Photographs by John Burgess Santa Rosa Press Democrat
For some reason soufflés seem to intimidate many cooks and they really shouldn’t. For me they are “Grandma food”. I can remember my Grandmother, who I spent my early years with, making them often usually for what we called “supper”. On the ranch in the mountains of Colorado where we lived, supper, the evening meal, was usually lighter and quicker than the main meal of the day, which we ate at lunchtime. In many respects soufflés are also “farm foods” in the sense that they are made from very basic and generally available ingredients on every farm: eggs, butter, milk, flour and a little cheese, to which you can add whatever else may be on hand.
The name soufflé comes from the French verb souffler and roughly translates “to breathe”, “to whisper” or “to blow up”. This aptly describes the delicate, fragile, ethereal texture that seems to disappear in your mouth as you eat it. Contrary to popular belief, that delicate result can be achieved without anything much in the way of talent or expertise – – – I promise!! For our exploration here I am focusing on warm, oven-baked soufflés, i.e., those straight out of the oven. The term soufflé is also applied to cold, sweet preparations in which the airy texture is achieved by gelatin or whipped cream or both. To purists these are more accurately described as mousses.
Soufflés are pretty simple. They are made up of two components: A base that is usually a thick milk based white sauce (what the French call béchamel) and whipped egg whites. The latter are folded in just before the mixture is baked in the oven and are what give soufflés their unique texture. In the oven, the air trapped in the egg whites expands as it heats causing the whole mixture to rise. The base is the flavor carrier, the whites provide the puff. I’ll just betcha that once you’ve made a couple of these, they’ll become a regular part of your repertoire! A couple of other notes.
• You can prepare souffles ahead! Most soufflés can be prepared ahead, in their uncooked state for up to an hour. Cover with an upturned bowl. You can also freeze them, wrapped in plastic in the baking dish for up to 2 weeks and then bake them straight from the freezer (be sure to remove the plastic wrap first). You’ll have to double the baking time listed. They rise almost as much as the freshly made.
• Souffles can be cooked ahead and reheated! Known as twice-cooked soufflés, these are usually baked in individual serving sizes, cooled, taken out of their dish and then at serving time reheated with a splash of cream. More pudding-like they do puff again and are a delicious variation. See recipe for my twice-baked goat cheese soufflés below.
• Souffles can be baked flat and rolled with fillings and also baked “free form”.
BASIC CHEESE SOUFFLE
TWICE BAKED GOAT CHEESE SOUFFLÉS
CHEESE GRITS SOUFFLÉS
ROLLED SOUFFLE WITH RICOTTA, PEPPERS, ONIONS AND GREENS
This article was published in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, July 2023