Cooks, an ideal souffle is no piece of cake
By GUI ALINAT
Published June 22, 2005
Nothing in cooking inspires more fear in a novice home cook than making souffle.
Souffle, as described by the culinary reference bible Larousse Gastronomique, is sweet or savory, made of ingredients cooked to a puree, thickened with egg yolks and with stiffly beaten egg whites folded in, poured into a souffle dish or ramekins, and baked.
Souffles are both simple and complex. Making a basic souffle is a piece of cake. The complexity lies in the perfection of it. I make souffle weekly and and learn something new each time.
An ideal souffle should have a melting texture, with a barely cooked and soft, creamy center. It will look light and high, and stand for at least two or three minutes without deflating. It should have enough flavor on its own and should not need a sauce poured into the center. I find that sauces immediately destroy the texture.
Eating souffle should be like eating a cloud.
Technically, any base with the consistency of melted chocolate, to which you add beaten egg whites, will rise in the oven. It's that simple.
If we were to take a look at unbaked souffle batter under a microscope, we would see a soft-textured base separated by relatively huge bubbles of air (from the beaten egg whites). When heated, air expands. In your oven, the air in the souffle obeys the rules of physics, pushing up the soft textured base.
The nature of an airy souffle is to rise and fall, sort of like ancient Rome. Only flour could prevent a souffle from falling, but as it turns out, a souffle recipe typically includes little of it. This distinguishes a souffle recipe from a muffin recipe.
Now that you have the souffle concept, here is a list of tips:
* Carefully line the ramekins with soft butter, then sugar (or bread crumbs for savory souffles). Inadequately buttered ramekins will produce an uneven rise or prevent it completely. The ramekins can be individual or large. Individual ramekins give you a better presentation, but give you less control over the cooking.
* One-week-old eggs are best; very fresh egg whites have a high water content and are prone to graining.
* Fold the base and the egg whites carefully, making sure not to "break" the egg whites. Do not overmix.
* Don't overfill the ramekins. Stop just before the top.
* Space the dishes well apart in the preheated oven. Don't put too many souffles in at once. Air must circulate between each ramekin. Use only one oven rack.
* Set your oven on bake or convection bake. Over the years, I found that if you bake only a few souffles, traditional baking is better. If you have more than, say, five ramekins in your rack, use convection.
* Cook souffles at the bottom of the oven if you use traditional (nonconvection) baking, in the middle if you use convection bake.
* A souffle batter has to be prepared just before baking. Otherwise, the egg whites will fall before baking. One exception is the chocolate souffle.
* Monitor the souffle while it bakes.
* Make sure your guests are seated and serve immediately, before the souffle deflates. Guests should wait for the souffle, not the souffle for the guests!
The hardest thing by far is to know the precise moment of their perfection. If you remove the souffles from the oven too soon, they will be undercooked and will fall quicker (you won't make it to the dinner table).
Overcooking, unfortunately, produces the same result, as the air bubbles will eventually burst. With individual ramekins, I would estimate the time between undercooking and overcooking at about four minutes. Experience will help you with that. You just have to try this thing.
There are many kinds of souffles. Classics include chocolate, caramel, Grand Marnier and espresso for dessert. Cheese, ham and cheese and lobster are savory souffles.
More adventurous recipes may include chestnut, peanut butter and jelly, truffle, goat cheese and rosemary, pumpkin, Parmesan and grits, or zucchini and shrimp. I have also seen recipes for sheep brain souffle, chicken liver, beet, or tofu-cheese souffle. If you make any of these at home, let me know how it turns out.
Chef Gui Alinat welcomes questions about cooking and will respond to those of general interest in future columns. Sorry, he can't take phone calls or answer individual requests. Send questions to him in care of Taste, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org Please include your name and city of residence.
10 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
6 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
4 large egg yolks
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Butter eight 3/4-cup souffle dishes. Melt chocolate and butter in microwave until smooth. Transfer to large bowl; cool. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually add sugar; beat until stiff but not dry. Whisk yolks, flour and vanilla into melted chocolate mixture. Fold in 1/3 of egg whites to lighten. Fold in remaining whites. Divide soufflemixture evenly among dishes. Transfer to baking sheet. (Can be prepared one day ahead. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.)
Bake souffles until edges are set but tester inserted into center comes out with wet batter attached, about 15 minutes if baked immediately or 20 minutes if refrigerated overnight. Serve immediately.
Source: Gui Alinat.
[Last modified June 21, 2005, 12:19:28]
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