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Food for Thought
Parlez Vous Soufflé?
This month I'm experimenting with something I've never attempted before, and I'm not sure if it was fear holding me back or a lack of exposure. Somehow I made it to the advanced age that I am without baking or even eating a soufflé. How did I miss this boat?
Perhaps I just thought a soufflé was a glorified quiche, which I've never been very fond of. I'll admit they seemed dated to me . . . right up there with aspic and Jell-O salads made with cottage cheese. I was afraid the soufflé would collapse if I sneezed or dropped a pot. I imagined something like a popovera crust with nothing inside. I thought of spending hours in the kitchen, only to have something deflate like a flat tire.
I was wrong. So very wrong.
A soufflé is a warm, fluffy bit of heaven that melts in your mouth. One small ramekin of this treat is not enoughyou'll barely realize you ate it, so you'll reach for another. Trust me, one would have been enough to leave you full and satisfied, but two will leave you smiling and satiated. Don't even consider a third! I can tell you this through recent experience.
Usually when I'm developing recipes I have a basic idea of where to begin, a starting point of ingredient ratios. With breads, my rule of thumb is two cups of liquid, a package of yeast, and five or six cups of flour. With cookies I start out with 1 cup of butter or shortening, 2 cups of sugar, and an egg, and go from there.
With soufflés, I was lost.
So I gathered a stack of promising recipes from cookbooks and the Internet, and took a little from one and a little from another, averaging out egg-to-base proportions and trying to make sense of the wildly differing methods and temperatures.
Then I let my imagination take over. I guessed a lot and crossed my fingers . . . and was very pleasantly surprised. I really planned on showing you a whole lot of "fails," and was shocked that there were none. I do have a photo of a collapsing crab soufflé, but apparently that's the nature of this delicacy. You are supposed to have everyone sitting at the table, spoon in hand, waiting as you serve the hot, poufy, golden, perfectly risen soufflé . . . because in just a few minutes, it will start sinking. And that is perfectly OK!
There is nothing hard about making a soufflé. They're basically a white sauce or a fruit purée with stiffly beaten egg whites folded in. Always start with room temperature egg whites. I'm lucky to be able to just go out to the chicken coop for eggs that are "hot off the press," but if you are using refrigerated eggs, let them come to room temperature for at least an hour. Make sure you are using a meticulously clean bowl and beaters, whip the eggs until they stand up in stiff peaks, fold the eggs gently into the base ingredients, and you will be successful.
Detailed preparation will make things go smoothly. Chop any fruits or vegetables, separate the eggs, preheat the oven, and prepare the dish or dishes you'll be using for your masterpiece.
Soufflés should be baked in a straight-sided dish or in ramekins. I prefer using ramekins; they're easier to serve quickly and everyone loves getting their own individual dessert. Butter the dishes well and then dust something on the butter to give the egg mixture a little traction when it's trying to climb. For a savory soufflé, finely grated parmesan works well. (Fresh, not the powdered kind in a jar. I tried both and the soufflé stuck in the ones where I used the dry kind.) For a dessert soufflé, use granulated sugar.
My recipes are pretty large, but here's the good news: You can fill your little ramekins and freeze them, then pop a few in the oven whenever you get a craving for soufflés. How sweet is that? I love having fun options like that in case unexpected company arrives.
For my first attempt I was determined to make a savory crab soufflé for dinner. Here's how my mind worksscary but true: The closest Costco, which carries lump crab in tubs, is an hour and a half away, so I hoped to find crab in our little town. I am my father's daughter, and we just don't DO canned crab. Or fake "Krab." So . . . I looked longingly at the king crab legs at the meat counter and saw that they were $21.00 a pound! Yikes. This baker is on a budget, so that was painful to even consider.
The Dungeness crabs were less expensive, and I love Dungeness; they're so sweet and juicy. They're found anywhere from Alaska to California, but the Pacific Northwest is Crab Mecca. Landlocked here in Eastern Washington, there are times I really miss living on the coast, especially now during Dungeness season. (It's supposed to be a good year, too!) Sport fishers will harvest over a million pounds of Dungeness this year, and I depend on my friend Mary who gets lots of salmon and crab every year and shares some with us when she visits. (Sure hope she's reading this.) I lived in Seattle most of my life and had access to the very best, so I know good crabs when I see them, but the poor little guys in the seafood case were rather slimy looking and weren't cleaned, and . . . eeeuw, I hate cleaning crab.
I bought the king crab, but went cheap and only purchased a half pound, which turned into 4.5 ounces once it was shelled, not enough for my recipe. I could have cut the recipe in half, I suppose. I considered adding smoked salmon, but was afraid it would overpower the delicately flavored crab. In the end I added chopped olives and sautéed mushrooms to bulk out the soufflé, and it was delightful.
Even though the improvisation worked well, I wrote the recipe using eight ounces of crab, in case you're not as stingy as I.
My very favorite recipe was for Nectarine Strawberry Soufflé. Washington State ranks second in the nation for nectarine production and is experiencing a bumper crop of strawberries this year, so the combination was just meant to be.
My husband was mowing our field when these soufflés came out of the oven, so I went out and waved him in. I assure you he wasn't annoyed by the interruption and ate three of them before he went back outside.
These will deflate a bit after a few minutes, but it's not like in the cartoonscertainly not as flat as a pancake! An hour later, once the soufflé had fallen as much as it was going to, it still had a wonderful texture and plenty of loftiness left.
There is no way I can close this column without giving you a recipe for a chocolate soufflé. Even though I used dark chocolate, the finished product reminded me of a warm chocolate pudding. It was delicious and mild. If you're looking for a deep, dark, cocoa flavor, you may want to substitute a square (one ounce) of unsweetened chocolate for one ounce of the dark chocolate. Either way, that's what I call comfort food!
Loosen your waistband, tuck in your napkin, pick up your spoon, and when the soufflé is presented, fragrant and steamy . . . DIG IN!
Contact Lorinda at email@example.com
Lorinda resides in Eastern Washington, where she joyously combines her love of cooking and gardening. Baking is her passion, and licking the batter off the spoon after making a cake is her reward. When she's not in the kitchen, she's out in the garden pulling weeds and snacking on young peas. Also enjoy Lorinda's blog, The Rowdy Baker.
Food for Thought copyright 2013.