilted. For a sweet soufflé, adding sugar at the right time—after the “soft peak” stage gives the foam stability. Cream of tartar also adds stability when added at the beginning of beating.
- Folding the egg whites into the base is important. A small amount—about 1 cup—should be folded into the base to lighten it. Then the remainder is folded gently in to incorporate the whites into the base. Using a rubber spatula, turn the bowl as you fold by cutting down and lifting up some of the foam from the bottom of the bowl.
- A thick base and properly whipped egg whites do not need a “collar”. The soufflé will rise straight up without it.
- Soufflé sizes:
- 1 quart – two entré servings or three-four side or dessert servings
- 1 ½ quarts – three to four entré servings or about 6 side or dessert servings
- 2 quarts – four to five entre servings or about eight side or dessert servings
- And lastly, soufflés will fall—it’s their nature!
John Ash, Cooking One on One
Shirley O. Corriher, Cookwise
Gourmet, February 2002