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A “Lighter” Side to Soufflés

Posted by Austios on June 1, 2010

There aren’t many dishes more classical than the French soufflé. I mean, the French have been cooking for longer than the United States has been a country, so what does that tell you?

To this day, a lot of people, chefs, and restaurants have their variations and own take on soufflés. While I am no expert at making soufflés nor a connoisseur, this post is just simply to bring a lighter side to a dish that a lot of us have probably attempted before and have either been lucky and had come out right, or utterly fail and fall faster than the Berlin Wall.

The word “soufflé” is actually the past tense of the French verb “souffler”, which basically means “to blow up”. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Souffl%C3%A9, yes… I had to wikipedia it and wasn’t something I knew off the top of my head). But what makes a soufflé rise? I’ll get to that in a second.

In case you don’t know, a soufflé basically consists of 2 components: a base and your levening agent. 110% percent of the time, your levening agent is going to be whipped egg whites. No, not magic or the free will of person who made it.

Once you figured out what your base is going to be, now comes the technical aspects of making the most beautiful highest rising soufflé. However, I’m not here to bore you with tips or a step by step instruction. I’ll let you figure that out your own.

First you have to whip your egg whites. Be careful not to overwhip your egg whites, as that will lead to a non-optimal rise in your soufflé. I’ll admit I have been guilty a number of times of slightly overwhipping my egg whites, but I have always still managed to make it work. Other tips include not slamming the oven should you feel the urge to check your soufflé. This is what ovens with windows were made for. If you don’t have a window in your oven, then you need a new oven. Don’t argue with me, just replace it.

One piece of intangible advice that I have been told over the years that I can also pass on to you is, “do not be afraid of the souffle”. It’s all in your head. If you think you’re going to fail at making soufflé, then chances are you’re going to fail at making soufflé. I’m not saying you have to bitch slap your soufflé and scream “who’s your daddy?!?!”, but just be confident.

I remember the very first time I attempted at making soufflé was backing college. Without any knowledge on intermediate to advanced techniques, it goes without saying that that soufflé failed miserably. And I’m talking about crashing and burning worse than the Hindenburg.

My 2nd attempt did not come until years later in culinary school, where I finally learned the proper way to treat and make a soufflé. I unfortunately cannot recall how that soufflé was in terms of taste, nor the grade I got. However, I did graduate so that should at least say something.

Another soufflé I have worked with was at my first job out of culinary school, at the now shuttered Mirabeau French Bistro in Dana Point. The place and kitchen was small, but quite popular because it was in the uppity area that is Dana Point. The view though was spectacular, as the Gelson’s Market shopping plaza the restaurant was in was naturally elevated above PCH, overlooking the ocean as well as catching views of both the Ritz Carlton and St. Regis hotels. Going in to work there in the mornings was quite refreshing. But I digress.

The soufflé, being in a French bistro, was obviously the most popular dessert on the menu. I would whip those to order, which sometimes sucked because if I had tickets for 5 souffles, it wasn’t like I could whip them all together in one batch because our recipe only made 2 souffles at once. The chefs were pretty anal about keeping it like that, so my hands were tied. The soufflé was very good though. It was served with a housemade vanilla bean ice cream and crème anglaise and was broken table side.

My next run in with a soufflé on the job was when I was the pastry chef at Scott’s Seafood. I went in executing the previous chef’s recipes and while I wasn’t there long enough to see any of my ideas be introduced to the menu, the desserts we had were still pretty good. The production of the soufflé here was the complete opposite than at Mirabeau. I would have to make a large batch of soufflé batter every 2-3 days, as the recipe had so much flour in it, it was basically a cake. Taste wise, you could even tell there was a ton of flour in it. That thing was never going to fall.

The last soufflé I’ve come in contact in terms of production for a restaurant was at Ludobites 4.0, at Grams & Papa’s in Downtown LA. As some of you know, I was asked to go work for a weekend just to fill in for someone who was out of town on vacation. It just so happened I was put on desserts, one of them being his chocolate soufflé. I had just had this soufflé as a diner a week prior, which I thought was awesome, so I was especially excited to see how it all came together.

Probably one of the great things about Ludo’s recipe is that it is literally 3 ingredients. I think the soufflé I made at Scott’s had like 7 or 8 ingredients. The soufflé at Mirabeau had 5. The next best thing was that I could make all of the soufflés ahead of time, so the only thing I needed to do during service was just pop them in the oven and keep track of them using a system I developed for myself utilizing Chef’s 4 timers and a sharpie. I’ll leave it up to your imagination just exactly what the sharpie was for.

This has to easily be one of my favorite if not the favorite soufflés I’ve had. So much that I couldn’t help but it order it again the second time I dined at Ludobites.

While I’ve probably had other soufflés elsewhere, I can really only think of 3 souffles that I’ve recently had at various restaurants that have been memorable.

The first that comes to mind, is the soufflé at Gary Danko in San Francisco. While I am not a close follow of Gary Danko, I have heard many praises about his restaurant, so when I went to spend a few days in the bay area back in February, I decided to make reservations. Actually let me back track here. I personally had ordered the Louisiana butter cake as my dessert, but my dining companion had ordered the soufflé, so I was able to have a couple of bites. It was an orange soufflé with raspberry sorbet and raspberry sauce. The soufflé itself was incredibly airy and soft, which tells me there were more egg whites in it than base. It was almost like a knife through butter. The 2nd clue was that the orange flavor was VERY subtle. It still, however, was a magnificent soufflé. This was almost like the Rolls Royce of soufflés.

The 2nd soufflé I can think of that I’ve had recently and I consider one of the better soufflés I’ve had, actually coincidentally came just the day before I had dined at Gary Danko. The prior day on my bay area trip, I spent the day in Berkeley, walking and eating my way through town and UC Berkeley, finishing the day with dinner at Alice Water’s Chez Panisse. And I dined downstairs in the restaurant and not upstairs in the café. As some of you know, Alice Water’s whole deal is slow food and sustainability, so the menu changes daily. That particular day, the dessert was a Meyer lemon soufflé with candied lemon slice. This soufflé was spectacular with a well balanced and slightly subdued citrus tang.

The last soufflé out of these 3 that have been memorable was a Gran Marnier soufflé at Fleur de Lys in Las Vegas. I was in town for a friend’s birthday and she made reservations here on the Sunday night we were there. I am a big fan of Hubert Keller and have always wanted to try Fleur de Lys, so when our group was talking about where to go, this place had gotten my vote. It also happened to be restaurant week in Las Vegas, so that was a little nice. This soufflé was a little more on the cakey side, but it was still much better than the soufflé I used to make at Scott’s. I do have to say, however, between this soufflé and the ones I had at Gary Danko and Chez Panisse, this was probably my least favorite of the 3, but again, still much better than some soufflés I’ve had elsewhere. Consider it the Acura of soufflés, still nice, but not quite like a Rolls Royce or Aston Martin but definitely better than a Camry.

Hopefully this has brought a “lighter” (no pun intended… ok, maybe a little) side to soufflés but also give you a glimpse of some of the soufflés I’ve come across and dealt with. Again, I am no expert in executing the perfect soufflé, as I’m the type of person that would rather eat them than make them.

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One Response to “A “Lighter” Side to Soufflés”

  1. I am sad that I only drive a Gran Marnier soufflé at Fleur de Lys.

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