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Whether at home, on vacation, or at the home of friends, when dinner is done, the dishes are cleared, and the subject of “who wants dessert” comes up, all eyes in the room slowly turn in my direction.
“Make us something really cool, Pete, something delicious, something chocolate…”
I hate it when that happens, especially when I’m in someone else’s kitchen and have NO idea of what’s in the fridge, what’s in the cupboards, or how well any of the appliances work.
Of course, I don’t carry recipes around with me. Actually, I don’t really need to. What I am armed with are my taste buds and the knowledge of how recipes work.
Consider, for example, a classic dessert that impresses the heck out of everyone and is considered (by many) to be one of the most difficult desserts to master:
Really want to impress? Soufflé’s do it every time.
I don’t get it, but they do.
Now, you probably think you’re going to get a recipe here, and you kinda are. Just not one “packaged” like you’re used to.
This is a conceptual recipe. Understand how it works and the ingredients you need, and you’re good to go.
First, you’ll need the basic ingredients and the basic bakeware. Without these essentials, you’re basically sunk. Move on to plan B…like heading down the street for ice cream.
1. You need an oven set at 400 F.
2. Find some dishes, either 3” porcelain ramekins (not guessing you’re going to find them), a Pyrex or porcelain casserole dish, OR some ceramic/porcelain coffee cups.
3. If you find ANY of these, either spray them with a non-stick vegetable spray or butter or margarine, and then dust them with whatever amount of granulated sugar will stick to them.
4. Finally, place them on a baking sheet, so they can be taken in and out of the oven all at once.
For the ingredients you’ll need:
Either butter (preferred), margarine, or in a move of desperation, Crisco (I’m THAT flexible or desperate, depending on how you want to look at it.).
Flour (anything white). I’m not so desperate that I’d use whole wheat.
Milk (whole, 2%, or skim)–anything that ISN’T sour. If all you find is half and half, that will work too.
Granulated Sugar. You could actually used powdered sugar, honey, or corn syrup, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that everyone has granulated sugar.
A flavor. If chocolate, you could use cocoa, semi-sweet morsels, or even unsweetened chocolate if you add extra sugar. If you want to make a Grand Marnier Souffle, you can use some frozen concentrated O.J., and of course, Grand Marnier. Well, I suppose you could use Triple Sec, but please don’t tell anyone I said it was ok. I have my reputation to protect.
Eggs. You’ll need at least 1 egg per portion size. Soufflés for 4? 4 eggs minimum; 1 ½ per person is even better.
That’s pretty much it. If you have some powdered sugar handy, you can use it to dust the tops of the soufflés when they all come out of the oven, but it’s not essential to their outcomes.
To make a soufflé, you first make a pudding-like BASE, and then you whip up some egg whites and carefully fold them in.
That’s pretty much it.
Consider that ½ cup of base per person is about average, but keep in mind that you’re also going to add more volume to that base when you fold in the egg whites later. Then, you’ll get even get MORE volume when the whole thing rises in the oven.
So if you’re making soufflés for 4, you’ll need about 2 cups of flavored base.
With me here?
To do that, in a saucepan of the appropriate size, heat 2 cups of your milk and flavor it with whatever you like. Also, make it nice and sweet.
Separately, heat together (then cook over medium heat while whisking) your “fat” and flour to make a roux that you’ll use to thicken this flavored milk. You could just make a bunch of roux (which is simply half fat and half flour by weight) and use whatever you need to make a thick sauce, but instead, I’ll give you a hint that you’ll need approximately 1 TBSP of butter (fat) and 2 TBSP of flour per your half cup of milk. So for this example, you’d multiply that by 4.
Back to the flavored milk…
Bring it to a simmer and whisk in the roux, a little at a time, until you get a very thick pudding. Then set it aside for a few minutes.
Remember the eggs? Here’s where they come into play.
Separate one egg per ½ cup of base you’ve made (and that means 4 eggs here). Whisk the yolks into the base and place the egg whites in a separate bowl for whipping. Be sure there are NO egg yolk pieces in the separated whites.
Whip the egg whites until they form a soft peak. I like to also add in a few tablespoons of granulated sugar to help the egg whites stay soft and not “dry out” while whisking, and then carefully fold in the (now warm) base mixture.
Fill each soufflé cup (dish or casserole) at least halfway. ¾ full is even better.
Carefully place the unbaked soufflés in the preheated oven and wait about 20 to 25 minutes or so.
Now, you CAN peek, but if you do:
Don’t let all the heat out of the oven.
Don’t slam the door (soufflés hate that).
The soufflés are done when they’ve been in the oven at least 20 minutes, they’ve risen at least 1 inch, and the tops are dry and lightly colored.
Remove the soufflés from the oven and dust with powdered sugar. You can also make a slit in the middle of each one and pour some of your favorite liquor into them.