Saturday, March 10, 2012

Cooking Class- The Souffle - History, Method and Recipe

Souffles are a great addition to a brunch menu, or as a light dinner, served with a salad.  I came across some interesting information on souffles, in case any of you are curious about the method, and perhaps you would like to test your culinary skills.  This spinach and cheddar souffle, from Ina Garten, is delicious, and was worth the experience.
Souffle is a French word which literally means "puffed up," According to the food historians, modern souffles (both sweet and savoury) were a product of 18th century French cuisine.
---Oxford Compantion to Food, Alan Davidson [Oxford University Press:Oxford] 1999 (p. 735)

"Souffles--savory and sweet mixes lightened with an egg-white foam, then dramatically inflated above their dish by oven heat--have the reputation for being difficult preparations...In fact, souffles are reliable and resilient...If you manage to get any air into the mix, an inexorable law of nature will raise it in the oven, and opening the door for a few seconds won't do it any harm. The inevitable post-oven deflation can be minimized by your choice of ingredients and cooking method...The physical law that animates the souffle was discovered a few decades after its invention by--appropriately--a French scientist and balloonist, J.A.C. Charles. Charles's law is this: all else equal, the volume occupied by a given weight of gas is proportional to its temperature. Heat an inflated balloon and the sir will take up more space, so the balloon expands. Similarly, put a souffle in the oven and its air bubbles heat up and swell, so the mix expands in the only direction it can: out the top of the dish. Charles's law is part of the story, but not the whole story--it accounts for about a quarter of the typical souffle rise. The rest comes from the continuous evaporation of water from the bubble walls into the bubbles. As portions of the souffle approach the boiling point, more liquid water becomes water vapor and adds to the quantity of gas molecules in the bubbles, which increases the pressure on the bubble walls, which causes the walls to stretch and the bubbles to expand...Charles's law also means that what must go up in the oven must come down at the table...As the souffle bubbles cool, the air they contain contracts in volume, and the vapor that come from liquid water in the mix condenses back into liquid...A thick souffle mix can't rise as easily, but it also won't fall as easily...Don't worry about opening the oven door. The mix can't fall unless it actually begins to cool down, and even if that did happen, it will rise again when it heats up again."
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of The Kitchen, Harold McGee [Scribner:New York] 2004, completely revised and updated edition, (p. 109-113)

Spinach and Cheddar Souffle by Ina Garten

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the dish
1/4 cup finley grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup scalded milk
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/2 cup grated aged Cheddar cheese, lightly packed
1 package frozen chopped spinach, defrsoted and squeezed dry
5 extra-large egg whites, at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Butter the inside of one 6 to 8 cup souffle dish adn sprinkle evenly with Parmesan.

Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat.  With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.  Off the heat, whisk in the hot milk, nutmeg and cayenne, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 3/4 teaspoon of black pepper.  Cook over low heat, whisking constanly, for 1 minute, until smooth adn thick.

Off the heat, but while still hot, mix in the egg yolks.  Stir in Cheddar, the Parmesan, and the spinach, and trasnfer to a large mixing bowl.

Put the egg whites, cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with whisk attachement.  Beat on low speed for one minute, on medium speed for 1 minute, then finally on high speed until firm, glossy peaks are formed.

Whisk one-quarter of the egg whotes into the cheese sauce to lighten, and then fold in the rest.  Pour into the prepared souffle dish, then smooth the top.  Draw a large cirlcel on the top with the spatula and place in the middle of the oven.  Turn temperature down to 375 degrees.  Bake for 30 minutes to 35 minutes, until puffed and brown.  Serve immediately.  Serves 4

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