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It’s time to start living in the now. And what better way than with a fluffy, fleeting soufflé? Whether the recipe is sweet or savory, follow a few basic tips and your results will rise above anything you can get in a restaurant.
STICK WITH ME. I’ll get to the soufflés. I’ve been thinking about a scene in “Mad Men” where the lead character, Don Draper, goes to watch his daughter in a school maypole performance. I’m not sure whether it was in the script or an actor’s choice, but the next moments capture desire and longing so evocatively. When Don (Jon Hamm) becomes aware of the beautiful, barefoot teacher dancing with her students, his gaze remains fixed on her. Suited up and hidden behind aviator sunglasses, Don imperceptibly reaches to caress the grass beneath his chair.
I guess I’m telling you this because over the last year, in lockdown, I often felt like Don. Stuck. Missing carefree moments and everyday pleasures that take me by surprise. I don’t have a maypole in my backyard, and I’m guessing you don’t either. So instead, I’ve been getting my hands in the dirt by tending to the nasturtiums I planted (that just keep growing all winter long in California, where I live), and baking them into soufflés. It’s not exactly running my fingers through warm blades of grass, but it’s helped.
Soufflés are inherently sensual, and fleeting.
I make different soufflés depending on the day and what’s on hand, but in the savory recipe pictured here front and center, salty feta, nutty Gruyère and sharp Parmesan work in tandem with the peppery nasturtium to create vibrancy. I pick the dew-kissed nasturtium leaves in the morning to make individual soufflés for breakfast.
When I want a sweet soufflé, I often jump the backyard fence (or make my husband do it) to get into the abandoned lot next door and pick the most aromatic lemons I’ve ever had. An excess of this exemplary citrus led me to start baking the luscious lemon soufflé saucy pudding at right.
The process of making a soufflé is not nearly as stressful as we’ve been led to believe. Follow a few bedrock tips, and you’ll be fine. Gently fold and cut whisked egg whites into the béchamel mixture or batter by adding the egg whites a third at a time. Use a large spatula to lift the batter from the bottom of the bowl and fold it over into the whites. Rotate the bowl continuously, slicing through the center of the batter often. Don’t stir or you will knock all the air out of the egg whites—the air that helps the soufflé rise. The first third loosens the mixture. Repeat with the remaining two thirds until you have a lovely, airy batter.
An ice cream scoop helps to gently transfer the egg mixture into the ramekins. A bain marie—a shallow bath of hot water poured into the pan holding the ramekins—protects the bottom from overcooking and produces a delicate, proud, quivering result.
Soufflés are inherently sensual, and fleeting. They are notoriously difficult to serve in restaurants since they begin to collapse the moment they’re out of the oven. At home, you can dig right in while your soufflé is still steamy and puffed. You really only have a minute, so have your spoon at the ready.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Fill a kettle and set it to boil. Generously grease 6 (6-ounce) ramekins with butter and lightly sprinkle each with Parmigiano. Place prepared ramekins in a roasting pan.
- Make the béchamel: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, melt butter. Add flour and whisk until bubbling and smooth. Whisking constantly, add milk and cook until thickened, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, and add Parmigiano, Gruyére, feta, salt, cayenne, pepper, nasturtiums and parsley, and whisk to combine. Transfer to a mixing bowl and let cool.
- Whisk egg yolks, one at a time, into béchamel. In a scrupulously clean, dry mixing bowl, combine egg whites and cream of tartar, if using. Use an electric mixer with whisk attachment to whisk on high speed until peaks form. (Don’t let them get dry and grainy.)
- Use a flexible spatula to gently fold a third of egg whites into béchamel until incorporated. Add another third, then repeat with remaining third, until you have a lovely, airy mixture.
- Fill prepared ramekins, leaving ½-inch of space at top. Place roasting pan in oven, then carefully pour boiling water into pan until water reaches halfway up ramekins.
- Bake until golden and puffed, about 25 minutes. Do not open the oven as these bake. Serve immediately.
—Adapted from Odette Williams