We're ditching our galoshes and dodging the cold in favor of a Big Night In all month long. Follow our lead right this way.
Nothing epitomizes the power and versatility of the egg quite like a soufflé. Ingredients-wise, there's not much to it: some eggs, a little milk, a little starch and whatever you're flavoring the mix with.
And yet, soufflés can intimidate even the most ambitious cook: They have a fancy French name and a reputation as being difficult to perfect. But you shouldn't fear the soufflé—with a few words of wisdom from our food editor, Andy Baraghani, and a little someone named Nathan Myhrvold (yes, the author of Modernist Cuisine), you, too, can master a picture-perfect soufflé (see the recipe). Here's how.
Butter up. Before you even get started with the eggs, give them a leg up by brushing the insides of your ramekins with butter and setting them in the fridge until you're ready to get cooking. By chilling them, the fat in the butter will solidify, giving each soufflé a little something to hold on to as it crawls its way up the sides of the dish in the oven.
You're all about that base. There are two basic elements to a soufflé: the base mixture (usually a béchamel for savory soufflés and a pastry cream for sweet) and beaten egg whites. The base is made of whipped egg yolks combined with a starch. "Flour is traditional, but you need to cook it enough to avoid that raw flour taste," Myhrvold explains. His (and our) solution? Instead, reach for the cornstarch (arrowroot or tapioca starch work, too), which thickens the cream right quick without adding that pasty flour taste.
Flavor agents. "You're asking your egg whites to physically lift up whatever other [flavoring] elements you incorporate. I call that the 'payload,'" Myhrvold says. The denser your payload, the harder it will be for those whites to rise. This time of year, we like to use Meyer lemons. Because lemon juice doesn't weigh much, your citrus soufflé will puff up high and mighty.
Whip it. To get a soufflé to rise, you must whip bubbles into the egg whites. When the soufflé hits the oven, the hot air causes the bubbles to inflate and the soufflé to expand. To whip it good, make sure your bowl and whisk are extra clean and dry (even the tiniest drop of fat can ruin your whites) and whip steadily until you reach stiff peaks, meaning your whites point up without collapsing. "But pay attention," Baraghani advises. "If your whites start to look grainy and collapse, you've overwhipped and need to start over."
Take it slow. Don't ruin those fluffy egg whites by stirring all of them into the heavy yolk base in one fell swoop. Instead, mix about a third of the whites with the base, then ever so gently fold in the remaining whites, being careful not to overmix and destroy those bubbles you worked so hard to create.
Looks are everything. Even the most perfect soufflé is a fleeting pleasure—it'll start to deflate as soon as it leaves the oven. Don't despair! This just means you should get your date into the kitchen to admire its beauty, then crack into that baby ASAP.
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