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Never fear, you too can make a soufflé

There comes a time when you really need to step out of your comfort zone and do things you’ve never done before.

So rather than whipping up a recipe I’ve tried before with guaranteed results, I recently decided to tackle a notoriously difficult dessert – soufflé.

I guess I can blame Gordon Ramsay.

It all started one evening when my significant other and I were watching an episode of Master Chef, where home cooks compete for a cash prize and the title of, well, Master Chef.

Though I probably wouldn’t last long on the program, I found myself inspired by what Ramsay considers to be key tests of skill in the kitchen – namely, the dishes he and his fellow Master Chef judges choose for the elimination challenges.

One particular recipe challenge caught my eye, the soufflé.

“This dish puts the fear of God into chefs around the world,” said Ramsay.

When I hear the word “soufflé” I always think of old films where the wife cries because her soufflé collapses as she presents it to her husband’s boss at dinner.

Soufflés, puffed high and golden, dramatic and delicious, they’ve always seemed like the ultimate challenge and have long been on my bucket list of must-make desserts.

So, to begin, it was helpful for me to first understand just what a soufflé is.

A soufflé is simply a sauce lightened by beaten egg whites and baked until high, light and puffy.

When it comes out of the oven and begins to cool, the air contracts and the soufflé deflates, which is why it must be eaten quickly. Okay, this addresses my image of the crying housewife.

All soufflés fall as they cool. Every single one of them. The trick is to present it to your guests or family, get your kudos and applause, and then serve them – fast. If you don’t, you’re left with an omelet, albeit a very airy one.

I turned to my Culinary Institute of America’s “Baking Boot Camp: Five Days of Basic Training” for guidance and a recipe.

The folks from the institute shared a few of words of advice to produce the lightest, airiest soufflé:

Whip the egg whites to medium – not stiff – peaks before folding them into the pastry cream. I’ve learned from experience once your egg whites begin to get fluffy, they can change into stiff whites very quickly, so do not walk away and water your withering plants. Stay right there and watch them. When they hold a firm shape, you’re ready.

Also, be sure to use a light touch when folding the egg whites into the pastry cream. It’s better to leave a few patches of whipped egg whites than to deflate the mixture and all your careful work by over-folding.

On my first attempt, soufflés steamed from my kitchen with ease and I was a soufflé Master Chef. Light and fluffy and dreamlike, it was a wonderful thing. And more than that, the possibilities are endless. Let’s see...lemon, almond, chocolate, cheese, ham and spinach. OMG.

Lynn Kessel is a freelance food columnist. For more of her recipes, visit southshore.tbo.com and enter the search words Lynn Kessel.

Orange Soufflé

Softened butter for greasing molds

5 tablespoons sugar, divided, plus extra for dusting molds

2 egg yolks

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons orange juice concentrate, thawed

1/2 teaspoon grated orange zest

5 egg whites

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease four 6-ounce soufflé molds with butter. Dust with sugar to coat the butter evenly, emptying out any excess. Wipe the rims clean.

In a bowl, blend 2 tablespoons sugar, egg yolks, flour and salt. Set aside.

Heat the milk and remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and remove from the heat. Whisk in the vanilla and let cool slightly.

Gradually add the warm milk to the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Return the mixture to the saucepan over medium heat. Whisk constantly until the mixture thickens and comes to a boil, about 3 minutes, to make a pastry cream. Remove from the heat. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and place over a pan of cold water. Whisk until the pastry cream is cool, about 5 minutes. Add the orange juice concentrate and zest to the pastry cream. Set aside.

Whip the egg whites to medium peaks. Add one-third of the whipped whites to the pastry cream and gently fold in – just until incorporated. Do the same with the remaining egg whites, again just until incorporated. Divide evenly among the prepared soufflé molds on a baking sheet and bake undisturbed until the tops are golden brown and the soufflés appear set but soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Sift a little confectioners’ sugar over the top of each soufflé and serve at once.

Source: “Baking Boot Camp: Five Days of Basic Training” by The Culinary Institute of America and Darra Goldstein

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