Part of the reason that I joined the Daring Kitchen was to learn new recipes and techniques, and to try things that I otherwise wouldn't. And it's not called the Daring Kitchen for nothing - each month's challenge is designed to test the members' skills, creativity and courage in the kitchen, and this month's Daring Cooks' challenge is no exception.
Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose Soufflés as our November 2010 Daring Cooks' Challenge! Dave and Linda provided two of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflé recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay's recipe found at the BBC Good Food website.
I am not going to lie - I was pretty worried when I read this. I have never made a soufflé before, mostly because of the reputation that they have for being complicated and tricky, and for the fact that most of the stories you hear about amateur cooks making them end with some variation of "and then it collapsed before I could get it to the table."
That being said, I really like Dave and Linda, our hosts, from reading their blog and "seeing" them around the Daring Kitchen forums, and I knew that they wouldn't pick something destined for failure. So I trusted in our hosts and in the recipes, and decided that I would persevere.
My fears and insecurities got the better of me for the first two weeks of the challenge, and I pretty much did nothing more than scan a few recipes online, wonder what I would use as a soufflé dish (I don't have a real one), and worry about how I would keep an eye on my baking soufflé without opening the door of the oven (a classic no-no in soufflé baking) using my home oven, which does not have a window.
The answer to the last question came when my in-laws invited us over for brunch on Halloween morning. Their oven, as luck would have it, has a window. So I bit the bullet and offered to provide all of the food for our brunch, as long as they would let me use their kitchen as my soufflé test kitchen. They agreed and I knew I would have to figure out the rest!
I started by finding a recipe for a straightforward (not to mention, breakfast-appropriate) cheese soufflé. I did as much of the prep work at home as I could, so as to be as prepared as possible to tackle the actual assembly when I arrived at the in-laws' house. Other than gathering and measuring the ingredients, the main step that I had to do to prepare in advance was to grate the cheese, which little miss was more than happy to help with.
Cheese grated, eggs counted, milk, flour, butter and spices measured and packaged, we were ready to pack up our ingredients (as well as a couple other brunch-y type foods we'd prepared for the occasion) and head on over to begin our endeavor.
The preparation of the soufflé is actually very straightforward, but I was still pretty nervous. I read and re-read the recipe countless times, and performed each step as meticulously as possible. I carefully separated my eggs, then began preparing the, well, batter, for lack of a better word. The initial steps of preparing this batter do not differ very much from the way I make cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese - butter is carefully melted in a saucepan, then an equal amount of flour is whisked in to create a roux. To this, milk is whisked in, creating a basic bechamel or white sauce. The grated cheese is then melted into the sauce. This is the point where the process changed. In a separate bowl, the egg yolks from my previously separated eggs were whisked, then tempered by whisking in small amounts of the warm cheese sauce at a time, slowly raising temperature of the yolks to ensure that I didn't wind up with scrambled eggs. The tempered yolks were then fully incorporated into the sauce, and voila - I had the base to my soufflé.
The next step is to whip the egg whites - the aspect that gives a soufflé its airiness, its lift, its rise - basically, the part that can make or break the soufflé. I actually contemplated lugging my KitchenAid over to my in-laws' house for this part of the process, but thought that might be overkill, so I borrowed my mother in law's hand mixer and set to whipping the whites into stiff, but not totally dry, peaks. The beaten whites were then carefully and slowly folded into the prepared base, and we were just about ready to go.
In lieu of a single, large soufflé, I decided to use my five-ounce ramekins to make individual-sized soufflés for each of us at brunch. While I was preparing the batter, my husband and mother in law helped by generously buttering the ramekins, which I then filled as carefully and neatly as I possibly could. I was lucky that my mother in law also has a set of five-ounce ramekins, because I was amazed to find that my six-egg recipe more than enough to fill my six ramekins, and I had to borrow four of hers for the leftover batter.
And then came the real test.
It was time for the soufflés to go into the oven. And I assumed what I can only imagine is the position of almost every soufflé baker, especially on their first attempt:
(and no, that is not a real spider on my shoulder - remember, this was brunch on Halloween morning...)
It was fascinating and nerve wracking to watch these rise in the oven. I seriously watched them through the window with more interest than I do half of the television shows that are on these days... And after about fifteen minutes, I was rewarded in a way that no television show can duplicate. What came out of the oven were beautiful, puffy, cloud-like concoctions that none of us could wait to try.
We each took one on our plate and excitedly dug in. I have to say, I was pretty amazed - the texture was so light and airy, and the flavor was really good - like a really good cheese omelet, only lighter, fluffier, and a lot more fun to eat. I was really glad that everyone enjoyed them, too, because, no matter how many times I told everyone to go ahead and get started on the other brunch foods while these baked, everyone waited. And everyone told me that it was worth the wait.
I was so excited by this first soufflé effort, and so encouraged by the success, that I actually wound up, a couple of days later, doing something that I never ever expected to do - I decided, on a last minute whim, to "whip up" a soufflé to accompany our dinner that night.
During my initial search for soufflé recipes (in my attempt to put off making one, due to my nerves), I had come across this recipe for sweet potato-apple soufflés. Remembering that I had two small leftover baked sweet potatoes in the fridge from dinner the previous night, I took it as a sign and, while the rest of dinner was cooking, pulled together the remaining ingredients for a second go at soufflé.
Much like the first recipe, the process involved making a base, into which whipped egg whites are carefully folded. Unlike the first recipe, though, the base for these soufflés did not require any cooking. Rather than preparing a bechamel sauce, to be flavored and then puffed up, the base for this soufflé was simply the sweet potatoes and apples, pureed well, combined with some brown sugar, spices and an egg yolk. Super easy to prepare. The egg whites were once again carefully folded in to the base in small batches. The finished batter was carefully spooned into my well-buttered ramekins, and after fourteen minutes in the oven (into which, I am very proud to say, I did not peek at all, despite my lack of window and almost overwhelming desire to...), they transformed from this:
I was actually really amazed not only by the rise I was able to get out of these soufflés, but also at how cleanly they rose. I will say that these deflated much more quickly than the cheese soufflés did, but that did not affect either the taste or the beautifully airy texture of the dish. It was actually very interesting to eat such a light sweet potato dish, since usually potatoes of any sort are pretty dense and heavy. That certainly wasn't the case with these.
My only disappointment with this challenge, if you can even call it that, is that I didn't have the opportunity to try the recipe for the chocolate soufflé that Dave and Linda posted. If you had told me, when I first read the challenge, that not only would I succeed in making a soufflé, but that I would be disappointed that I didn't have the opportunity to make three of them, I probably would have laughed. Now I am seriously looking forward to whipping up more egg whites and trying as many variations as I can!
Dave and Linda, I cannot thank you enough for giving me the push I needed to finally try this amazing dish. I have no idea how long it would have taken me to overcome my fear without this challenge, and for that, I am truly grateful!
If you would like to see some of the truly impressive soufflés whipped up by the other Daring Cooks, check them out here.
And keep your eyes peeled - I will absolutely be making a chocolate soufflé in the not-distant future, and will definitely post it here for you to see!
2 weeks ago