Monday, February 12, 2007

If you're stuck for an entree or dessert idea for V-Day, here's a suggestion for John Ash's e-newsletter: make souffles.
In this issue he tells about making cheese soufflé, with variations, and chocolate soufflé.
He says the name soufflé comes from the French verb souffler, which means "to breathe," "to whisper," or "to blow up," in the sense of inflate. This aptly describes a soufflé's delicate, ethereal texture that seems to disappear in your mouth as you eat it. They are, I think, one of the most sensual foods you can eat!
Here are two soufflé recipes.
Basic Cheese Soufflé
Serves 4-6
4 tablespoons ( 1/2 stick) butter, divided use
2 tablespoons finely and freshly grated Parmesan or asiago cheese
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup warm milk or half and half
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 large egg yolks
6 large egg whites
1 cup finely grated Gruyere, cheddar or other melting cheese
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Preparing the dish: With your fingers, lightly rub a tablespoon or so of the butter all around inside of soufflé dish. (Use one 1 1/2 quart soufflé dish or 4 to 6 smaller ones.) Sprinkle Parmesan inside dish and roll dish around in your hands to lightly coat and knock out excess Parmesan. Set dish aside in refrigerator to chill a bit. A chilled dish seems to keep the butter in suspension better as the soufflé bakes.
Preparing the base: In medium saucepan, melt remaining butter, add flour and stir over moderate heat for 2-3 minutes without browning. This step cooks the flour so that it doesn't have a raw "floury'' taste. Slowly whisk in warm milk and bring to boil, stirring all the time, 3-4 minutes. Sauce will be very thick. Stir in nutmeg, salt and pepper and take off the heat. Whisk a little of the warm base slowly into egg yolks. This tempers or gradually warms them so that they are less likely to scramble. Beat this mixture back into the rest of the base and set aside. Preparing the egg whites: In clean bowl, with a hand or stand mixer, beat egg whites just until stiff enough to cling to the beaters when the mixer head is lifted but still shiny and moist-looking. Finishing the soufflé: With a spatula, stir 1/4 of the whipped egg whites into the base. Do this quickly. This lightens the mixture so that you can fold in the remaining whites without deflating them too much. Scoop the rest of the whites on top, and with the spatula cut into the whites, drag it along the bottom and bring the sauce mixture over the top. Turn bowl a quarter of a turn, sprinkle on some of grated cheese and repeat until whites, cheese and sauce are just combined. Spoon mixture into prepared dish, gently smoothing the top. Place soufflé in preheated oven and bake 25 to 30 minutes or until soufflé is puffed and golden brown. (If your oven doesn't have a glass window and you're tempted to peek, don't! Keep the door closed for at least the first 20 minutes so that the soufflé can set.) When done, serve immediately. To maintain as much of the puff as possible when serving, plunge an upright serving spoon and fork straight down into center of soufflé and then pull crust apart and scoop out a serving.

-- Spinach or broccoli: Stir about 2/3 cup cooked and finely chopped spinach or broccoli into the warm sauce base after the addition of the egg yolks. Reduce grated cheese quantity to 1/2 cup.
-- Shrimp, crab or salmon (smoked or otherwise): Saute 3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots or green onion in a little butter or olive oil till soft. Add 3 tablespoons white wine and continue to cook till wine is evaporated. Off heat, add 1/2 cup to 1 cup finely chopped or diced fish and stir into warm sauce base after addition of egg yolks. Reduce grated cheese to 1/3 cup.
-- Mushrooms: Stir 3/4 cup of very finely minced oven-dried or sauteed cremini mushrooms into the base before the egg whites are added. Reduce cheese to 1/2 cup.
Souffle on a platter: You don't have to bake a soufflé in a dish. Any soufflé may be baked on an ovenproof platter. One favorite dish mounds basic cheese soufflé mixture over fresh asparagus that has been cooked briefly but is still crisp. Sprinkle on a little cheese and bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 15-18 minutes or until soufflé is puffed and brown. Serve immediately.
The same technique works for other vegetables, such as endive or cooked artichoke hearts. Experiment, too, with fish like salmon. Depending on its thickness you'll want to cook it just a little before mounding the soufflé mixture on top.

Chocolate Soufflé
Serves 6
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 tablespoon plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
5 ounces finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup half and half
4 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest, optional
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
Optional garnish: Powdered sugar
Puree of berries, strained and lightly sweetened
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. With 1 tablespoon of the butter, lightly coat the inside of 4 to 6 individual soufflé dishes (4-6 ounces) or one large dish (1 1/2 quarts) and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, turning dishes to coat evenly. Set in refrigerator to chill dishes while making the soufflé mixture.
Place chocolate in double boiler and melt, stirring occasionally. (Alternately, melt in a glass bowl in microwave. Heat for 1 minute at half power. If necessary, give it 10-second doses at half power until just beginning to melt. Stir until smooth.)
In separate saucepan, melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter, add flour, cook and stir over low heat 3 minutes. Add half and half and whisk until mixture is smooth and lightly thickened. Continue to cook for 5 minutes until mixture thickens to the texture of very soft mashed potatoes. Off heat, whisk a little of the warm base mixture into the yolks to temper them, then whisk the yolks into the base. Gently stir in melted chocolate, vanilla and orange zest, if using, until thoroughly combined. Set aside and cool to room temperature.
In clean bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually sprinkle in remaining 1/4 cup sugar and continue to beat until whites are stiff enough to cling to the beaters when the mixer head is lifted but not dry. Stir 1/4 of whites into chocolate mixture to lighten it and then carefully fold in remaining whites. Pour mixture into prepared dishes and place on baking sheet. Bake 12-14 minutes for individual soufflés, 30-35 minutes for large soufflé, or until the soufflé puffs, begins to pull away from the sides of dish and becomes crusty on top. A wooden skewer inserted into the center tests very moist. If you are baking refrigerated or frozen soufflé batter, place dishes in a shallow baking pan and surround with boiling water halfway up the sides of the dishes. Bake a few minutes more for refrigerated soufflés and double the time for frozen. Check for doneness as above. Remove from oven, dust with powdered sugar and garnish with a spoonful or two of fresh berry puree if using.
Source: John Ash, Cooking One On One

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