Starting a Souffle Revolution at Home
The last time I ordered a souffle in a restaurant, or even saw one on a menu, was at Tour D’Argent in Paris, New Year’s Eve, 1992. It was a simple and elegant vanilla souffle, dotted with crunchy, fragrant vanilla pod seeds, arriving at the table all beautiful and steaming hot; a perfectly crafted crown of Gaul glory. The server gently crushed its top to ladle in a silky, warm creme anglaise. It was heaven. A moment I will never forget. Kind of like 1992, which was a magical year for me, all tucked away at Le Cordon Bleu, cooking and learning French cooking by day, absorbing every inch of Paris and France when I wasn’t cooking.
Since then, I haven’t seen them much in restaurants and have often wondered why. They are not expensive to make, are easily prepped and compiled at the last minute, and when well done (they are easier to make than you may think), are utterly impressive and utterly delicious. Any chefs dream dish. Perhaps it’s time to start a new French Revolution in our own home kitchens? That’s what I’ve been doing and the purpose of this post is to remind you how easy and rewarding it is to do the same in your own.
As a prologue to that, I thought I’d share some thoughts from the heroine in the culinary romance novel (hopefully series) I’m working on. She’s a chef and sees several parallels between souffles and her own life:
A Page from Today’s Journal – Prudence Sass
….”The way a souffle turns out, all depends on how it’s handled. The first step is to separate the yolk from the white, or put another way, separate the baby from its embryo. There are lots of important, pesky little things to do along the way (temperature, clean hands, clean bowls, etc.), but the most important of all is the act of denaturing the egg whites to make them stable, airy, and strong. Indeed, to create a beautiful souffle, the natural qualities of the egg white proteins must be altered or destroyed altogether. And, to do that, you beat the hell out of them and fold them ever so gently back into their other half, the yolks, which have been similarly beaten into a ribbon. Then, you pop it into the oven, cross your fingers, and hope it turns out all right. It is comforting to know that older eggs make the most stable souffles and that souffle, a very pretty French word (pronounced soof-lay) literally means ‘to blow’.”
Prudence is basically right about all that. But, to refresh my own souffle thoughts and skills, I spent some time with Greg Patent’s marvelous The French Cook Souffle’s Cookbook (Gibbs Smith, 2014), which is part of The French Cook series I also contributed to (Sauces, Soups & Stews, and Cream Puffs & Eclairs). Greg is a souffle master and his book is written with tender loving care and magnificently described technique, especially in the front of the book where he discusses all matters souffle (sweet and savory) in detail. Because a friend requested a savory cheese souffle for a cooking class I was planning for her husband, herself and some of their friends, I sharpened up my skills using his cheese souffle recipe. Like Prudence, I was crossing my fingers until the very end, but in following Patent’s directions to the letter (except for making the bechamel base ahead and bringing to room temperature before folding in the egg whites) it turned out perfectly.
Classic Cheese Souffle
(from The French Cook Souffles by Greg Patent, Gibbs Smith Publisher)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for mold
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese, for mold
1 cup whole milk, plus 1 tablespoon divided
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
6 large eggs, separated, room temperature
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Gruyere, Comte or P’tit Basque cheese
Adjust an oven rack to lower third position and set a baking sheet on the rack. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter bottom and sides of a 1- 1/2 quart, 4-inch tall charlotte mold and coat with the Parmesan.
Heat 1 cup milk in a small heavy saucepan until bubbling but not boiling; keep warm. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a medium heavy saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove pan from the heat and whisk in the hot milk; sauce should be smooth. Return pan to medium-high heat and bring to a boil, whisking constantly. Cook and whisk until very thick, about 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat and whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Whisk in the egg yolks one at a time. Film the surface of the bechamel with 1 tablespoon milk.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt on medium speed until frothy, about 1 minute. Add cream of tartar and beat until soft peaks form. Increase speed to medium-high and continue beating until moist stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes.
Stir about one-fourth of the whites into the bechamel to lighten. Gently fold in remaining whites, sprinkling in the shredded cheese as you fold. Fold until no white streaks remain. Transfer the batter into prepared mold, filling it about 3/4 inch from the top. (May be made to this point about 1 hour ahead. Cover mold with a large, upturned bowl.) Set the souffle onto the baking sheet in the oven and bake until well browned on top, puffed about 2 inches above the rim, and a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean but moist, about 25 minutes. Serve immediately.
We served this with a simple salad of tender greens tossed with a simple orange and mustard vinaigrette. It was the bona fide hit of the evening. The revolutionary and unexpected winner on all counts. If you ever want to come cook with me and learn all about cooking delicious food and having a great time while you’re at it, click on this link for more details:
In the meantime, I hope you’ll check out Greg’s book and start making your own souffles. Wishing all a safe and happy Labor Day weekend.
Reflections and a Recipe: Feisty Chicken Drumstick Piperade
Some years ago, I was blessed enough not only to own a small home in a tiny village in southwestern France, I was doubly blessed to have the opportunity to visit for several months of those seven lucky years. Tucked away in the foothills of The Pyrenees and steeped in the tragic history of Le Pays Cathare, it was a tiny, pie-shaped home at the base of a crumbling old chateau in a pocket of a village called Chalabre. My French friends called it le maison du poupee, or a doll’s house. Sometimes I felt like a little doll working in it, especially working in my sliver of a kitchen with a view of rolling green hills, grazing cattle, and a tiny 16th-century church, tolling its soothing, soulful bells every hour into every day I spent there.
As much as I loved it, I would occasionally stray south of the border to neighboring Spain to buy red clay pottery, which brought me through and around Basque country. The language and dialect are unique and were foreign to my French-trained ears. Even though I couldn’t understand the language, I recognized and understood the faces of the villagers in the villages I passed through. Rows of stooped, elderly men lining short benches at the edges of cafes, sun-leathered faces and age-withered lips barely clinging to their omnipresent Gauloises cigarettes, and little old ladies clinging to well-used thatched baskets, hobbling through winding, ancient streets in floral, wrapped aprons on the way to the daily marche, all spoke to the time-worn traditions of the place.
Among other things, Basque country is home to the French Basque “piperade” (pronounced pip-errr-ahd), which derives its name from the French Gascon word for pepper, or “piper.” Traditionally, it is comprised primarily of peppers, onions and tomatoes, to mimic the red, green and white colors of the Basque flag. Because peppers have been haunting me for the past two months, both at supermarkets and farmer stands, I’ve been cooking quite a bit with them. Their diversity is growing, both in color and heat, and I enjoyed combining a bit of sweet and heat in this recipe, which is just hot enough to make you pucker, and sweet enough (with a dash of honey) to make you smile. I skipped tomatoes in this version, since I didn’t have any at home. Feel free to add one or two, coarsely chopped, after adding the chicken stock. It’s finished with a spray of fresh basil and parsley, and is as lovely served hot, as it is room temp or even cool for a picnic. Serve as is, or over rice, polenta, grits or creamy mashed potatoes.
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 large chicken drumsticks (about 1 1/2 pounds)
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1 3/4 cups mixed color sweet, baby bell peppers (about 8 total), halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 large banana pepper, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
1 large jalapeno pepper, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 large cloves garlic, peeled, smashed and very finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime, about 2 tablespoons
2/3 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon local or wild honey
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon each, finely chopped fresh basil and parsley
Preheat oven to 350F. Pat dry the chicken drumsticks (or substitute same size pieces of other cuts of the chicken). Heat the 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a 5 1/2 quart Dutch Oven (or another sturdy, oven-proof pot) over medium high. Season the chicken generously on one side with the salt and pepper and 1/2 of the oregano. When sizzling, add the chicken, seasoned side down in a single layer, in the butter and oil. Brown until golden, about four minutes. Turn the chicken, and season the uncooked side with salt and pepper and remaining oregano. Cook another 2 to 3 minutes until golden. Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Drain off the cooking fat. Add a fresh tablespoon of olive oil, heat over medium low. Add the onion, season lightly with salt and pepper, stir and cook until just softened, about two minutes. Add the sweet peppers, banana pepper and jalapeno, season lightly with salt and pepper, stir, and continue cooking over medium low until softened, about three minutes. Add the garlic, lime juice, orange juice and crushed red pepper flakes. Increase the heat to medium high and reduce liquids by half. Add the honey, chicken stock and return the browned chicken to the pan, in a single layer. Bring up to a boil, cover, and place the pot in the preheated oven on the middle rack. Bake for 20 minutes. Turn the chicken once. Remove the lid and return to the oven, baking another 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and beginning to pull from the bone. Remove the pot from the oven and remove the chicken from the pot, reserving warm. Return the pot to the stove, and reduce the liquid by half, simmering over medium high for 6 to 8 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. At the last minute, add the fresh basil and parsley. Return the chicken to the pot and heat through. Serve immediately or cool, refrigerate overnight, and serve the next day hot, room temperature or chilled.
Holly’s looking forward to heading upstate to visit with SC State University students and talk with them about publishing, writing, marketing cookbooks and answer general questions from the audience. After, she’ll sign books from 11 a.m. – noon, which is open to students as well as the general public (details below). Later, she’ll enjoy being interviewed by the media students for their on site television program/studio.
Fresh Cookbook Faces
Happily, publisher Gibbs Smith, has decided to re-vamp the covers on all of the books in the French Cook series. The signature bright colors will remain under fresh new covers that will showcase the gorgeous photography in each book, and also eliminate the pesky plastic wrap that made it hard for cookbook shoppers to see what’s within these beautiful pages. Here’s a sneak preview of what will be hitting bookstore and internet shelves in the next few weeks.
I hope you will love the new look. Please write and let me know your thoughts.
As always, bon appetit and happy cooking!
The creme de la creme of French stews, really nothing tops this beloved classic stew for flavor and presentation. And, it’s suprisingly easy to make. It’s all outlined here in my recent post on The Permanent Tourist Charleston. Enjoy!
Here’s some visual stimulation for you!
Don’t forget to chime in to try and wine a copy of my latest cookbook. Details at the end of the post link (above).
As always – bon appetit!