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Monday, December 13, 2010

Soufflés and Their Humble Cousins

Broccoli Puff:  An Easy Soufflé

Soufflés and Their Humble Cousins
by Victoria Challancin

We all start cooking somewhere.  At the knees of our mothers, beside our grandmothers, in our first apartment.  Somewhere.  It's a law of Nature.  We start somewhere.  And for most of us, our forays into the world of gastronomy become more sophisticated as we ourselves do.

I remember so clearly what I imagined in my youth to be the hight of sophisticated gourmet food:  Grasshopper Pie, Rum Cake from a mix, mushrooms and garlic on toast (I ate this for breakfast for years as a teenager), Chicken Fricassee made with cream of mushroom soup, and, of course, Soufflés.  It seems that a little bit of liquor and the hint of a French name made food "gourmet" in my eyes.  Perhaps it still does...

Although it has been over thirty-five years, I still remember that first soufflé, the one I imagined dazzled my guests.  I believe it was called a Cauliflower Puff.  Well, "puff" isn't really as elegant as "soufflé," but the child in me still likes it.  This recipe is really a formula, and a simple one at that:  a basic bechamel sauce, cheese, eggs, and cooked vegetables.  Voilà! (See how French it sounds???) That's all.  Simple.  And I confess that once again when faced with a hungry vegetarian husband and wanting to use what I had on hand to avoid a trip to the market or store, I conjured up that old recipe in my head and recreated it on the spot.  Were we dazzled by the results?  Well, perhaps "dazzled" is too strong a word, but certainly we were comforted and my husband said he was impressed.  And perhaps a little dazzled as well.

Remember that I called this recipe a "formula."  That means that the basic preparation lends itself to countless variations.  Any cooked vegetable that isn't too wet would work fine.  Parmesan, Gorgonzola, Gruyère, Pepper Jack, or other cheese would be wonderful as well.  Be creative.  Or like me, use what you have on hand!

Broccoli Puff:  An Easy Soufflé
(Recipe by Victoria Challancin)

2 heads broccoli in florets
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard (optional)
Large pinch cayenne
Pinch of ground nutmeg, preferably freshly ground
Salt and freshly ground black or white pepper
3 eggs, separated
2 cups grated cheese (I used 1 cup mild cheddar and 1 cup extra-sharp cheddar, but other cheese would work as well)

Steam the broccoli until crisp-tender, about 8 minutes.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter a soufflé or baking dish.  Set aside

Make bechamel sauce:  Melt butter in a sauté pan or pot over medium-high heat.  Add flour and stir until smooth.  Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until floury taste is gone.  

Slowly add milk a cup at a time to the flour mixture (roux), stirring constantly to incorporate.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the the sauce thickens and coats the back of the spon.  Add the mustard, cayenne, nutmeg, salt, pepper, and 1 cup of the grated cheese.  Check and adjust seasoning to  taste.  Set aside.

Separate the eggs.  Place the yolks in a bowl; beat with a fork until smooth.  Return the bechamel sauce to the heat.  Temper the eggs by adding a couple of tablespoons of the sauce to the eggs, being careful to whisk constantly.  Slowly add the tempered egg yolks to the sauce, whisking constantly to incorporate.
Set aside.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.  Add 1/4 of the beaten egg whites to the sauce and mix gently.  
Fold the remaining egg whites into the sauce and stir gently to barely mix the two together.  

Distribute the cooked broccoli evenly in the bottom of the buttered baking dish.  Pour the sauce over the broccoli and smooth with the back of a wooden spoon.  It's okay it it is uneven-this makes a more interesting soufflé.  Sprinkle with the remaining cup of grated cheese.  Place in preheated oven and cook for 35 to 40 minutes or until set.

The following recipe shows a little different perspective on the soufflé.  This time it is a vegetable preparation topped with a nutty soufflé topping!  Not difficult. And this time guests truly were dazzled.  What is it about soufflés anyway?

Sweet Potato Puree with Hazelnut Soufflé Top

When I spotted this recipe in the LATimes, I knew I had to make it.  Again, imagine a formula.  You could easily change this recipe while still keeping a soufflé topping.  Or is it a puff?

Sweet Potato Puree with Hazelnut Soufflé Top
(Recipe from the Los Angeles Times)

Total time: 1 hour, 40 minutes            Servings: 6

Note: From Russ Parsons. You can use either the dark-skinned sweet potatoes commonly referred to as yams, or the lighter-skinned type.

1 (1-pound) sweet potato
Butter for lining the ramekins
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons grated orange zest (about 1 large orange)
2 tablespoons ( 1/4 stick) butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup chopped toasted hazelnuts

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the sweet potato on a cookie sheet and bake until a knife easily pierces the meat to the center, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, generously butter six (one-half cup) straight-sided ramekins or individual souffle molds. Remove the sweet potato from the oven and set aside until cool enough to peel.
2. Peel the sweet potato and cut it into chunks. Puree it in a food processor with the egg yolks, brown sugar, orange zest, butter and salt until the mixture is smooth. If necessary, stop and scrape down the sides of the work bowl and continue pureeing. This makes about 2 cups puree.3. Divide the mixture evenly among the six buttered ramekins. Tap firmly on the counter to settle the mixture evenly. (The recipe can be prepared ahead to this point and refrigerated tightly covered.)
4. Beat the egg whites using a portable or stand mixer until frothy. Add the cream of tartar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. The egg whites will be ready when they form well-defined pointed peaks that stand straight up and retain their shape, several minutes.
5. Sprinkle the chopped hazelnuts over the egg whites and gently fold them in. Divide the egg white mixture evenly among the ramekins, spooning them in a soft mound over the sweet potato mixture. Shake the ramekins gently from side to side to distribute the egg whites evenly.
6. Place the ramekins on a cookie sheet and bake until the tops are puffed and golden brown in spots, 18 to 23 minutes. A sign of doneness is when the souffle becomes extremely fragrant. Don't over-bake, or the center will be dry. Remove from the oven; serve immediately.


Victoria Challancin
Flavors of the Sun International Cooking School
San Miguel de Allende, México

©Victoria Challancin.  All Rights Reserved


Ben said...

It does sound simple and looks delicious. Grasshopper pie? People down here eat grasshopper, not my favorite food in the world, but it's OK. hehe

Victoria Challancin said...

Oh, Ben! I love your comment. Our cultural roots are showing from both sides of the Border. While I have eaten chapulines in Oaxaca (great tacos, in fact), this Grasshopper pie bears no resemblance. It is a bright green sweet pie with an oreo crust, the filling made with Creme de Menthe and I don't remember what else! I thought it grand when I was 15, now I almost shudder to think...or do I? :)

Jan said...

I haven't made a soufflé in ages. I will now, thanks to your inspiration. These both sound delicious. But help! The baking time is missing for the broccoli puff.

Victoria Challancin said...

Yikes! Sorry about that...Bake it for 35 to 40 minutes. I'll fix the recipe now. Thanks for catching that, Jan!

Ben said...

OH LOL! I was confused then :-p I had never heard of that pie before then. Thanks for the cultural note :D