Thursday, April 28, 2011

Into the valley of soufflés

I’ve mastered the Fondant, a soft-center chocolate dessert that I can whip up in about half an hour and nail every time.  The trick is completely in how long it’s cooked; once that’s in hand, I’m a complete wizard.

…and ready for it’s close cousin, the soufflé.

The dessert recipes are very similar: both rely on a base of chocolate and butter mixed with a lighter beaten-egg portion, the mixture is turned into ramekin cups and then baked at 200 deg C for about ten minutes.  The main differences are that the whip is egg and sugar for the fondant (only egg whites in the  soufflé), the egg is more thoroughly beaten for a fondant (soft peaks for a soufflé), and the fondant turns out as more of a cake (soufflé is more foamy).

But a soufflé is more versatile, and can be creatively adapted to more variations.

Any soufflé has two parts: a flavored cream base (butter, flour, and milk, which together make a basic custard, along with flavorings like cheese or chocolate) and egg whites beaten to a soft peak (when pulled up, they curl over and droop back down).

A chocolate soufflé, then, starts by melting chocolate and butter, a bit of milk, together, then blending in beaten egg yolks and a das of flour.  A cheese soufflé starts similarly, with flour, butter, and milk, blending in cheese and beaten egg yolks.  I’ve found that a double-boiler works best, placing a dish over simmering water to melt the ingredients together, then cooling to room temperature.

The recipes recommend as many egg whites as yolks; I find that I get a fluffier, more risen result if I add an extra egg white.  The other trick is to mix the base and the whites with a knife rather than a spoon or fork.  Add half the egg whites to the base, cutting it in with the knife until mixed, then add the lightly blended mix to the rest of the egg white.  It’s important not to over-blend: overworking watercolors turns the colors brown, while overworking egg whites makes them flat.  The best result is foamy and mottled.

I dip a measuring cup into the mix and pour the batter into chilled and buttered ramekins, filling about 3/4 to 7/8 full.  Then into the oven to let them rise and solidify.  As with a fondant, a couple of minutes either way seems to make the difference: 7 minutes gives a chocolate soufflé that is just molten marshmallow, while 12 minutes gives an equally bad dry-cake result.  Cheese is more tolerant: 20 mins seems to work best.  Sometimes I can tell it’s done by the color and texture of the top: it should split and show a little moisture in the crevices.

Serve immediately: I like to dress the tops with a sprinkle of powdered sugar for desserts or parmesan for cheese.

Like an omelet, any base that tastes good should produce a well-flavored soufflé.  I find that the  intensity of flavor diminishes from base to result, so don’t be afraid of getting a strong foundation.  And use lighter ingredients: ham or onion have to be finely chopped to stay suspended in the soufflé.

Honestly, though, this is dead easy, and once you get the timing right, you can whip up variations without needing any printed guidance at hand.


Jules: said...

Damn it, now I don't have any excuse not to try a souffle ;-) I think baking (and cooking, in general) is easier than most people would make it out to be. It's mostly a matter of finding the time to get things right.

Dave Hampton said...

I agree - it's a bit like art in that so much is in knowing the techniques and in developing an eye for what looks (or tastes) good. Any suggestions for books on technique? Everything I find at the stores or library are just collections of recipes.

lily-margaret said...

Oh you're brave. I've never tried a souffle but maybe it's time to face my fears for the prospect of something delicious!