Souffle Magic: Hints for Easy Preparation of the Gourmet Dish : Recipe Variations for the French Specialty Numerous

Now that summer is almost here, there are many reasons to have a party--as congratulations to that special graduate or to salute your favorite bride-to-be. For perfect party fare why not whip up a light, airy souffle? Served as the sumptuous entree or as the sinfully sweet grand finale, a souffle is a versatile culinary masterpiece that is a lot easier to make than you think.

But if you've been shying away from making this impressive French specialty, read on for some useful hints that will set you on the road to souffle magic.

With so many uses for the puffy gourmet dish, it's not surprising that recipe variations are numerous. In savory souffles, pureed, shredded or finely chopped vegetables, meats and cheeses are added for taste. Liqueur, chocolate and fruit are typical sweet flavorings.

Ideas for Baking in Saucepan

Baking a souffle doesn't require a fancy French container. The recipes here suggest some unique ideas for baking the ingredients in a saucepan and even in soup cups when there are just two of you. Otherwise, any oven-proof, straight-sided casserole or baking dish will do. Whichever dish you choose, it should not be buttered or greased because this hinders the souffle's ability to rise. If a recipe calls for a buttered dish it must also be dusted with fine dry bread crumbs, cornmeal, sugar or grated Parmesan cheese.

Size of the dish is important, though. If the souffle mixture reaches to within one-half inch of the top, a collar or a larger dish is required. To make a collar, fold a sheet of heavy foil three times to make a four-inch-wide, triple-thickness band long enough to go around the dish and extend two inches above the top. Butter and dust the band, then fasten with string making sure collar extends two inches above the top. After baking, quickly but gently remove the collar before serving to give this dish the charm it's popular for.

Preparing Egg Mixture

The next step, certainly among the most difficult, is preparing the egg mixture. For best results, separate the eggs when they are cold, then set the whites aside to warm to room temperature while preparing the egg yolk mixture. To achieve maximum volume from beaten egg whites, be sure to use a clean glass or metal bowl and beaters because any speck of fat or egg yolk in the whites will prevent stiff peaks from forming.

Be sure also to beat the egg whites only until they no longer slip when the bowl is tilted slightly. Gently but thoroughly fold the yolk and white mixtures together and place in a prepared dish. To test the doneness of your souffle, carefully move the oven rack back and forth.

To serve this dish, gently break the top crust into portions with two forks placed back to back, then lightly spoon out center, making sure to include some of the top and side with each portion.

BASIC SOUFFLE

Butter or margarine

1/4 cup dry bread crumbs or grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

4 eggs, separated

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup finely chopped frozen vegetables, thawed and drained

1/2 cup shredded cheese or finely chopped cooked poultry or seafood

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, Italian herbs or other seasoning of choice

Butter bottom and sides of 1 1/2- to 2-quart souffle dish. Dust with bread crumbs and set aside. In saucepan over medium heat melt 1/4 cup butter. Stir in flour and salt until smooth. Stir in milk and cook, stirring, until sauce comes to boil and thickens. Remove sauce from heat and set aside to cool.

In large mixing bowl beat egg whites and cream of tartar at high speed until stiff peaks form. Set aside.

Stir egg yolks, chopped vegetables, shredded cheese and seasoning into sauce until well blended. Gently but thoroughly fold vegetable mixture into egg whites. Turn souffle mixture into prepared dish and bake at 350 degrees 30 to 40 minutes or until puffy and lightly browned. Souffle is done if it shakes when oven rack is gently moved back and forth. Makes 2 to 4 servings.

GRAND MARNIER SOUFFLE

Butter or margarine

Sugar

3 tablespoons flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk

4 eggs, separated

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/4 cup Grand Marnier liqueur

Grated peel of 1 orange

Powdered sugar, optional

Whipped cream, optional

Butter 1 1/2- to 2-quart souffle dish or casserole. Dust with sugar and set aside. In medium saucepan over medium heat melt 3 tablespoons butter. Blend in flour and salt. Cook and stir until mixture is smooth and bubbly, then stir in milk all at once. Cook and stir until mixture boils and is smooth and thickened. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.

In large mixing bowl beat egg whites with cream of tartar at high speed until foamy. Add 1/2 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until sugar is dissolved and soft peaks form. (Rub small amount of meringue between thumb and forefinger to be sure sugar is dissolved.) Blend egg yolks into reserved sauce with liqueur and orange peel. Gently but thoroughly fold yolk mixture into egg whites.

Carefully place mixture into prepared dish and bake at 350 degrees until puffy, lightly browned and souffle shakes slightly when oven rack is moved, about 45 to 55 minutes. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately with whipped cream.

SAUCEPAN SOUFFLE FOR TWO

Butter or margarine

Grated Parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoon instant minced onion

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard

1/2 teaspoon marjoram

1 cup milk

1/2 to 3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

4 eggs, separated

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Butter bottom and sides of 1 1/2-quart oven-proof metal saucepan. Dust with Parmesan cheese.

In another saucepan melt 3 tablespoons butter. Blend in flour, onion, mustard and marjoram. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Stir in milk all at once. Cook and stir until mixture boils and thickens. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar cheese and 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese until melted.

In small bowl beat egg yolks at high speed until thick and lemon-colored, about 5 minutes. Blend small amount of cheese mixture into yolks. Stir yolk mixture into cheese mixture.

Wash and dry beaters. In large bowl beat egg whites and cream of tartar at high speed until stiff but not dry. Gently but thoroughly fold yolk mixture into whites. Carefully pour into prepared saucepan. For top-hat effect insert spoon upright about 1 inch from side and 1 inch deep, then circle to make ring. Bake at 375 degrees until puffy, lightly browned and souffle shakes slightly when oven rack is moved, about 35 to 40 minutes. Makes 2 servings.

SOUP CUP SOUFFLE

Butter

Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon flour

1 teaspoon instant minced onion

1/4 teaspoon dry mustard

1/4 teaspoon dried basil or tarragon, optional

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk

1/3 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

3 eggs, separated

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

Butter bottom and sides of 2 (14- to 16-ounce) soup cups or coffee mugs. Make 3-inch band of triple-thickness foil long enough to go around cups and overlap 2 inches. Lightly butter one side of band, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and wrap around outside of cups, buttered side in. Fasten with string or paper clip.

In small saucepan melt 1 tablespoon butter. Blend in flour, instant onion, dry mustard, basil and salt. Cook and stir over medium heat until mixture is smooth and bubbly. Stir in milk. Cook and stir until mixture boils and thickens. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar cheese and 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese. Let cool 5 minutes.

In medium mixing bowl beat egg whites and cream of tartar at high speed until stiff but not dry. Beat egg yolks until thick and lemon-colored, about 5 minutes. Blend small amount of cheese mixture into yolks. Stir yolk mixture into cheese mixture. Gently but thoroughly fold yolk mixture into whites. Carefully divide between two prepared cups. Bake at 350 degrees until puffy and lightly browned and souffles shake slightly when oven rack is moved, about 25 minutes. Serve immediately. Makes 2 servings.

SPINACH SOUFFLE

Butter

Grated Parmesan cheese

1 (10 3/4-ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, cooked and well-drained

1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

1 tablespoon instant minced onion

1/2 teaspoon marjoram

6 eggs, separated

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Butter bottom and sides of 2 1/2-quart souffle dish or casserole. Dust with Parmesan cheese. Set aside.

In large saucepan combine soup, spinach, Cheddar cheese, onion and marjoram. Cook and stir over medium heat until cheese melts.

In small bowl beat egg yolks at high speed until thick and lemon-colored, about 5 minutes. Blend small amount of hot soup mixture into yolks, then stir yolk mixture into soup mixture.

Wash and dry beaters. In large bowl beat egg whites and cream of tartar at high speed until stiff but not dry. Gently but thoroughly fold yolk mixture into whites. Carefully pour into prepared dish. For top-hat effect insert spoon upright about 1 inch from side of dish and 1 inch deep, then circle to make ring. Bake at 375 degrees until puffy, lightly browned and souffle shakes slightly when oven rack is moved, about 55 to 60 minutes. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

HOT LEMON SOUFFLE

Butter

Sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon peel

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 eggs, separated

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

Butter sides of 1 1/2-quart souffle dish and sprinkle with sugar. Make 4-inch band of triple-thickness foil long enough to go around dish and overlap 2 inches. Lightly butter 1 side of band and sprinkle with sugar. Wrap around outside of dish with sugared side in. Fasten with paper clip or string. Collar should extend 2 inches above rim of dish. Set aside.

In medium saucepan beat together 1/3 cup sugar, lemon peel and juice and salt until well blended. Add 1/3 cup butter. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium-high heat, until mixture boils. Boil, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Remove from heat.

In small mixing bowl beat egg yolks at high speed until thick and lemon-colored, about 5 minutes. Blend a little hot mixture into yolks, then stir yolk mixture back into hot lemon mixture.

Wash and dry beaters. In large mixing bowl beat egg whites and cream of tartar at high speed until stiff peaks form. Gently but thoroughly fold yolk mixture into whites. Carefully place in prepared souffle dish. Bake at 350 degrees until puffy, lightly browned and souffle shakes slightly when oven rack is gently moved, about 25 to 30 minutes. Carefully remove foil band and serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

BRANDY ALEXANDER SOUFFLE

Butter or margarine

Sugar

Shaved chocolate

1 1/2 envelopes unflavored gelatin

1/2 cup water

6 eggs, separated

2 (3-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1/3 cup brandy

1/3 cup Creme de Cacao

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

2 cups whipping cream, divided

Chocolate curls, optional

Butter bottom and sides of 1 1/2-quart souffle dish, then sprinkle with sugar. Make 4-inch band of triple-thickness foil long enough to fit around dish and overlap 2 inches. Butter 1 side of band and sprinkle with shaved chocolate. Wrap around outside of dish, buttered side in, and fasten with tape, paper clip or string. Collar should extend 2 inches above rim of dish. Set aside.

In medium saucepan combine 1/4 cup sugar and gelatin. Stir in water and let stand 1 minute. Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat until gelatin dissolves, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat.

In small mixing bowl beat egg yolks at high speed until thick and lemon-colored, about 5 minutes. Blend a little hot gelatin mixture into yolks, then blend yolk mixture back into hot gelatin mixture in saucepan. Cook and stir over low heat, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Blend in cream cheese, brandy and liqueur. Chill, stirring occasionally, until mixture mounds slightly when dropped from spoon, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Wash and dry beaters. In large mixing bowl beat egg whites and cream of tartar at high speed until foamy. Add 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating constantly until sugar is dissolved, whites are glossy and soft peaks form. Set aside.

Beat 1 1/2 cups whipping cream until stiff. Gently but thoroughly fold cream cheese mixture and whipped cream into egg whites. Pour into prepared dish. Chill until firm, several hours or overnight. Just before serving, carefully remove foil band and garnish souffle with chocolate curls. Whip remaining cream until stiff and serve with souffle. Makes 6 servings.

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