Thursday, 27 February 2014
I'm not sure when I first had a twinge of nerves at the thought of making sweet soufflés. I can't think of any other examples of a cooking technique where I will happily make a savoury version (there's a family recipe for leek soufflé with a crusty cheese top that I absolutely adore) but worry about a sweet recipe.
Sometimes I wonder it if it had anything to do with watching Sabrina (1954) with Audrey Hepburn (you can watch the scene here to get you in the mood too). I felt that any attempt would be subjected to a similar line up of faults: 'too low... too pale... too heavy... too low... too high...'.
When I looked them up in my two most beloved resources, McGee and the Companion, they both mentioned how soufflés had gained an unfair reputation for difficulty. Even though, as McGee notes, "they can be among the most delicate, as their name - French for 'puffed', 'breathed', 'whispered' - suggests", they're not as fussy as their reputation dictates.
I chose to begin with this recipe, adapted from Alice Medrich, because it is so simple. You don't have to make a pastry cream or a roux - the glossy meringue is just folded through with sour cream, the yolk and a touch of flour, salt and vanilla. Once I'd absorbed Xanthe Clay's advice, I found them surprisingly straightforward.
Before the soufflé is cooked, it is filled with tiny air bubbles from the carefully combined meringue. You need this volume and, with it, the potential for more. As with many dishes that involve folding, the technique you use can make a difference. Here's the way I do it:
When the mixture is put into the oven, the gases in the incorporated bubbles expand and the water vaporises into steam, causing the bubbles to grow, expanding the soufflé to its full height. When the soufflé is taken out of the oven and begins to cool the reverse happens as gases in the bubbles start to contract and the steam condenses into liquid water, causing the soufflé to shrink and fall (unless you've already eaten it, of course).
I was surprised to discover that soufflés can be held for a bit before baking. After trying various delays I found that 4-5 hours was the point that these started to deteriorate - enough to prepare them before dinner, perhaps, though they don't take long to make.
My experience with this recipe has made me feel more confident about sweet soufflés. I think I might tackle one of the twenty-nine recipes for sweet soufflés in Escoffier next. 4496 Soufflé Praliné, which is infused and sprinkled with almond praline, sounds tempting.
I hope you will consider trying them too, if you haven't before - baking a tall, stately soufflé is very satisfying. I kept being surprised by this recipe - there's something attractive about the delicate flavour of the sour cream base that keeps getting better as you eat. Then, of course, there's the crisp, sweet top and the pockets of shiny melted chocolate that you sudden upon with your spoon.
Chocolate-Laced Sour Cream Soufflés
(adapted from Alice Medrich's Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts)
20g dark chocolate (70%)
75g full fat sour cream
1 large egg
1 tbsp (15g) plain flour
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
big pinch of salt
25g caster sugar + a little to sprinkle
bit of butter and granulated sugar, to grease
Preheat the oven to 210C/410F (fan). Prepare the ramekins (I've found this mixture perfectly fills 4 small 6.5cm ramekins but I imagine you could use bigger ones) by fully greasing the insides with butter then carefully swiping up the side from the bottom to the top all the way around (this encourages them to rise up the sides). Tip in a bit of granulated sugar and turn the ramekins around until the inside is fully coated. Tip the excess into the next buttered ramekin and repeat. Place the ramekins on a small baking tray.
Cut the chocolate into small shards. Whisk the sour cream, egg yolk, flour, vanilla and salt together. Whip the egg whites until they form a foam with tiny bubbles (see foundation on meringue for pictures and advice) then slowly add the caster sugar while whisking. Keep whipping until the meringue holds stiff peaks. Fold about a 1/3 of the meringue into the sour cream mixture until uniform, then transfer all of the sour cream mixture into the meringue bowl and fold in carefully (see above for the video) until no lumps or big streaks remain. Reserve a small amount of the chocolate to sprinkle on top then delicately fold the rest into the mix.
Spoon the mixture gently into the ramekins - you want to fill them right to the top. Use a palette knife or knife to smooth the top off then sprinkle with the reserved chocolate and a little bit of caster sugar. Use your little finger to swirl round around the edge of the ramekin, leaving a little trough and clearing about 5mm of the sides (you can see the result in the photo on the right in the trio - this helps them rise evenly).
Place the tray of ramekins into the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 190C/375F (fan). Bake for 11-13 minutes without opening the oven (it may be up to 15 or so if using bigger ramekins) until risen and brown on top. Serve absolutely immediately - straight from oven to table.
(Makes 4 small soufflés)
Three more chocolate chunk/chip/shard recipes:
Chocolate Cinnamon Rolls
Toasted Coconut and Dark Chocolate Blondies
Chocolate Chunk Banana Bread