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A Cooking Adventure with Thom


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Soufflés Cooking Tips

Jane Daniels Lear
Gourmet, February 2002

 

Souffle

 

The Incredible Lightness of Being.

Rising Star


Despite its reputation as a temperamental dish, the soufflé is simply a few basic ingredients that come together to create an easy but impressive dessert.  My favorite, the chocolate soufflé, which has a light, airy texture and an intense chocolate flavor, makes the perfect finale to a romantic dinner or intimate celebration.  Soufflés aren't as time-consuming as you might think.  Surprisingly, you can make and bake one in under an hour, or preassemble one according to the tip we've provided, so you don't have to interrupt the flow of dinner to make  dessert.  However, we can't deny the soufflé's essentially ephemeral nature — it definitely has to be whisked  from the oven and eaten immediately.  Somehow, we don't think you'll mind.

 

Ingredients


Despite its reputation as a temperamental dish, the soufflé is simply a few basic ingredients that come together to create an easy but impressive dessert.  My favorite, the chocolate soufflé, which has a light, airy texture and an intense chocolate flavor, makes the perfect finale to a romantic dinner or intimate celebration.  Soufflés aren't as time-consuming as you might think.  Surprisingly, you can make and bake one in under an hour, or preassemble one according to the tip we've provided, so you don't have to interrupt the flow of dinner to make  dessert.  However, we can't deny the soufflé's essentially ephemeral nature — it definitely has to be whisked  from the oven and eaten immediately.  Somehow, we don't think you'll mind.

 

There's much to be said for the ability to fashion something truly glorious from practically nothing.  Gardeners and hat makers know what I mean.  In a resourceful cook's world, soufflés belong in that category.  Take a chocolate soufflé, for instance.  Eggs.


FLAVOR INTENSITY:
Essentially, there are only a few things to keep in mind.  The flavor needs to be relatively intense.  It's all in the base, which is diluted first by the sheer volume of egg whites that it will be folded into, and then diluted again by the rising in the oven.  Our base of bittersweet chocolate and egg yolks is as simple as they come.  We got the best flavor — rich, complex, and lingering — from Valrhona  chocolate, which can be found at specialty food shops. According to food historian Maricel Presilla, author of The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes, Valrhona has a high cacao content (60 to 70 percent) and is a blend of the best beans.  Callebaut, another quality brand that we generally like very much, proved disappointing in this recipe — because the cacao beans the company buys aren't as distinctive, the chocolate isn't as assertive.  And we were surprised at how well Baker's worked.  "Like other supermarket chocolates," Presilla said, "it's made of inexpensive bulk beans that are often over roasted to mask any flaws."  The harshness is evident when you taste the chocolate raw, but in our soufflé it translates into robust flavor, though lacking the nuances of Valrhona.


BEATING THE EGG WHITES:
Almost everyone knows that beating the egg whites properly is key.  The air, in the form of tiny bubbles, is trapped in the egg foam; as the soufflé bakes, the air expands, causing the soufflé to puff dramatically.  (When the soufflé cools, what does the air do?  It contracts, of course, making the soufflé fall.  How could people ever think physics boring or irrelevant?) The trick is to know when to stop beating — the whites must stay elastic, so that the air bubbles can expand without bursting.  Adding sugar at the right time — after "soft peak" stage — gives the foam stability.  The debate as to the supposed advantage of beating whites in a copper bowl has finally been laid to rest, by the way.  According to food scientists Shirley Corriher and Harold McGee, it can indeed make a difference — not in the volume of beaten uncooked whites, but in the volume of the finished dish.  (There's a particularly cogent explanation in Corriher's book Cook Wise.)  We loved the result we got with an electric mixer and a stainless steel bowl, so we didn't bother with a copper bowl, but if you have one, give it a try.  Clean it beforehand by rubbing it with a generous handful of coarse salt and a dash of vinegar, then rinse well.


FOLDING IN THE WHITES:
Folding is also important.  First, add about a cup of foam to the base to lighten it — the two mixtures will combine more readily that way.  Many cookbooks tell you to then add the remaining whites to the base, but we sometimes do it the other way around.  Food editor Ruth Cousineau, who has made soufflés for years, feels that as long as you are gentle and fold quickly, you shouldn't have a problem.  So scrape the chocolate mixture into the whites and then cut down through the center.  Turn the bowl with your other hand as you're cutting down and lifting up some of the foam from the bottom of the bowl.  You'll develop a beautiful rhythm that way.

 

Serving Ideas:
1. If the yolks aren't room-temperature, they'll cool the melted chocolate too much.
2. Stir the yolks in well.
3. One key to a cloudlike soufflé is not to overwork the egg whites.  This is what you're aiming for — whites beaten until they just hold stiff peaks.  (Note: The operative word is just.)
4. Gently but thoroughly fold the base into the whites, preserving as much of their volume as possible.  A large rubber spatula is the best tool for the job.
5. A chocolate soufflé is a good one to practice on because of the difference in color — it's easy to see when the whites are fully incorporated.

     
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