Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Souffle, Demystified.

Didn't fill the ramekin enough with the batter.
I am addicted to Top Chef, the American TV show  that pits a group of cooks against each other in a series of cooking challenges. The chefs are judged by a panel of professional chefs and food critics and each week, the chef that doesn't meet the mark is eliminated. Season One of the reality show aired in the US in 2006 but the show only recently made its way to Malaysian TV. Thank goodness, though we may be late in getting most top TV series,  we play catch-up pretty good and we're currently watching Season 3 and 4 simultaneously (Season 8 will air in the US in December). 

So anyway, I love the show. I love how these chefs (they're quite eccentric, these cooks!) tackle the challenges that are thrown their way: an upscale barbecue challenge  (champagne + barbecued meat -- why not?),  frozen food challenge (creating frozen pasta dishes) and reinventing family favuorites (lasagna, pork chops, souffle) are some examples. Seems easy? Well, not at all. The chefs have a time limit: sometimes its as little as 60 minutes to come up with the idea, execute and plate their dish -- and given that they're trying to outdo each other, the dishes aren't run of the mill .. well most of the time.

What am I getting at? Well, I was supposed to get down to a challenge of my own last night: making a cheese souffle under the guidance of Julia Child. Yup, since buying her books (Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vols I and II) I have been obsessed with, well, mastering some techniques of French cooking. No, no, I have no intention of being the next Julie Powell but it's hard not to want to dive into Child's recipes.

So anyway, I planned to make souffles: bought the eggs, cheese and butter but after stuffing myself at dinner, I grew a little lazy. I decided to plant myself in front of the TV: two episodes of the latest season (7) of House and an episode of Top Chef seemed way more appealing. 

As luck would have it, two of the chefs had to make souffles (sweet or savoury, it was up to them). Whoa! What are the chances??? Of all the dishes they had to make, a souffle? I took it as a sign for me to get off my lazy arse and execute my plan. 

Ok Julia, lets see if its as easy as you make it sound.

Now, a souffle is really kind of a cool dish to make. If you want to impress a dinner guest, a souffle that has  puffed up significantly will do the trick. Thing is, as cool as they are, souffles are also extremely temperamental: if you don't make them right, they may just flop the minute you take them out of the oven. Or, they may not puff up much at all. In which case, it would be quite embarrassing. 

This one was better

Thankfully, Julia's recipe and technique worked and my souffles rose. Too bad there wasn't any one else to witness it. Well no one other than my husband, R and my dachshund, Mojo. Both looked vaguely impressed but would have preffered it if I'd made some beef. Oh well.

The souffles behaved quite well out of the oven: they stayed up for about 20 minutes, enough for me to fiddle about with my camera to take these shots. Not bad. I didn't fill a couple of the bowls with enough of the souffle batter and so these didn't rise as much over  the ramekin as I would have liked (top pic). But thankfully, I got a couple right (middle pic). I'd already eaten my dinner so I ate only a portion of one souffle and decided to keep the rest and double-bake them for dinner tomorrow.

Double baking is one way of salvaging a flopped souffle. For me, its a way to add flavour and form to the dish. A souffle is slightly crusty on the outside but soft and airy inside. Not my favourite texture. By double baking them (taking them out of the ramekin, chilling them if you want, and baking them for a short period before serving), you make them a little more crusty (a lovely cheese crust appears) and a little firmer inside. Nice.


Julia Child's Souffle Au Fromage (Cheese Souffle)

A. Souffle moulds or ramekins
1 tsp butter
1 tbsp swiss cheese or parmesan, grated

Butter the moulds/ramekins and sprinkle with cheese. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 200C.

B. Cream base
A 1 liter saucepan
Wooden spoon/spatula
Wire whisk
60 gms butter
3 tbsp flour
1 cup boiling milk
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of nutmeg

Melt the butter in the saucepan. Stir in flour and mix with a wooden spoon and cook over moderate heat until the flour and butter foam together -- about 2 mins, without it browning. Remove from heat. When the mixture has stopped bubbling, pour in the boiling milk and whisk vigorously until blended. Beat in the seasonings and return to the heat, stirring with the whisk till it boils: about 1 min. The sauce will be very thick. Set aside. 

C. Adding the eggs 
4 eggs 

Seperate the 4 eggs: the whites go into the mixing bowl of your standing mixture.
Drop the egg yolks, one at a time, in the middle of the hot sauce (B), beating until they are blended into the sauce. Add Correct the seasoning (add more if required).

D. Egg whites
4 egg whites (from above) + 1 extra egg white
pinch of salt
80 g swiss cheese or parmesan, grated

Beat the egg whites and salt till the mixture forms stuff peaks.
Stir in a large spoonful of the whites into the sauce, gently. Stir in all but one tbsp of the cheese. Fold in the rest with a spatula, very gently.

Spoon in the souffle mixture into the prepared ramekins: the dishes should be 3/4 full. Gently tap them on your counter/table top till the tops are smooth. Remember be gentle.

Place on the middle rack of your preheated oven and immediately turn heat down to 180C. Bake uninterrupted for 20-25 mins (DO NOT OPEN OVEN DOOR). The souffles should rise to at least 4 cms above the moulds and they should be browning on top nicely. Bake for another 4-5 mins to firm it up a little more. Serve immediately.


  1. Whoa! First time I see you write "my husband R ..." *smile, smile* My own version of R tells me it's Dachshund, by the way (roof dog, which harks back to the days when such doggies were used as ratters or something dangerous like that, haha. Sorry for being so pedantic).

    I too am not fond of the texture of souffle. Think I only made it once - in a Rohani Jelani class, if I remember correctly. Give me an eclaire or custard puff any day ... soon, please.

  2. You should try double baking them... it makes a whole ot of difference.

    Oh yes, Dachshund is right. My spelling isn't unfortunately :)


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