Friday, January 22, 2010

There She Blows

Soufflés aren't usually thought of as comfort foods. In fact, soufflés might be one of those dishes  many home cooks run away from... Yet soufflés are actually very easy to accomplish, and can be rather comforting, once you've got the hang of them. Not to brag or anything,  but my first cheese soufflé was stupendous: I was eight, and was just beginning to cook.

A good recipe is always good to have, but understanding the soufflé is key. Like G.I. Joe used to say: knowing is half the battle.

A soufflé is basically a béchamel to which eggs and flavourings are added. That's it.

If you are confident in your white sauce abilities, then you too can make a soufflé. Since a soufflé is basically a fancy and puffy béchamel, you can pass off just about any vegetable on picky eaters, and they will eat it! You may have to do some fine chopping to foil really finicky kids, but I swear that even kale will go unnoticed.

Since I have been making soufflés for a while now, I rarely follow recipes anymore, but I have dug out Julia Child's recipe to serve as a guideline.

Basic Soufflé
Serves 4 to 6 as a starter or 2-3 as a main dish with a side salad

 2½ Tbs butter
3 Tbs flour
1 cup/ 250mL liquid
¾c flavouring (cheese, spinach, kale, peas, mushrooms, etc... or a combination thereof)
4 yolks
5 egg whites
butter, breadcrumbs/ grated parmesan/ flour for mold

Start with the béchamel:
Melt the butter over medium heat, add the flour and stir until the flour and butter start bubbling and is barely starting to brown, about 1 minute.
Slowly add the liquid while whisking vigourously. Milk is the prefered liquid, but you can use stock if you intend to make a meaty soufflé. When all the liquid has been added, cook off for another 3 minutes, all the while stirring constantly.
Remove from heat and add flavourings. 
*While I would never overwrite Julia, once you get a hang of the soufflé, you will come to notice that a soufflé can take on a bit more filling. It may not rise as high as Julia's soufflé, but you will be able to hide enough veg to feed your family: a cheese soufflé made according to Julia Child's measurement can absorb up to an extra cup of cooked spinach, mushrooms and kale.
At this point, your béchamel can be set aside for up to 5 days, or used for other purposes.

Add egg yolks, one at a time, to the béchamel. Mix until everything is completely combined.
This mixture can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.

Whip egg whites. If you are unsure of your eggwhite-whipping skills, add a pinch of cream of tartar to avoid over-whisking.
You want the whites to be firm, yet soft enough for the peaks to fold over. The cream of tartar will give you some leeway. Egg whites whip up more loftily if they are at room temperature, and your mixing bowl and whisk must be impeccably clean.


Next you need to fold the whites into the béchamel.
If your béchamel is fridge cold, give it a good whisk to loosen it up. Add a third to half of the egg whites to the béchamel. Mix it in to further loosen the batter.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the rest of the whites: run the spatula along the edge of your bowl for a couple of inches and turn into the centre of the mix with a flick of the wrist. Fold until there are (almost) no lumps of egg white left: any lumps smaller than 1 cm/ ½" is okay.
Any mold can be used to make a soufflé. However, the straighter and higher the sides, the more lofty the soufflé. This recipe is for a six cup mold, but you can also make individual soufflés.
Generously butter the side and bottom of the mold.
Sprinkle breadcrumbs, grated parmesan or flour on the buttered surface, and shake out any excess.
This is an important step: it will help the soufflé rise to vertiginous heights, and it will form a crisp crust around the soufflé.
Fill the mold. If you are making one big soufflé, pour the whole mix into the mold. Smaller molds should be filled somewhere between half and two-thirds: less, and the mix will not rise enough, more and you risk and overflowing mess.
If you happen to have more mix than you have molds, you can use muffin tins, without the paper liners. More on leftovers later.
Once your molds are filled, you can keep them for up to an hour in a warm and draft-free place. Meaning, you can have soufflé for a dinner-party!

Pre-heat the oven to 400'F/200'C.
When the oven is good and hot, place your soufflé on the middle rack of the oven. Turn the temperature down to 375'F/ 185'C. And do not open the oven door for the the next 30 minutes!

A smaller soufflé will take 15 to 20 minutes to cook. Larger ones take 30 to 45 minutes. They will look done 5 minutes earlier, and if you like creamy soufflés, you can. But they will be more fragile and will fall more rapidly, especially if it's winter and your house is a little chilly.
 

Serve on its own as a starter, or with a nice salad as a main dish. 
 
Leftover soufflé are nothing to sniff at: they can be warmed over in the toaster oven or eaten cold, and are lovely for Sunday brunch or in a breakfast sandwich. I bet they could be beat any fastfood breakie sandwich hands down.


I'm getting hungry again...

By the way, if you happen to have leftover egg whites in your fridge, you can make a soufflé without yolks. You will need the equivalent of 6 to 7 egg whites (180 to 200g or 12-14 Tbs). Proceed as above, without the yolk.

A note on the cheese: any hard, flavourful and grate-able cheese will do. However, I would avoid stringy cheeses like mozzarella. And go for stronger cheeses, a medium or sharp over a mild cheddar.

Also, Julia's recipe calls for more egg white than yolk: if you don't like keeping orphan yolks in the fridge because you tend to forget about them, you can throw it in the soufflé. It will make for a slightly heavier soufflé, but it will still be tasty.

I hope you will try this out, if you haven't already. Soufflés are really much easier than they seem, and they make the simplest ingredients so very special.



Bon app'!

2 comments:

  1. LOL, you're right. I've always run away from a souffle. I might just be brave enough to give it a go... (feeling nervous, but watch this space) Great way for using up egg :-)

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  2. Hi there Almost Mrs. Average!
    I love what you've been doing with your rubbish!
    Yes, soufflés are great for using up eggs, especially those egg whites that seem to accumulate in the fridge. Do give it a go, and tell me how it went!

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