Last week, I talked about finding ways to lighten up the Thanksgiving Day menu, and I planned for more of the same this week, until John McDonald (see his wine column below) sent me his recipe for “outrageous” butternut squash soufflé. He assured me it was worth the time and effort to roast the squash, and then work with white sauce and whipped egg whites to build the soufflé. He was correct.
For those of you who may be intimidated by the prospect of baking a soufflé only to have it fall into itself as you try to serve it, please know that is what is supposed to happen. The French word souffler means “to blow up,” or more descriptively, “puff up,” which is exactly what occurs when it’s baked. But, whether sweet or savory, the airy concoction will begin to deflate shortly after it’s removed from the oven.
The key to presentation is to get it on the table while the top still towers over the edge of the baking dish (see photo). This was the first picture Jack took, and he had to select this one for the column, because looking at the subsequent snaps was like watching time-lapse photography as the top gradually sank into the middle of the dish. This did not in any way affect the delicious flavor and delicate texture of the soufflé.
There are a few keys to a successful soufflé. The first is to be sure to coat the inside of the baking dish with butter. The traditional pan is round with a flat bottom, straight sides and fluted or ribbed exterior. Dishes come in various sizes, from 1/2-cup ramekins for an individual serving up to eight cups for a crowd. Buttering the inside will encourage the batter to rise up over the rim.
The next step is to make sure the oven is preheated so the batter will begin to rise immediately. Most savory soufflés begin with a white sauce, to which other ingredients are added. In these steps, be careful with hot ingredients when you combine them with the egg yolks. You will want to “temper” the egg yolks by adding in just a little of the hot mixture before whisking them completely together.
One reason your soufflé rises is because of whipped egg whites. As you beat egg whites, you are incorporating air, and the protein in the egg white forms a delicate skin around the air bubbles. The slightest trace of oil or yolk particles will prevent this important structure from forming, and the air bubbles will disintegrate. Because they are so thin and fragile, once they’re whipped, you’ll need to handle them with care.
At this point in the recipe, you have the sweet or savory base in one bowl and the whipped egg whites in another. Now you will use a spatula to gently fold the whites into …….