Rising Aspiraions

It's not the souffle that waits for the guests, but the guests who wait for the souffle...

Souffle (photo credit:)
Souffle
(photo credit: )
Delicious, elegant, airy, and dramatic in presentation, souffles are an emblem of French cuisine. They have a reputation for being complicated to prepare, but the beauty of souffles is that they follow a simple formula. You need to utilize only common kitchen techniques - beating egg whites and making a simple sauce of butter, flour and liquid. You can make sweet souffles for dessert, or vegetable or cheese souffles to serve as wonderful appetizers or light entrees. To make a savory souffle you prepare the sauce, add cheese or a cooked vegetable, then beat in egg yolks. Last you fold in whipped egg whites, bake and serve. You can make souffles from any cheese or vegetable you like, or from a cheese and vegetable combo. A few that I've enjoyed making feature pumpkin puree with garlic and goat cheese and spinach, broccoli puree with sauteed mushrooms, and eggplant souffle with Parmesan, which I bake in crepes and serve with red pepper sauce. Now that nondairy kinds of milk are so easy to find, tasty, creamy souffles can be parve too, like the onion souffle recipe below. Although I was introduced to souffles in France, my most splendid souffle souvenirs come from England. My husband and I drove from Paris to London to attend a reception at the luxurious Dorchester Hotel for launching a series of articles for which I did the research and drafted the recipes. For the series, called "The Observer French Cookery School" that was to be published in The Observer newspaper weekend magazine, chef Anton Mosimann, then head chef at the Dorchester, prepared a sensational celebration of souffles. He served more than 20 different flavors - from classic cheese, to fish with curry sauce, to lemon, to Grand Marnier - many baking simultaneously in a rotating oven, making a stunning sight. Savory souffles need no accompaniment except, if you like, a crusty baguette. Most souffles are rich enough so no extra sauce is needed. After all, a souffle itself is basically a sauce that has risen from egg whites. Still, some chefs add sauces for extra pizzazz. When we dined at the Le Grand Vefour in Paris, the restaurant's signature souffle was served in an ultra-luxurious manner - the waiter brought the risen souffle to the table, gently lifted its top with a spoon and poured in luscious, buttery hollandaise sauce. Classic souffles are baked in a round, straight-sided souffle dish, a shape that helps the mixture to rise high. If you don't have one, you can bake souffles in any deep baking dish of similar volume. A 5-cup souffle dish is good for a 4- or 5-egg-white souffle. Individual ramekins, which look like mini souffle dishes, are another good choice. French people like souffles baked briefly so they are soft and moist inside, and the inner part acts almost as a sauce for the outer, firmer section. However, souffles can be baked to taste; if you prefer firm omelets, you may like a firmer souffle and should bake it a few minutes longer than in the recipes below. But remember - if overbaked, a souffle will be tough and dry. Among cooks, a well-known saying is that souffles do not wait for the guests, it's the guests who must wait for the souffles. Fortunately, you can make the base ahead, and reheat it. All you need to do before serving is beat the egg whites, fold them into the base, bake the souffle and serve it without delay. Personally, I like to make souffles in a casual setting, with family or close friends, rather than for an elegant dinner. A well-risen souffle looks like it's about to jump out of its baking dish. If it does not rise to such an impressive height (for example, if the egg whites were not folded lightly enough), don't worry. The souffle's flavor will still be delicious, and you can always say it's a French kugel! SPINACH AND GOAT CHEESE SOUFFLE Makes 4 servings Soft, flavorful goat cheese - the kind that comes in a log shape - blends beautifully with cooked vegetables, which balance its richness. The cheese provides a creamy and tangy complement to the spinach. You can keep the souffle base, covered, up to 8 hours in the refrigerator. 4 450 gr. fresh spinach (leaves with stems) 4 110 gr. creamy goat cheese, any dark rind removed, crumbled or cut in small pieces 4 3 Tbsp. butter, preferably unsalted 4 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour 4 1 cup milk 4 Salt and freshly ground pepper 4 Freshly grated nutmeg 4 3 egg yolks, room temperature 4 4 egg whites, room temperature 4 1⁄4 tsp. cream of tartar (optional) Butter a 5-cup souffle dish, making sure to butter rim well. Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 220ºC. Remove spinach stems and wash leaves thoroughly. Cook spinach uncovered in a large saucepan of boiling salted water over high heat, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes or until very tender. Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain. Squeeze by handfuls until dry. Puree in food processor until finely chopped. In a small heavy saucepan, melt butter over low heat, add flour, and cook, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes or until foaming but not browned. Remove from heat. Gradually whisk in milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking. Cook over low heat, whisking often, 2 minutes. Remove from heat and add a little salt, pepper and nutmeg. Whisk in spinach puree and goat cheese. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and vigorously whisk in egg yolks, one by one. Heat mixture over low heat, whisking constantly, about 2 minutes or until slightly thickened; do not overcook or let mixture boil or yolks may curdle. Add more salt, pepper, and nutmeg if needed. Have a round heatproof platter ready near oven. If souffle mixture was cold, heat it in a small saucepan over low heat, whisking, until just warm. Remove from heat. In a large bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar at medium speed until soft peaks form. Beat at high speed until whites are stiff but not dry. Quickly fold about one-quarter of whites into spinach mixture. Spoon this mixture over remaining whites and fold in lightly but quickly, just until mixture is blended. Transfer mixture to prepared souffle dish and smooth top. Bake about 20 minutes, or until puffed and browned; when you gently move oven rack, souffle should shake very slightly in center. Do not overbake or souffle may burn on top and may shrink. Set souffle dish on prepared platter and serve immediately. NOTE: You can substitute 280 grams frozen spinach for fresh. Thaw spinach completely, squeeze it dry, and puree it in a food processor. Use 1⁄2 cup puree for souffle. TWO-WAY ONION SOUFFLE Makes 4 servings You can make these souffles, which are flavored with slowly sauteed onions, creamy with butter and milk, or prepare a parve version with soy milk. Choose a type that is not very sweet. 4 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil 4 3 Tbsp. butter, olive oil or additional vegetable oil 4 570 gr. white or brown onions, halved and thinly sliced 4 salt and freshly ground pepper 4 2 Tbsp. plus 1 tsp. flour 4 2⁄3 cup milk or soy milk 4 3 large egg yolks 4 5 large egg whites 4 1⁄4 tsp. cream of tartar (optional) Heat oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a medium saute pan. Add onions, salt, and pepper. Cover tightly and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes, or until onions are very soft. If liquid remains in pan, uncover and cook over medium heat, stirring, until onions are dry. Butter four 1- to 11⁄4-cup souffle dishes; butter rims well. Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 220ºC. Melt remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small heavy saucepan. Add flour and cook over low heat, whisking, for 2 minutes or until foaming but not brown. Remove from heat. Pour in milk, whisking. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking. Add a small pinch of salt and pepper. Cook over low heat, whisking often, for 5 minutes. Off heat, stir in onions. Bring to a boil, stirring. Remove from heat and vigorously whisk in egg yolks, one by one. Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, about 3 minutes or until thickened. Do not overcook or boil, or yolks may curdle. Taste and adjust seasoning. Have four heatproof plates ready near oven. Put souffle dishes on a baking sheet. If souffle base is cold, heat it in a small saucepan over low heat, whisking, until just warm. Remove from heat. In a large bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar at medium speed until soft peaks form. Then beat briefly at high speed until whites are stiff but not dry. Quickly fold about 1⁄4 of whites into onion mixture. Spoon this over remaining whites and fold in lightly but quickly, until just blended. Transfer to prepared souffle dishes and smooth tops. Bake about 12 minutes, or until puffed and browned; when you gently move oven rack, souffles should shake very slightly in center. Do not overbake, or souffles may burn and shrink. Set souffle dishes on plates and serve immediately.n Faye Levy is the author of the Fresh from France cookbook series. Her next book, Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home, will be published in March.