Soufflés are perceived as sophisticated and elegant but difficult. They’re actually not that hard. They are laborious.
But they make an airy wisp of a perfect meal for brunch or supper on a cold, wintry night with a side dish like a salad or soup and maybe warm croissants. We always make them on Christmas morning.
If you’ve never made a soufflé before,
you are in for a treat.
Take your six eggs out of the fridge early, they work better when they warm up a bit. Turn your oven on, too, and hot, it should preheat to a withering 400F.
Soufflé’s can be made dessert-sweet with orange or lemon and Grand Marnier, or supper-savory with cheese or seafood, herbs or spinach. Egg can adapt to almost any flavor so let’s make spinach soufflés. Wash your spinach, pinch off the stems and wilt the leaves in a pat of melted butter. Then squeeze it all dry, chop it fine and set it aside.
Now separate your eggs, being very careful not to get even a tiny speck of yolk in with the whites. The whites won’t achieve their potential volume if you do.
Time to prep your ramekins.
You can make one large soufflé or several smaller ones. We make individuals here but a big one works just as well. Butter the insides thoroughly and then dust well with a hard, grating cheese like reggiano or grana padano. Add a few grates of fresh pepper and you’re ready.
Now it’s time to make a white sauce.
Bechamel, the classic French white sauce is a staple and it begins with a roux, something we’ve made here several times before. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter, add two tablespoons of flour…
...whisk over moderate heat until the roux just begins to tan…
...and then whisk in very hot milk, start with about two cups and whisk with vigor, you want to get all the lumps out to thicken this delicious, white sauce. Add more milk to a lush consistency and whisk until it is silky smooth.
While your sauce is gently bubbling add a few flecks of grated nutmeg, a fair amount of ground black pepper, a bit of salt.
Now whisk the egg yolks until they grow smooth and pale and then drool them slowly to the sauce, stirring it well as you go. Then add the chopped spinach and stir it all again. Does it look like this?
Great. Turn off the flame under the sauce and beat the daylights out of the eggwhites...
...until they grow stiff and start to peak. With sugar, the French word is “meringue”, the stuff on top of a lemon meringue pie. But don’t add sugar, just beat them, this is for soufflé.
A couple of minutes and they’re nice and stiff, see? Now, take half--just half--of the beaten whites and blend them fairly well into the spinach bechamel sauce.
Now here’s the trick: take the other half of the beaten whites and gently FOLD them into the mix leaving large unmixed blobs of beaten white throughout the mixture. Don’t mix it well. This is important, the trapped air in the pockets of eggwhite will swell and make the soufflé rise.
Now take your mix and fill the cups about halfway. Some theatrical cooks fill them all the way up and then add a buttered paper collar that is tied on with string to contain the “crown” over the ramekin. It’s impressive, but they taste the same either way.
Now quickly place them on a middle rack and get that oven door closed fast. It’s the shock of heat that gets them started. Turn the heat down to 375 and bake until they rise up over the rim and turn golden brown, about 20 minutes for small individuals, perhaps 30 for one large soufflé. Set your table in the meantime, pour the wine, dress the salad, have everything ready and serve the soufflé immediately while it is still puffed up and proud.
Now take a bow and dig in.
Fried eggs are great but they’ll never be the same.