those joyous ladies, Irma & Marion, in their 1953 edition of the New Joy of Cooking, call the soufflé the “misunderstood woman of the culinary world,” and go on to give brisk and efficient instructions along with 26 recipes for variations on the foundation. Unfortunately, these include “Jiffy Soufflé with Canned Soup” and lead straight into to ring molds. Le sigh.
thirty years later, American whole foods home-cooking gurus Nikki & David Goldbeck would agree that, “despite the French name and elegant reputation,” the soufflé is simple, useful, delicate, and tempting. Even, apparently, if you put wheat germ in it.
like many French dishes that have soared into the gastronomic stratosphere, seemingly out of reach for us mere culinary mortals, the soufflé is humble in origin. Basic foodstuffs handled with thoughtful love. Our new friend monsieur Louis Diat exclaims:
soufflés have for so long been associated with haute cuisine that many people, unfortunately, never attempt to make them. Expensive, they say, and difficult to make. Quel dommage! It’s a pity—because neither fact is true.
soufflé is no more complicated or decadent than an omelet; it just has fabulous architecture. A homey, table-scaled rendering of the flying buttresses of Notre Dame. Baked “the French way,” it delivers a comforting, custardy center whether savory or sweet. Although luscious, it is only inappropriately rich in taste or cost if you make it so. Mundanely, it is a graceful vehicle for leftovers. The only real trouble with making soufflés is the process seems to invariably dirty a lot of dishes, and i dislike washing dishes very much.
much of the magic is in the egg whites, but some of it is in the pan: a medium straight-edge casserole will hold a 5 egg soufflé and be plenty puffy. To coax the thing even loaftier, use a smaller pan lined with a collar of parchment paper. Butter and lightly coat your pan with breadcrumbs, cornmeal, grated hard cheese or some combination. We used Panko breadcrumbs for this soufflé. Heat your oven to 375°.
measure out 1 ¼ cups of whole milk and set it atop the stove to warm. Separate 5 cold eggs: the yolks go in a small bowl and the whites in a much larger bowl and quite clean, because they will double in volume later and any grease will debilitate maximum loft.
melt 3 tablespoons of butter over low heat in a heavy sauce pan. Whisk in scant 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour; and cook, whisking, until the roux turns golden brown. Grate in fresh nutmeg, a pinch of cayenne pepper and some salt. Slowly whisk in the milk. Continue whisking and just simmer, cooking until the béchamel reduces to 1 cup. Turn off the heat; leave to cool.
heat a sauté pan over a medium flame. When the pan is hot, add a pat of butter. Peel and chop half an onion and add to the pan. Peel and finely chop a carrot and add to the sautéing onion. Chop half a clean Portobello mushroom head; slice the other half and set aside. Add the small mushroom pieces to the pan, stirring well. Salt and pepper, adding a little more butter if necessary. Cook until the onions and carrots are soft but not browned then set aside in a bowl, scrapping the pan well. Toss in the slices of mushroom and sauté for about 3 minutes, turning frequently with a fork.
snap the heads off a bunch of asparagus, reserving the stalks for some other use (like sautéing lightly with red pepper flakes then storing in olive oil and lemon juice for salad). Remove the mushrooms to the casserole dish and replace them with the asparagus, with a splash of lemon if you like and a little salt and pepper. Cook just briefly and scatter over the mushrooms.
whisk a tablespoon or so of the just warm white sauce into the egg yolks then a bit more sauce. Pour the tempered yolks into the saucepan and whisk thoroughly. Stir in the chopped vegetables, and grate in a ¼ or so of Parmesan cheese.
whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form, glossy but not dry. This is one of the few times i break out the electric beater; it really angers my forearm to get to stiff peaks by hand, though it is not impossible. If you have a kitchen friend, you can take turns.
fold about a fourth of the stiff whites into the sauce until thoroughly combined. Gently fold in the remainder, no more than a third at a time. To fold, use a spatula to cut through then beneath and lift the batter over and around the egg whites. Patiently combine the two without deflating the whites. Carefully turn the whole mess into the casserole dish. Run your finger along the inside edge of the pan to create a groove an inch down.
bake for 25 minutes to half an hour, which will make for a firmer soufflé. The one thing all accounts of soufflé making seem to agree on is the maxim: you wait for the soufflé; the soufflé does not wait for you. Like all dreamy things, that spun scaffolding only holds its grand form a brief time. And that divine, luxuriant center is at its best oven to table to dish. Serve with excellent bread, a sourdough French is ideal of course. Include a bright, herby salad.
the leftovers are likewise delicious, as many fallen things are.