Friday, October 16, 2009

THE souffle

When first learning to really cook (beyond spaghetti) I started to hear about the difficulty of the souffle. It's right there in movies, books, and cooking shows and nearly impossible to get right! I'm here to dispel this myth, plus once you learn the technique you will know the basics for other dishes (i.e. b├ęchamel, egg whites). Because of my fear, the first souffle I made (a spinach souffle) I referred heavily to the goddess Julia Child's (she writes the most specific instructions for any preparation) cookbook and I followed her instructions to a 'T'. Since then I am a bit more lackadaisical resulting in souffles that aren't as perfect looking, but still delicious tasting. Once you've mastered your first souffle you can apply the technique to the whole world of souffles ... fish, seafood, cheese, vegetable or desert.

If you have a well stocked kitchen then you won't need much special equipment, just a souffle dish, which are usually available for $6 at cooking stores (or much, much more). If your kitchen is not well stocked, you will also need a wire whisk or mixer, a small glass/ceramic mixing bowl and a wooden spoon. Basically banish all plastic cooking utensils for this dish.

Leek Souffle
4 T. butter
1 T. safflower oil
2 leeks, thinly sliced and well washed (white part only)
1 1/4+ c. milk
3 T. flour
4 eggs, separated
3 oz. Gruyere cheese, grated/crumbled
salt and pepper (traditionally white pepper for appearance but it does have a different flavor)

1. Preheat oven to 400 deg. F. Grease a quart souffle dish with 1 T. of butter (for drama, use a slightly smaller souffle dish with a foil/parchment collar). Heat the safflower oil and 1 T. butter in a small saucepan and cook the leeks over med-low heat for 4-5 minutes until soft but not brown.
2. Add milk and bring to a simmer, cover. Simmer for 4-5 minutes and strain liquid into a measuring cup. Set cooked leeks aside.
3. Make a b├ęchamel: Melt 2 T. butter, stir in flour and cook for 1 minute, don't allow it to color. Remove from the heat. Add enough milk to strained milk for 1 1/4 c. Gradually stir milk into flour mixture to make a smooth sauce. Return to heat and bring to a boil, stirring constantly with wooden spoon. When thickened (about 3 minutes) remove from heat.
4. Cool slightly and add leeks and the beaten egg yolks.
5. Beat the egg whites (in the glass/ceramic bowl with wire whisk/beaters with very clean implements, add a dash of cream of tarter, if desired) until stiff and shining peaks form.
6. Using a large wooden spoon fold egg whites into the base, alternating with sprinkles of cheese. Pour into souffle dish and bake for 30-45 minutes until puffed and golden brown*. Serve immediately - to keep it from falling plunge serving fork and spoon into center of souffle (Julia's advice).
* Do not open and close oven repeatedly. Use a skewer or cake tester to confirm it is cooked all the way through (tester should come out slightly moist), most recipes say about 30 minutes but my experience (in multiple kitchens) is closer to 45 minutes, but ultimately it's up to you - wetter is creamier, but won't hold puff as long.

Serves: 4 (although it's best fresh, It's still tasty reheated, but not as pretty)

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