Soufflé

Soufflé

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From
Encyclopedia of Food and Cookery

Highly renowned as a creation of French cuisine, a soufflé is one of the lightest, most delectable and useful dishes in a cook’s repertoire. Any chef worth their salt can whip up a soufflé on command. And most people who like to cook and care about what they eat will, with a little leftover chicken or cheese, reach for the eggs to make a superb cheese soufflé or soufflé de volaille à la reine – a right royal chicken soufflé.

To make a soufflé you need eggs, milk, butter and flour. You make a sauce, add egg yolks then fold in beaten egg whites, bake in the oven and, voilà – a light-as-air soufflé. For flavour you can add grated cheese, chopped cooked chicken, seafood, ham or vegetables – the range is limitless. If you want a sweet soufflé, sugar and vanilla are a natural choice. Liqueurs like Grand Marnier or Cognac, fruits, fresh or candied and, of course, that great favourite, chocolate, make a sweet soufflé one of the most popular dishes on restaurant menus.

A word of reassurance: a soufflé is not as difficult to make as many people think. The soufflé gained a reputation for being difficult in the days of wood-burning stoves. With today’s excellent thermostatically controlled ovens, baking a perfect soufflé is assured.

Basic preparation: Success with soufflés is simply a matter of following basic rules.

A soufflé does have to be eaten as soon as it’s ready. During baking, the air trapped in the whites expands and the soufflé puffs up, but because of its delicate structure it will not hold up for more than a few minutes.

The flavourings are added in different ways. Cooked chicken, seafood and vegetables are often chopped finely, almost to a purée; cheese may be grated. These are folded into the basic sauce before adding egg whites. Sometimes the food is cut into thin slices and folded into the finished mixture, and for some soufflés, whole, lightly cooked food is added, like a poached egg or strawberries.

Eggs should be at room temperature. The main point to watch when making a soufflé is that the egg whites are beaten correctly. The whites must have no trace of yolk, and the bowl and beaters must be dry and free of grease. Beat the whites until foamy, add cream of tartar or salt (as indicated in recipe) and beat to a velvety snow. Test by gathering a little mixture on the beater and holding it upright; at the right consistency, the beaten whites will stand on the beater in a firm peak with a slightly drooping top.

It is the air beaten into the egg whites that makes the soufflé expand and rise, so it is important to fold them into the sauce as lightly as possible. Have the sauce warm (if you have made it ahead, stand the bowl in warm water). Stir a big spoonful of the whites into the base mixture to lighten it, then scoop the rest of the whites onto the surface and fold in, by cutting down through the mixture with a large metal spoon or rubber spatula. Folding in the whites should only take a minute or so. The mixture will blend a little more as you turn it into the soufflé dish.

Cooking times: A soufflé made with about 375 ml sauce and 3–4 eggs in an approximately 1.5 litre soufflé dish will take about 30 minutes to cook in a preheated moderately hot oven (190°C). It will rise well above the rim of the dish. At this stage the centre will be creamy, as some people prefer. For a wellcooked soufflé, bake for a further 5 minutes.

A soufflé made with 5–6 eggs requires an approximately 2 litres dish, and will take 40–45 minutes to cook.

To prepare a soufflé dish: For a savoury soufflé, grease the dish and dust with fine dry breadcrumbs or a mixture of breadcrumbs and finely grated parmesan cheese. For a sweet soufflé, grease, then dust the dish with a little caster (superfine) sugar. Remove excess crumbs or sugar by turning the dish upside-down and tapping it lightly on the table.

For a high cold soufflé to stand above the rim of the dish, cut a strip of foil or baking paper wide enough to be doubled and come 8 cm above the dish and long enough to fit around the dish with an overlap of 8–10 cm. Fold over to make a double strip. If a smooth effect on the soufflé is desired, brush one side of the strip with oil. Tie the strip around the dish, oiled side in, and fold at the bottom so that it stands like a collar above the edge.

Cold dessert soufflé: The charm of a cold soufflé, apart from its delectable flavour and airy texture, is its spectacular appearance. Its height above the top rim of the dish in which it is set is the clue to its fragile lightness.

The size of the soufflé dish determines the height of the finished soufflé. Sizes vary from individual serving dishes through 12, 15, 18 cm diameter and larger. They are usually made with straight sides in ovenproof earthenware, and invariably have a fluted outside and indented rim.

A 3-egg soufflé is made in a 15 cm dish, while a larger 6-egg Sweet Sherry Soufflé is made in a large 18 cm dish.

Ingredients

Quantity Ingredient
see method for ingredients

Method

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