The True Ease of Making Soufflé

When you get down to basics, soufflés really are a very straight-forward preparation. A simple béchamel, the addition of savory or sweet ingredients to the base and stiffly-beaten egg whites — and Jacques Pepin subverts even that notion with his Maman’s  Soufflé , which simply beats whole eggs into the mix. The recipes and techniques are endless and a bit overwhelming when trying to choose, and that, ultimately, is a great thing. 

Back in 2000, New York Times Food editor, Amanda Hesser, wrote a wonderfully comprehensive article, The Modern Soufflé: Bastion of Strength. She goes into terrific detail demystifying the vaunted, hush-hush of the soufflé — No, a soufflé won’t fall if you open the oven door.

…a soufflé is actually one of cooking’s most frivolous pursuits. A soufflé should be playful… This past week, I made many soufflés and discovered that despite my efforts to challenge the classic recipe with loose liquid bases and vigorous folding, it is difficult to fail. And more than that, the possibilities are endless.

New York Times, March 8, 2000.

No you don’t need to tip toe, and no it isn’t difficult at all. Basically, if you can make an omelet and whip cream, you can make a soufflé. 

The true ease of making a soufflé, and the endless styles and variations, really gave me permission to just get into the kitchen and beat some eggs and not worry about it.

I’ve made three savory versions this week — one with a lovely shallot base by Martha Rose Schulman, one classic using Mystic Cheese’s Finback, and for fun, Pepin’s with whole eggs from Four Mile River Farm. They were all delicious.


Non-Collapsible Cheese Soufflé

Ingredients

1 ½ cups Béchamel (recipe to follow)

3 ½ tbsp butter

4 ½ tbsp flour

1 ½ cups simmering milk

½ tsp salt

1/8 tsp pepper

1/8 tsp tabasco or other hot sauce

Pinch of nutmeg

6 large egg yolks

8 large egg whites

¼ tsp cream of tartar

Pinch of salt

1 cup (4 ounces) coarsely grated cheese


Preliminaries

  1. Set a baking sheet on rack in the lower third of the oven
  2. Preheat to 400 degrees
  3. Generously butter a 6 cup soufflé dish or charlotte mold, and coat with approximately 4 tbs of fresh-grated cheese
  4. With kitchen string, tie in place a similarly buttered parchment paper or tin foil collar to add an inch or so to the top of the dish
  5. Place the buttered dish in the freezer until ready to fill


Preparing the base


A roux

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan on medium heat. When the butter begins to foam add the flour all at once, stirring to incorporate with a wooden spoon, continue stirring and cook for about 2 minutes without browning. Remove from heat for a few minutes to cool slightly, then beat in the hot milk, place back on the heat, stirring vigorously for 1 minute with a balloon whisk, making sure to keep the edges of the pan moving. The sauce will be quite thick. Remove from heat and add the seasoning.

Adding yolks

Separate the eggs.

Whisk the 6 yolks into the warm roux to create a smooth velvety base. Set aside.

Whipping whites

Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, beat the egg whites at moderate speed until quite foamy. Add the cream of tartar and salt and gradually increase to high speed.  Beat until you have a velvety, creamy texture that has a sheen to it. The whites should be stiff but overly so. When tested they will have peaks with slightly drooping points.

Folding in whipped egg whites

Using a rubber spatula, take a large dollop of the whites and mix into the bowl with base to lighten the sauce. Stir in the cheese. Add the remaining whites and fold. Spatula is plunged down the center, drawing it along the bottom, up the side and over the top while continuously turning the bowl. The whites should be fairly well incorporated.  You want to be gentle but thorough. 

Filling the mold

Remove the prepared dish from the freezer. Scoop the soufflé mixture into the dish, taking care to keep from spilling on the sides. Fill to a little more than 2/3.  If you prefer a flat top instead of a more rustic dome, smooth the top with an offset spatula.

*** Note:  This recipe will make a bit more than will fit in the dish.  A smaller dish with a collar gives the dramatic maximum rise.

Baking

Place the filled dish on the preheated baking sheet. Turn oven down to 375 degrees and bake for 30 to 35 minutes. You can actually take a peak after 25 minutes. It will not fall. Soufflé is done, to taste, when it has risen 2-3 inches above the rim into the collar and is a lovely golden brown.

Unmolding

Remove the collar. If the puff starts to sag, rapidly refasten and bake a few minutes more. Doneness is somewhat a matter of taste.  The classic style is slightly loose in the center.

Adapted from the Julia Childs PBS series “The French Chef” Episode:  Non-collapsible Cheese Soufflé

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