Light As Air

Starting a new job 45 miles away from home has presented me with a whole set of challenges these last few months–commuting, then not commuting, living out of a suitcase part-time, not having my familiar home kitchen with all its gadgets, tools and equipment (not to mention fully-stocked pantry), and working longer hours.  Finding down time (not to mention the energy) to experiment with new recipes, much less commit anything to writing, has been next to impossible.  So when my cousin Ed and his wife Har, who have graciously opened their home to me, expressed a desire to learn how to make soufflés I viewed it as a great opportunity to not only repay them for their hospitality, but to document the experience for my blog post.

When Ed says he wants to learn how to make soufflés, we’re not talking just one type…oh no.  I mean, if you’re going to go through the trouble of making a mess in your kitchen you might as well go big and make 3 types.  We settled on the classic Grand Marnier Soufflés, savory Garlic Cheese & Spinach Soufflés, and decadent Chocolate Soufflés.

Soufflés sound intimidating, but really aren’t if you follow some basic rules–the first one is to fire up your oven even before you start prepping the components.  Adjust the racks so you have one in the center of the oven with a sheet pan preheating at 425ºF.  If you’ve got a convection option, set it to 400°F.  Next, make sure you’ve got clean, dry soufflé dishes.  Brush the insides with melted or softened butter and coat with sugar (for the sweet soufflés) or bread crumbs (for savory).  I almost had to resort to using ground potato chips before Ed found panko bread crumbs lurking in the back of the cupboard.

The actual process of assembling the soufflés takes very little time so it’s really a matter of getting your ingredients measured out and ready to go.  Because we were tackling 3 types of soufflés, it took several hands to prep the various components.  I sautéed the spinach, while Ed’s daughter Caroline grated the roasted garlic aged cheddar.  Har zested the orange for the Grand Marnier soufflé base as Ed buttered and coated the ramekins.

First up were the Grand Marnier Soufflés.  This classic was the easiest to make and a good introduction to the process. We made a roux by cooking flour in melted butter, then whisked in whole milk, sugar, salt, and orange zest.  It’s important to continue whisking as the mixture comes to a boil to avoid any lumps.  Once we had a smooth, thick paste, we removed it from the heat and gradually tempered some of it into the yolks and Grand Marnier before whisking in the rest of the hot mixture.

With the base done, we moved on to the all important egg whites.  While you can whip the whites by hand, I say use an electric mixer if you happen to have one, which Har did…tucked inside the recesses of her kitchen–a pristine portable Kitchen Aid mixer that had never been used…until now.  I think she was actually excited to finally have an excuse to crack open the box.

Once we managed to snap the beaters into place, the real lesson began–how to make the perfect meringue.  We started with a clean dry bowl, room temperature egg whites and a little cream of tartar to help stabilize the meringue. We had already used half the sugar in the soufflé base, so before beating the remaining sugar into the whites we first whipped them until they were very white and foamy before gradually beating in the sugar a little at a time.

Contrary to what some might think, a stiff meringue does not necessarily produce a light and airy soufflé because it requires more folding to fully incorporate the meringue into the base which can cause the batter to collapse.  What we were looking for was a glossy yet still soft texture, what I would called medium peaks.

IMG_0359

Carefully folding the meringue into the base in three stages, filling the cups halfway and lightly banging the bottoms against the kitchen counter to help the batter settle into cups before filling them all the way, then running our thumbs along the edge to create a little channel were key steps to ensure a spectacular rise for our soufflés…well that and a very hot oven.  Given their oven’s quick recovery time, I wasn’t all that  concerned about losing too much heat while we loaded in the soufflés, having set the oven at 400ºF convection.  However, if your oven isn’t quite that efficient, preheat it to 425°F then turn it down to 400°F once the soufflés are in.  After about 12 mins. we were met with these beauties.

Grand Marnier Souffles
Grand Marnier Soufflés

While the soufflés baked, I sautéed some fresh strawberries in a little  butter, sugar, orange juice, a pinch of sea salt, and generous splash of Grand Marnier for a lovely sauce.

Emboldened by our brilliant success with the first batch of soufflés, we moved on to the savory ones, which were almost as easy to make.  For the Garlic Cheese & Spinach Soufflés, we again made a roux, then tempered in the yolks and stirred in the cooked chopped spinach (be sure to squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible first) and grated cheese.  I found a lovely roasted garlic aged cheddar at Sprouts so that’s what we used, along with a little dijon mustard, ground white pepper, dried thyme, and salt. Normally I would add in a pinch of nutmeg and cayenne but we had none on hand.

IMG_0348

Once again, we whipped our egg whites with some cream of tartar to medium peaks.  Because we weren’t beating in any sugar, we took greater care to not over whip the whites, which facilitated the folding process.

Caroline took her turn at cleaning the rims of soufflé cups.

Loaded with spinach and cheese, the savory soufflés took a bit longer to bake, about 18 mins.  They rose as beautifully as the Grand Marnier ones and were absolutely delectable.

IMG_0363
Garlic Cheese & Spinach Souffle

We were feeling pretty full after two rounds of soufflés (well, maybe not Ed), but we soldiered on to make the Chocolate Soufflés.  This time I let Caroline and Har have a go at cooking the base, whipping the whites, and folding the batter.  For added chocolate flavor, we coated the ramekins in a combination of sugar and cocoa.

To finish off the soufflés, we poured the rest of the strawberry sauce in the center of each one.

Chocolate Souffle with Strawberry Sauce
Chocolate Souffle with Strawberry Sauce

I’m not sure if my cousin and his family will be firing up the oven and electric mixer anytime soon to embark on more soufflé adventures…maybe after Ed buys more soufflé dishes (the ones we had were a little small).  But I’ve armed them with the basic knowledge and techniques for soufflé-making…so who knows.

Grand Marnier Soufflés

Yield: 6-8 servings

  • 5 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp orange zest
  • 3 tbsp Grand Marnier
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar

In a saucepan on medium heat melt the butter and whisk in the flour.  Cook the mixture for about a minute, then gradually whisk in the milk, followed by 1/4 cup of the sugar, salt, and orange zest.  Whisking constantly, bring the mixture to a boil.  Cook for about a minute.  Transfer the mixture into a medium mixing bowl and temper about 1/4 cup into the yolks and Grand Marnier before whisking the yolk mixture into the rest of the roux.  In a separate bowl (or stand mixer), beat the whites and cream of tartar until very white and foamy, then gradually beat in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time.  Whip the whites on medium hight speed to glossy medium peaks.  Fold the whites into the base in three stages.  Fill the prepared soufflé dishes halfway, then lightly bang the bottoms against a hard surface to knock out some of the air bubbles and help settle the batter into the dishes before filing them the rest of the way.  Run your thumb along the rim to clean the edges and create a little channel to help the soufflés rise properly.  Place the dishes about 2″ apart on a sheet pan preheated in a 425°F (400°F convection) oven. Adjust the setting to 400°F as needed and bake for about 12-14 mins. depending on the size of the dish.

Serve and enjoy immediately!

Strawberry Sauce

  • 1 pint fresh strawberries, washed & quartered
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • juice of 1/2 orange
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier

In a saute pan on medium heat melt the butter, add the sugar, and bring to a simmer.  Add the strawberries, juice, and salt and cook for another minute until the strawberries are tender.  Stir in the liqueur and remove from the heat.

Garlic Cheese & Spinach Soufflés

Yield:  6-8 servings

  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 3 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • pinch of cayenne
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • salt & white pepper to taste
  • 5 large eggs, separated
  • 1/2 cup grated roasted garlic aged cheddar (or aged cheddar + 1 small clove of minced garlic)
  • 1 cup cooked spinach, chopped, liquid squeezed out (or 1 package thawed frozen spinach squeezed dry)
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar

Melt the butter in a saucepan and whisk in the flour; cook for about a minute, then whisk in the milk and seasonings. Whisking constantly, cook the mixture until thick and smooth.  Remove from the heat and transfer into a medium mixing bowl. Temper a little of the roux into the yolks, then whisk the yolks into the rest of the roux.  Stir in the cheese and spinach until fully incorporated.  Whip the egg whites and cream of tartar to medium peaks, then carefully fold into the base in three stages.

Fill the prepared soufflé dishes halfway, then lightly bang the bottoms against a hard surface to knock out some of the air bubbles and help settle the batter into the dishes before filing them the rest of the way.  Run your thumb along the rim to clean the edges and create a little channel to help the soufflés rise properly.  Place the dishes about 2″ apart on a sheet pan preheated in a 425°F (400°F convection) oven. Adjust the setting to 400°F as needed and bake for about 16-18 mins. depending on the size of the dish.  Serve immediately!

Chocolate Soufflés

Yield: 6-8 servings

  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 2 Tbsp corn starch
  • 1/2 tsp espresso powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 oz. bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa), chopped
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 4 large yolks
  • 2 Tbsp Godiva or Kahlua liqueur
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp cream of tartar

Whisk together the milk and cornstarch in saucepan until completely smooth.  Bring the mixture to a boil on medium heat, whisking constantly until it is very thick and smooth. Whisk in the espresso powder, salt, chocolate, and butter. Whisk in the liqueur.  Beat the whites and cream of tartar until very white and foamy.  Gradually beat in the sugar a little at a time to glossy medium peaks.

Fold the whites into the base in three stages.  Fill the prepared soufflé dishes halfway, then lightly bang the bottoms against a hard surface to knock out some of the air bubbles and help settle the batter into the dishes before filing them the rest of the way.  Run your thumb along the rim to clean the edges and create a little channel to help the soufflés rise properly.  Place the dishes about 2″ apart on a sheet pan preheated in a 425°F (400°F convection) oven. Adjust the setting to 400°F as needed and bake for about 12-14 mins. depending on the size of the dish.

Serve and enjoy immediately.

 

 

Author: Puddingyrl

I'm a pastry chef (geek) whose appetite invariably exceeds the actual size of my stomach. Skinny jeans be damned! My innate curiosity usually leads to full-blown obsessions--culinary and otherwise--which is why you'll find me sticking my finger in the proverbial pudding...if not licking the whole damn bowl. Given my varied interests, I figured blogging is a good way for me to explore those ideas that are always nibbling at my brain. Along for the ride are two of my girlfriends who share some of my obsessions and have no problems diving headlong into that bowl of pudding. After all, it's more fun to share the calories!

Leave a Reply