Souffles: Reaching New Heights with Martha
There’s nothing like a souffle. This classic dish -- savory or sweet, large or small -- is always delicious and impressive. Try my new flavor variations and tips for success, and you’ll see that souffles have another fine quality: They are not as complicated to make as you might think.
It's a given: If your souffle is made with the correct proportions of ingredients, and your egg whites are beaten well and they are folded into the creamy base carefully, your souffle will rise. And it's also a given that a few minutes after you take it out of the oven, your souffle will fall.
That's science, the same science that frightens many of us and discourages us from attempting to make these delicious, lofty, tasty concoctions, savory or sweet. What's little known is that their reputation is exaggerated, and anyone with a calibrated oven, a straight-sided souffle dish, and the wherewithal to beat numerous egg whites to a silken froth can make a souffle that will excite and delight family and friends.
Souffles do require organization and planning -- and timing is of the essence. This comes with practice, and I do advise that you practice once or twice before making a souffle the focal point of a dinner party.
At the core of success is a tried-and-true tested recipe, and I've developed three excellent ones for you. Start with the milk-chocolate version, one of my favorites. The golden souffle dishes it's baked in were discovered in a consignment shop in Seal Harbor, Maine; at six ounces, they are just the right size for a dessert souffle. The milk chocolate has to be of the highest quality -- rich, milky, dense. I use a Norwegian chocolate, Freia melkesjokolade.
Try the giant cheese souffle with kale or leeks next. Just cheese is delicious, but the addition of the vegetables really takes it to the next level, making it a bit more dense and hearty. It is wonderful as a luncheon offering or a main course for dinner, with a salad alongside. A collar of parchment paper helps the souffle gain height without toppling out of its dish, and its easy removal reveals what we all think of as the quintessential souffle -- towering, straight-sided, and golden brown on top.
Most delicate is the light and airy tangerine souffle, which rises very straight and high from the dish -- but also deflates quite quickly once removed from the oven, so exact timing and immediate service are required! I love the fresh and tangy flavor of seasonal tangerines, but clementines, Meyer lemons, or even limes can be used for the citrus-flavored dessert. Whichever souffle you choose, it is sure to garner oohs and aahs from those about to be pleased with its taste and its texture.
4 Steps to Souffle Success
Savory and sweet souffles are made using a similar technique: They all consist of a flavor base and beaten egg whites.
1. Prepare the pan
Butter your dish and dust it with finely grated cheese (for a savory souffle) or sugar (for a sweet one). This is said to help the batter climb up the sides as it bakes.
2. Make a collar
Though not essential (particularly for individual souffles), a parchment-paper collar facilitates a higher rise. Fold the parchment in half to give it more structure, then wrap it around the dish so it extends 3 inches past the rim. Secure with twine.
3. Beat the whites
Separate the eggs carefully (even a trace of yolk will interfere with the whites' loft), and let the whites come to room temperature. Ideally, beat them in a copper bowl: A chemical reaction between the egg protein and the metal makes a more stable foam. (A pinch of cream of tartar also helps.) Regardless, use a perfectly clean and dry bowl. Beat the whites until stiff but silky, left; overbeaten whites look almost curdled, right. If you do overbeat them, you may be able to fix them by gently whisking in one additional white.
4. Fold very gently
Use a large flexible spatula to fold the whites into the flavor base. Don't overmix -- that would deflate the airy foam.