Soufflés are amazing. They’re beautiful, they’re delicious, they’re impressive. They’re creamy and impossibly light, a thing that sounds like it’s a bit of a feat to pull off, making them a perfect indulgence for warmer weather. We love they way whipped egg whites transform from a thick, pale yellow liquid into billowing clouds in an instant. We also love that this versatile dish can be made for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert, and, though you might not believe us yet, soufflés are actually pretty simple to make. Once you have the technique down, you can make any soufflé you like, which means the number of tricks in your cooking arsenal: way up.
Yes, soufflés take a little planning timing-wise (though they’re not nearly as high-maintenance the reputation that precedes them), but even though this dish might feel like a luxury—something you have on a special occasion or an afternoon when you have nothing to do but spend your time cooking at a leisurely pace—a soufflé can be made anytime, any place. Pretty much, anyway. We’ve never been able to figure out how Audrey Hepburn managed to make one in Humphrey Bogart’s office out of saltines and tomato juice (one of us may have even tried it, much to her middle schooler dismay), but then…she’s Audrey Hepburn. While they are great for special occasions, in all their dramatic, towering and ethereal glory, we also love soufflés whenever the mood strikes. Sometimes, you want a soufflé and nothing else will do. Because really, there’s nothing quite like a soufflé. We wanted to figure out exactly how un-finicky and girl-next-door the soufflé can get. Do you really have to stop everything, make the soufflé, instantly put it in the oven, hover over it until just the right moment, take it out, and immediately dig in? Well, not exactly.
When we have questions of a culinary nature (or, actually, just about any nature), we often ask ourselves: What Would Julia Do? So that’s what we did. We turned to The Book, AKA the nearest Julia Child cookbook, and as always, Julia had some excellent answers. (One of our favorite Julia lines, unrelated to soufflés but always related to life: “But I was a pure romantic, and only operating with half my burners turned on.” What a woman.)
Turns out that yes, you really do need to eat a soufflé right when it comes out of the oven. You can wait, but why bother with a soufflé if you’re not going to enjoy it in all its spectacularity? It will deflate pretty quickly (you’ve got like 5 minutes…seriously) once it’s out of the oven, so swiftly getting it to the table or where ever you’re going to eat it is a must. However, even when it does deflate, the taste and texture won’t change: Your soufflé will still be just as delicious and just as crazily airy. But. (But #1.) When it comes to preparing the soufflé, you can actually make part of it ahead of time. Surprise! Who knew? We sure didn’t. After you fold the egg whites and fixings into the yolk mixture, just leave the now ready-to-go soufflé in the mixing bowl (not the baking dish) and cover. Amazingly, it can sit at this point at room temperature for up to an hour right on your counter, away from drafts and definitely not in the fridge. Then, when you’re ready to bake, just pour it into your soufflé dish. Sure, it’s only an hour, not the night before, but we’ll take it! This is, after all, still a soufflé we’re talking about. It’s like the Helen Mirren of the culinary world. Helen sure wouldn’t wait around for you all day, so why would your soufflé? (We’re sticking with that statement.) Lastly, be sure to use a skewer or knife to test if the soufflé is done, inserting from the side and angling down toward the center. But! (But #2.) If you take it out, start to dig in, and then realize it’s not done, you can actually put it back in the oven and finish the baking. Amazingly, it will puff up again. How’s that for low-maintenance?
There are so many soufflés that we love. We both have a favorite dessert soufflé memory—Lee’s is a ridiculous blackberry version and Lou’s is an unbelievable Grand Marnier one. But last weekend, we decided to go a different route for our soufflé craving: the savory route. Going off what we’d been seeing at the market that looked especially great, we decided on a soufflé with spring onions, Gruyère, and pancetta. And it was so. very. good. If you’re not sure what a spring onion is, it looks a lot like a larger scallion. It’s actually a young onion with the green stalk still attached and is milder in flavor than when it’s fully grown. This time of year, you can find them at your grocery or farmers’ market. And just wait until you try them cradled in a cloud of creamy soufflé, crispy, salty pancetta, and rich, nutty Gruyère. Utterly perfect.
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Spring Onion, Gruyère, and Pancetta Soufflé
Notes: It’s much easier to separate your eggs when they’re cold. You can let them come to room temperature afterwards. For the béchamel, we like using a wooden spoon to mix the flour and butter and then switch to a whisk when we add the hot milk. Make sure you have all of your ingredients nearby and ready to go when you start the yolk mixture. And when you go to beat your egg whites, make sure to use a spotless metal bowl and be careful not to overbeat them! Any grease or residue in the bowl will prevent your whites from whipping up properly and it doesn’t take much overbeating to end up with dry, grainy egg whites. (Yes, that’s what they become—super gross.) For that reason, we prefer to whisk by hand or to use an electric hand mixer, which makes it much easier to get a better look at what’s going on in the bowl than a stand mixer.
No soufflé will turn out the same exact way each time you make it. If it doesn’t puff up as much as you would like or had expected, don’t worry. They all deflate within a few minutes. As long as you bake it until it’s done, it will still be wonderful. If you like, you can attach a 2-inch buttered and floured parchment collar tied with a piece of kitchen string around your soufflé dish. The purpose of a collar is to support the rising soufflé. If you don’t make a collar and your soufflé seems to be a bit unstable as it’s rising, simply add one at that time. When the final mixture is poured into your prepared soufflé dish, the dish should be 3/4 full. We used a 2-quart soufflé dish to make 6 servings. Any leftovers, can be stored in the fridge. Reheat in a microwave or double boiler. The texture won’t be the same, but it will still be just as tasty.
2-quart soufflé dish
4-quart or large saucepan
Box grater for grating your cheese (unless you’re using some that’s already grated)
– 3 spring onions, washed, sliced, and chopped
– 1/3 pound of pancetta (approximately)
– 6 tbs unsalted butter + more for greasing the soufflé dish
– 3/4 cup sifted flour + extra for flouring the dish
– 2 1/4 cups of milk (preferably whole), heated to almost—but not!—boiling
– 6 large egg yolks at room temperature
– 10 large egg whites at room temperature
– 1/2 cup grated Gruyère or Swiss cheese (we prefer Gruyère) + some extra for sprinkling on top
– 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
– 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
– Salt and black pepper to taste
* In a frying pan cook the pancetta until crispy. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate for a minute, then crumble and add to a small bowl.
* Remove all but about a tablespoon of drippings from the frying pan, add the spring onions. Sauté until they’re translucent and just starting to show a little color. Don’t let them brown. Add to the bowl with the pancetta, mix, and set aside.
* Butter and flour the soufflé dish well. Tap out any excess flour. Attach a collar, if you’d like.
* Over medium-high heat, melt the butter in a saucepan, but don’t let it brown! When it starts to bubble, reduce the heat to medium, add the flour, and immediately start whisking or stirring briskly with a wooden spoon. Cook, stirring, for about 4 minutes—the flour needs to be cooked or you’ll wind up with an unpleasant raw flour taste.
* Slowly pour in the hot milk, whisking constantly. Whisk and cook for roughly 4 minutes more or until thick and smooth. You’ve just made a béchamel! (Another trick up your chef-sleeve!) Add the cayenne, if you like, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
* Remove the béchamel from the heat. Let cool just a bit but don’t let it get cold or it will start to set. It should be warm enough so that it’s still liquid but not so hot that it will cook the yolks you’re about to add.
* Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time. (If they’re broken, that’s fine—just pour in a little at a time.) Whisk until all the yolks are incorporated.
* Fold in the spring onion and pancetta mixture, along with the 1/2 cup of cheese. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl.
* Start beating the egg whites. When they are foamy, add the cream of tarter and a pinch of salt. Continue beating until they hold a peak and are shiny but not dry.
* Add a couple heaping spoonfuls of the beaten egg whites to the yolk mixture and gently stir in. You want to mix, not deflate them.
* Add another few spoonfuls and gently fold in to combine. Repeat with the remaining whites, being careful not to deflate. You want to keep everything light and airy.
* Pour the finished mixture into your prepared soufflé dish. Level the soufflé off gently and if you like, run your finger or a knife around the edge to make a circle about an inch from the edge. This will create a “cap.” This is just decorative, not necessary. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese.
* Depending on the configuration of your baking dish (some can be deeper or wider), bake anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour in the oven until puffed and brown. Don’t open the oven door until it’s been at least 25 minutes or the steam and heat will get away.
* To test if the soufflé is done, insert a skewer or knife into the side at a downward angle toward the center. It should come out clean.
* Soufflés will start to deflate rapidly when removed from the oven.”Therefore, there should be no lingering when a soufflé is to be eaten.” So says Mastering The Art Of French Cooking, Volume One, and so say we.
©2014 Lee and Lou Cook. All rights reserved.