Soufflé – the French Trademark
Le Soufflé is a culinary masterpiece that finds its way into any serious cook’s repertoire at one time or another. The word alone evokes feelings of elegance and images of sitting in a Parisian café with friends. Looking ever so chic. With a poodle on a diamond studded leash at my feet. Woah…. maybe my imagination got the best of me, but who doesn’t have fanciful images when thinking about Paris, n’est pas?
The Soufflé and “Modern Cuisine”
The very first time a recipe for soufflé appeared in print was in Le Cuisine Modern by Vincent La Chapelle. The French word moderne like the English word derived from it, means contemporary, progressive, pertaining to the near past through the present. It implies innovativeness and deviation from the traditional.
The irony of course is that the publication date is 1742! Modern for them. Not for us. This interesting article reveals that by 1815 the man known as the father of French haute cuisine, Chef Carême, had thoroughly popularized the dish. We cooks who think we are in a modern age (just wait a few decades to laugh at that thought) are certainly glad he did.
That Funny Little Collar
As a young teenage girl my job when my mother made a soufflé was to make, fold, grease, and attach a collar to the soufflé dish. Our collars were made from foil because it can be folded and crimped in such a way that does not require tying it on.The collar extends higher than your actual pan, allowing the soufflé to rise above the rim. But the foil should be double or triple folded to create a stiff wall for when your soufflé expands. Speaking of expanding…….
The Pouf. Or Poof. Or Puff.
The word soufflé comes from the French verb souffler which means to breathe or to puff. (Finally, my years of sitting in French language classes pay off. My parents would beam now.) The dish is all about the puffing.
You may be making a savory base – a simple cheese sauce, shrimp, vegetable, etc. Or you may feel like an indulgently sweet one – chocolate, coffee, almond, or raspberry. Whatever base you use will be puffed up by the whipped egg whites you fold into it. That’s the awe factor. Seeing your ingredients rise and swell. And the aaaaah factor. Tasting the airiness. Everyone knows that a chocolate mocha soufflé is close to heaven.
About that Airiness
My mom insisted that egg whites always be beaten in a pre-chilled metal bowl with straight sides. Clean dry utensils were a must. Even a drop of egg yolk or residue of milk on a spoon could keep the egg whites from performing their magic. “Are those beaters completely dry?” she would ask.
And I still own the same white ceramic baking dishes we used way back then. Round and straight sided. And the matching ramekins for mini soufflés as well. Those were a must.
By the way for a fun read by a lady wondering if the perfectly clean egg white theory is exaggerated, click here. I won’t divulge her results, but as for me – I’m following Mom’s advice. Because I’m sentimental. And also basically lazy and don’t want to have to wait any longer than necessary to get my egg whites to the perfect stage. Or worse yet, dump the whole flat mess and begin again. No, no, no.
Fun Plus Flavor = Fabulous
As you may be able to tell by my blogs, cooking for me often combines sentimentality from my past, intrigue about cooking techniques, and love of cultures. The soufflé fits the bill perfectly in all three of those prerequisites. Maybe that’s one reason our Nature’s Yoke Pinterest account has an entire board dedicated to soufflés. Check it out.
Don’t be afraid to try your hand at a soufflé. Just do it. As Sheryl Sandberg once said, “If you’re offered a seat on a rocketship, don’t ask what seat! Just get on.”
There are so many great recipes out there (like this shrimp and crab one with tarragon,) and so many super entertaining videos, like this one from French Guy Cooking. You can make an adventure out of it. Your friends and family will be so impressed. And you will delight in your accomplishment. I say go for it. Ooh la la.