Food recipe and The Amazing Shrinking Soufflé

My husband thinks a soufflé should be concave. He was, shall we say encouraged to this conclusion after years of proudly showing him fallen soufflé after fallen soufflé and telling him it took a lot of work to get that perfect concave shape.

So it is no wonder, then, that my first thought on seeing this months Gourmet magazine was to "Hide it! Hide it NOW!"

Because there, on the cover was a soufflé that not only was incredibly beautiful, but which was, horror of horrors, not concave.

But too late. For he saw the magazine. So I, drawing on every last ounce of intellect I had, immediately said, "Yes. What a shame that a major magazine like this can't figure out how to make their soufflé fall properly."

Then I slunk out of the room. Hastily. And worried about what will happen to him if he ever goes to a decent restaurant and, oh dear, orders a soufflé.

So let's talk soufflé. If your soufflé falls, you have only one of two options. One: Learn how to keep it from falling. Or, two: Make the best of it.

How to keep your soufflé from falling
Soufflés fall because the air inside them deflates. Taking your delicate soufflé from a nice, cozy oven and introducing it to your cool, or even chilly, dining room is the easiest way to do this. So, obviously, you want to avoid this drastic temperature change.

You can do this one of two ways: Keep your oven off or turn the heat up in your dining room to match your oven temperature. Unfortunately, however, if you keep your oven off, you must be prepared to eat your soufflé with a spoon. And if you turn the thermostat up, you must be prepared to deal with melting guests. Neither is attractive.

Of course, there is a third option. When I asked my elderly gourmet-cooking English auntie for her advice, she told me that when she cooked a soufflé, she ran, ran mind you, from the kitchen to the dining room and served it immediately, if not sooner.

I'm waiting for word on when her hip replacement surgery will be scheduled.

Tips on Keeping your Soufflé Up, Up, Up
Auntie, bless her, was right right. You do need to time that soufflé so it is ready the moment your guests are ready to eat it. A soufflé waits for no one. Everyone, however, waits for a soufflé. But there are a few other things you can do to help:
  • Make sure you whisk your egg whites to a good, stiff peak to create lots of air bubbles. Arm tired from all that beating? A copper bowl, a pinch of cream of tartar, sparingly wiping your bowl with a bit of white vinegar can all help. So, too, can a patient husband with a strong arm. Or a KitchenAid. And make sure to fold, not stir, those egg whites into your batter so as not to deflate the air bubbles you worked so hard to make.
  • Pay attention to the heat of your oven. Ideally, get a few oven thermometers and place them around the interior of your oven. This will help you to tell what is really happening in there (I always have to set my temperature 5 or 10 degrees higher than the oven indicates because my oven runs cool). Soufflé are like fussy children: Not warm enough, or too warm, and they don’t cooperate.
  • Pay attention to the cooking time. Not long enough, and you have soup. Fallen soup. Too long, and you have a dry and flat dessert. Which, too, will be fallen. You can tell if a soufflé is properly cooked if a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean (just like with a cake) and the top is lightly golden brown.

It Fell Anyway So Now What do I do?
  • You can try disguising the crater with, for example, whipped cream. Heck, even if it has not fallen, everything tastes better with whipped cream.
  • In the kitchen, before anyone has a chance to see your intact, erm, creation, cut it and plate the slices with a dollop of ice cream. Then serve the individual plates while saying "Good heavens but that was the most perfectly formed soufflé I have ever seen."
  • Call it a cake. Note: This only works if you did not already tell everyone you were making a soufflé. Note to self: Never tell anyone I am making a soufflé in advance.
  • Rescue for those who ignored my prior, clearly sage, advice: If you went ahead and told everyone you were making a soufflé and that puppy collapsed at your feet, then call it a fallen soufflé when you serve it. Think I am kidding? Here's a recipe for a fallen soufflé invented, no doubt, by a frustrated cook.
  • Get a bicycle pump and . . . (next week: Tips on how to wash soufflé out of your hair).
  • Tell everyone it is supposed to look like that. This also works with new-stylist-hairdos, dresses that were on sale, and experimental nail polish colors.

When Life Hands you Lemons ...
So, you want to make the gorgeous soufflé on the cover of this months Gourmet? Well, here's my take on it. Remember to run, don't walk, to the nearest dining table. And, if all else fails, gullibility is your friend.
Meyer Lemon Soufflé
1 cup whole milk
4 large eggs, separated, plus 2 additional large egg whites
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated Meyer or other lemon zest
1/3 cup fresh Meyer or other lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Bring milk to a simmer, then remove from heat.

Beat together yolks, sugar, and vanilla until thick and pale (medium setting for about 4 - 5 minutes should do nicely). Reduce speed, add cornstarch, and mix. Slowly add hot milk. Mix. Return mixture to the saucepan you used to heat the milk. Whisk nonstop as you bring the custard to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer and whisk for 2 more minutes. The mixture will thicken.

Remove from heat, pour into a bowl, and whisk in the lemon zest and juice. Cover with parchment or wax paper and cool for 1 hour.

Put oven rack in lower third of oven and preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 7" soufflé dish, then sprinkle sides and bottom with sugar (use the same technique you use to butter and flour a baking dish).

Beat egg whites with salt until foamy (this is where the KitchenAid, copper bowl, or husband comes in handy). Add cream of tartar and beat on high until egg whites hold stiff peaks (once you got those peaks, stop - go further and you can overbeat those eggs).

Fold a third of the egg whites into the custard, then fold in the remaining whites. Remember to be gentle. Pour the mixture into your soufflé dish. Wrap a strip of parchment paper around the outside of your soufflé dish so it extends at least 4 inches above the rim.

Bake the soufflé for about 40 minutes.