Let me start by asking - who needs culinary school when you can have 800+ pages of the Madame Saint-Ange in your home kitchen for under forty dollars? The souffle recipe I'm featuring today is just one of many gems to be found in this volume. But a bit on the book itself first...
La Bonne Cuisine was first published in the late 1920's to educate French housewives in the art of French classical cooking. For eighty-some years, you needed to speak French to fully experience and embrace the book. This is the book that inspired Julia Child, a book that provided inspiration for endless Chez Panisse menus.
Paul Aratow was the original chef de cuisine at Chez Panisse - he used to tack his translations of recipes from La Bonne Cuisine to those now-famed walls for his fellow cooks to work from. Lucky for the rest of us he didn't stop there. He convinced Ten Speed Press that a full translation was in order. Ten Speed eventually green-lighted the massive project.
In addition to Paul Aratow, there have been many cooks over the years who have been deeply inspired by this book - many eagerly anticipated Paul Aratow's english translation of this master work. One Amazon reviewer patiently placed his order two years before the translated version was released late last year.
Who is the Madame Saint-Ange, you might ask? She is meticulous, particular, technically masterful, a bit snobby, demanding, and trust me - you seek her approval. You can't help yourself. I spent the morning making souffles with only her words by my side. She comes right through the page - and she's not messing around. You better not either. Paul Aratow's translation brings the author to life in a way that one seldom encounters.
I came to the realization quite quickly that the best way to introduce you to the Madame would be to introduce you to one of her recipes. There could be no recipe more fitting than the souffle - classic, technical, and iconic. Her instruction spans the better part of nine pages.
The Madame on Souffle Preparation as excerpted from La Bonne Cuisine
"A souffle can be waited for, but it can never wait." This is an absolute rule that has become an axiom with gourmets and professionals. All guests should conform to it, showing neither impatience nor surprise. This does not, of course, mean that the cook should not take care to arrange things so that guests wait for the souffle for as little time as possible, or even, if everything is well arranged, so that they do not wait at all. We shall see further on how to manage this.
Every souffle includes two elements that are equally important: first, the base composition, which flavors it; second, the whipped and beaten egg whites, which give the souffle its characteristic lightness and are the very essence of a souffle.
The base composition varies with the type of souffle: a flavored floury mixture or a puree of fruits or vegetables; or a finely ground hash of fish meat, etc., bound with a thick bechamel sauce, which gives the souffle a moistness it would otherwise lack. Egg yolks are added for consistency, usually in a lesser amount than the whites. They can be totally left out of some souffles.
Why is it that souffles fail in most home kitchens? So many people ask, "Why do restaurant souffles expand fully and have a consistency that is both light and solid, which souffles at home do not have?"
There are several reasons for this:
First, most home kitchens do not have the right utensils to whisk the egg whites to the degree of firmness and resistance necessary. The more the whites are whisked into a snow, or neige, the greater will be the effect ( link ).
Second, the egg whites were not mixed properly. Now, however well whisked egg whites are, maladroit mixing destroys all their effects ( link ).
Third, the souffle was not cooked correctly. For a souffle, the heat of the oven plays a very important part. The souffle may have been well prepared up to that point, but if the cooking is faulty, all the trouble taken will have no effect.
Fourth, the cooking time is not closely controlled. This means that the souffle is insufficiently cooked in the center, or collapses with the first touch of the cutting spoon, allowing a liquid mass to escape; or that it is overcooked and dried and flat.
For any type of souffle, the way to prepare the egg whites and mix them in, then cook and serve the souffle is identical. So, for every recipe, refer to the same directions for these steps, except when glazing certain souffles.
The utensil: For people who are totally ignorant of kitchen manners, let us specify that the souffle can ouly be served in the utensil in which it has been cooked.
In well-equipped houses, there are metal molds for this that fit into a silver serving dish. Not only are they more convenient, but these dishes also have an infinite number of other uses. If you do not have a silver serving dish, a round dish in grooved porcelain, so often used today, works very well; and the souffles also rise in it perfectly, because the heat rapidly penetrates the sides, which are very thin.
Finally, if you do not have a special souffle dish in metal or a timbale or a porcelain dish, you can use a very deep bowl that can go into the oven. Whatever the utensil chosen, the inside must always be thoroughly buttered.
For small souffles, there are small utensils in sil-ver-plated metal or small round dishes in ribbed porcelain, both of which are very convenient; you can even use containers of ribbed paper. These containers cannot be too small: it is best to choose them with a diameter of 7 centimeters (2 3/4 inches) and a height of 3 1/2 centimeters (1 3/8 inch). They hold 1 deciliter (3 1/3 fluid ounces, scant 1/2 cup). You can arrange them on a baking sheet to put them in the oven.
To serve: Put the timbale, plate, or souffle dish on a serving plate, on top of a folded napkin or kitchen towel. Do the same for the small souffles, putting them together on 1 large plate.
For houses with long corridors to travel down to reach the dining room, there are large metal covers that you heat before covering the plate on which the souffles are standing.
To ensure that guests do not wait too long for the souffle: Calculate exactly the time needed for its preparation plus cooking, so that you know the precise moment for sending it to the table. Fillings, purees, etc. - in other words, the ingredients of the souffle base can always be prepared sufficiently in advance, because they only need to be lukewarm to mix them with the whites. This is why it is necessary to calculate exactly the time needed for the various steps: that is, 6-7 minutes to whisk the egg whites; 5-6 minutes to mix them and to dress the souffle; about 25 minutes for cooking, which gives a total of 40 minutes.
How to check when the souffle is perfectly done: To know if the souffle is perfectly cooked inside, you stick a kitchen needle into the middle. It must come out totally clean. If, on the contrary, it comes out wet and covered with egg, prolong the cooking for 2-3 minutes.
The oven and cooking the souffle: The timbale or the plate containing a souffle must always be placed directly on the very bottom of the oven, or on the hearth, never on a shelf in the middle of the oven; indeed, remove every shelf from the oven.
The heat of the oven must be a medium heat (Madame notes in the front of the book that medium is considered 350-400). And, most important, it must come from the bottom of the oven, because it is the direction of the heat, of down to up, that causes the souffle to rise.
This condition is so essential that, in small stoves where the oven heats a lot less well from the bottom than from the top, this lack of heat from the bottom has to be countered using the following method: before putting the souffle in the oven, first place the utensil containing the souffle on top of the stove. Not over high heat, but a moderate one; put a heat diffuser between the recipient and the heat. On an electric stove, put the utensil on a moderately warm burner; leave it there for 2 minutes, giving it time to thoroughly heat the bottom. The souffle will subsequently rise much more easily in the oven.
The heat coming from the top of the oven will color the souffle, but this is often too strong in small ovens.
The right time to put the souffle into the oven is not when you have checked that the oven has reached the right temperature. In fact, the oven should have reached the right temperature before you began to whisk the egg whites.
If the heat is too strong at this point, leave the oven door open for a few minutes. If it is too weak, turn up the heat. Either extreme has disadvantages. When the heat is too strong, particularly the heat from above, a crust immediately forms on the souffle, creating a barrier that prevents the heat from penetrating the inside. This means that it will cook superficially and not rise well. When the heat is too weak, the souffle languishes and risks running over the sides of the dish when it rises, because the heat is not strong enough to solidify the ingredients as the souffle rises.
If you have taken all precautions and the heat of the oven is too strong and comes from the top, then it will be necessary, as soon as the surface of the souffle solidifies, to cover it with a sheet of paper: this must be a very pure paper, cut round and covered with melted butter using a brush or feather. Put the buttered side down on the souffle. Note that many papers available today contain certain materials that, when exposed to the heat, release an odor that would mar the souffle.
NOTES. Whatever the consistency of the souffle base and the method you use for dressing it, either in a dome or a pyramid, never let it run over the sides of the utensil. You must always leave at least 2 centimeters (3/4 inch) of space between it and the top of the utensil. If the utensil is filled more than this, the first effect of the heat will be that the base swells and runs over the sides, not having the time to set; and then the souffle will lean sideways as it rises. When the utensil is not completely filled, the base is already quite firm by the time it has reached the top due to the heat, so it continues to rise without run- ning over or leaning to the side.
Sometimes, the consistency of the base is not firm enough to let it be dressed in a pyramid, the ingredients being a little moist and spreading out in the utensil. This could mean that ingredients were not properly mixed. If so, it is even more important to ensure the proper cooking conditions and that you regulate the heat of the oven. If these are well controlled, the souffle will rise just the same.
A souffle prepared in a dish requires less time to cook than a souffle made in a timbale: it spreads out over a larger surface, thus becoming thinner and less resistant to the effect of the heat of the oven. Thus, allow 18-20 minutes of cooking for a souffle, which, when prepared in a timbale, would require almost 25 minutes.
Cooking small souffles in small dishes requires only 10-14 minutes.
The Madame's Souffle Recipe
Before attempting to make the following souffles, you should be aware of the principles on which their preparations are based (SEE ABOVE). Time: 45 minutes. Serves 6.
The simple but very delicate vanilla souffle is a warm family dessert par excellence. It can be made and appreciated at all times, particularly when we begin to run out of fruit.
4 deciliters (1 2/3 cups) of very good milk
100 grams (31/2 ounces) of sugar lumps
40 grams (1 3/8 ounces) of rice starch or 30 grams (1 ounce) of sifted fine wheat flour
a nice half vanilla bean
5 egg yolks
6 egg whites whisked Into a very firm snow
30 grams (1 ounce, 2 tablespoons) of fine butter
2 tablespoons of confectioners' sugar or superfine sugar.
A timbale or a souffle dish about 20 centimeters (8-inches) In diameter and 7 centimeters (2 3/4 inches) deep.
PROCEDURE. The mash (bouillie): Reserve 3 tablespoons of cold milk, that is, 1/2 deciliter (1 2/3 fluid ounces, scant 1/4 cup), to dilute the starch or flour.
Use a pot large enough that you can work in it easily when mixing in the egg whites beaten into snow; as much as possible, use a pot with low, flared sides - a saute pan, in other words - one that is good and clean. Add the rest of the milk. Boil it; as soon as it rises, add the sugar and the vanilla and turn off the heat; cover the pot tightly. Let it infuse for a scant 15 minutes, being careful to mix it from time to time with a spoon to ensure the sugar completely dissolves.
Dilute the starch or flour in a bowl with the cold milk that you have reserved. At the beginning you must take great care not to make any lumps; add the cold milk only drop by drop, working it with a small wooden spoon. Pour this diluted flour or starch into the pot with the hot sugared milk, mixing with the spoon or with a small sauce whisk.
Place the pot on more or less gentle heat and bring it to a boil, stirring continuously with the whisk or spoon. When the bubbles appear on the surface of the bouillie, mix it on the heat for another 5-6 seconds only. Then turn the heat down far enough so that it cannot either boil or heat too much. Divide the butter into very small pieces and spread these on top of the bouillie.
This bouillie must be completely ready 15-20 minutes before you add the yolks and whites beaten into a snow; the butter melts and prevents a crust from forming.
NOTE. If you have some help to whisk the whites, you only have to add the butter and the yolks into the bouillie when it is taken off the heat, and to mix in the egg whites when it has cooled a bit. But we assume that in most cases there will be only one person, without help, to prepare the bouillie and then whisk the whites.
PREPARATIONS. So that you do not have to wait once the mixture is ready, make sure that before whisking the whites you prepare the utensil you are using for the souffle. Butter the inside with a piece of butter the size of a walnut, spreading it out with the tips of your fingers. Using a sugar shaker, sprinkle this buttered interior with sugar. Keep the egg yolks ready in a bowl.
Whisk the egg whites into a snow. As soon as they are well fluffed, mix them in.
The mixture: This must be done quite quickly, and the bouillie must be only lukewarm. If it were too warm, the whites would turn to liquid at the first touch of the spatula, and would thus lose their lightness. So make sure that neither the pot nor the bouillie has retained too much heat, because it is in the pot itself that you will mix the ingredients.
First add the yolks one by one to the bouillie. Stir with the wooden spoon to mix them and, at the same time, to mix in the butter that is spread on the surface. Take out the vanilla bean. Take about one-third of the whites on the wires of a whisk so that you do not crush the rest with a spoon, and put them in the pot. Using a spatula or a wooden spoon with a large head, mix these whites thoroughly into the bouillie: that is, until the bouillie and the whites are completely combined. This helps to mix in the rest of the whites and also softens the bouillie.
Then add the rest of the whites, as directed for mixing them (SEE ABOVE).
Finishing the souffle: As soon as you have finished adding the whites, the mixture must be cooked. Put it into the prepared utensil, either a timbale or a souffle dish, taking it out with a large metal spoon. Place the spoonfuls one on top of the other to make a little mountain, but do not allow it to remain in this form. With the blade of a large knife, carefully smooth out the surface, shaping it to form a sort of pyramid raised in the middle of the utensil, if you are using a timbale or a porcelain souffle dish. If using a bowl, smooth the top of the composition into a dome.
Then make 5 or 6 grooves aD around the surface of the composition. Do this with the point of the knife to a depth of about 1 1/2 centimeters (5/8 inch), going from the bottom to the top: that is, from the side of the utensil toward the top of the souffle. These grooves will allow the heat of the oven to penetrate the souffle, which will cook more easily.
Put it into the oven immediately.
To cook: If the oven does not heat well from the bottom, make sure you proceed as explained in the article on souffles (ABOVE), first putting the souffle on top of the stove.
If the heat of the oven is too strong, you must avoid seizing the surface of the souffle by keeping it close to the opening of the oven for the first 10 minutes of cooking. The rising and swelling need time to happen before the surface forms a crust.
As soon as the souffle is in the oven, close the door, even if it is a little too warm. Allow to cook for 20 minutes from the moment the souffle is in the oven.
During this time, check the progress of the cooking from time to time by opening the oven door a little bit, but make sure you leave it open only for the shortest time possible, particularly if the stove is near an open window. Any introduction of cold air prevents the souffle from rising properly.
If the souffle colors too strongly on the side nearest the heat source, turn it so that it gradually colors on all sides. But when you do this, move it very carefully, because shaking it will cause the souffle to fall.
After 18 minutes in the oven, sprinkle sugar on the surface of the souffle with the sugar shaker. From this point on, do not let it out of your sight until the sugar melts evenly to form a light caramelized layer on the souffie, or at least a shiny one. This is what is called "glazing.'
This glazing requires 2-3 minutes, and you should watch it carefully by looking into the oven, opening the door only slightly and closing it quickly.
To confirm whether the souffle is perfectly cooked on the inside, stick a cooking needle into the middle of it. It should come out nice and clean. If, on the contrary, it comes out covered with the mixture in a state like that which you have put it in, or near it, cook for another 2-3 minutes.
As soon as you finish the glazing, take the souffle from the oven and serve it immediately. It should rise above the sides by 6-7 centimeters (2 1/2 - 2 2/4. inches) - that is, it should have doubled in height - and when you cut into it, it should be light and firm throughout, without obviously sagging.