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Souffle Is a Piece of Cake

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The cook is nervous, the dinner guests even more so. As the entree is cleared and thoughts turn toward dessert--an interlude usually filled with pleasant anticipation--blood pressures begins to rise. How high will it go?

Not the blood pressure--the souffle. Will it fall? Collapse? Do we care? Couldn’t we have a plain layer cake? Furtive glances at the clock.

Finally, the cook dashes out (on tiptoe lest the floor shake), removes the souffle from the oven, tiptoes back and with lightning speed serves her creation while admonishing the hapless victims: “Eat quickly before it utterly disappears. You know how delicate souffles are . . . but aren’t they worth it?”

In a word, no. Not that kind of souffle. Too delicate, too much anxiety, a test of stress management skills.

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There are two types of classic hot fruit souffles. One is made with a base of starch-butter-egg yolks (high in saturated fat); the other is a simple fat-free blend of pureed fruit and meringue. If the latter is so clearly the more healthful, you ask, why isn’t it the darling of low-fat bakers? It is too unreliable and fragile. The texture can vary from watery sludge to dry cotton foam, depending upon the weight, sweetness and moisture content of the fruit. These souffles have an unnerving tendency to collapse upon even the most experienced baker because while they lack fat, they also lack the stabilized starch base to support the fruited meringue.

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After countless experiments, I have devised a souffle that is utterly reliable and does not fall. For overcoming this long-known and greatly feared kitchen terror--the falling souffle--I should win a Nobel peace (or chemistry) prize.

My souffle is not only divine to behold and sublime to taste, it is quick and simple to make and based on classic techniques with a new twist. The first trick is to cook a fruit-flavored puree thickened and stabilized with cornstarch and sugar. This flavor base can be made ahead and refrigerated, but must be at room temperature before being blended (the only last-minute task) with stiffly beaten egg whites just before baking.

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The second trick is to bake the souffle in a water bath, which guarantees gentle, even heat, a slow and steady rise, a creamy texture and a stable product. A traditional baking technique, it never fails.

The third trick is to use an instant-read thermometer to test the internal temperature of the souffle. Fruit souffles are perfectly baked when the thermometer inserted one inch from the rim reads 160 degrees, and 150 degrees at the center. (The souffle is hotter near the rim, so check both.) At this point the texture will be light and still moist, but does hold its shape. The center will be set but smooth and creamy, the edges slightly firmer and drier. Chocolate souffles bake slightly longer, until the temperature in the center is 160 degrees.

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When first taken from the oven, the souffle is puffed to its greatest height, and it should be presented and served right away. However, this souffle will not collapse seconds after it is taken from the oven, nor will it fall when you spoon out the first serving. It will sink about one inch, then hold its shape for two to six hours--if there are leftovers.

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A classic vanilla souffle, made with a cooked bechamel sauce base (flour-butter-yolks), using four to five whole eggs, receives approximately 45% calories from fat. Each serving packs a relatively minor 9 grams of fat but a huge 157 milligrams of cholesterol. A classic meringue/fruit souffle has the same amount of fat as it has dependability: none. My souffles are dependable, and with one exception, they contain virtually no fat. The one exception is this chocolate souffle because it contains a little solid chocolate, high in cocoa butter, which is a saturated fat.

The intense chocolate flavor of this souffle comes from cocoa and a small amount of grated unsweetened chocolate. Serve this for a dramatic finale at a dinner party, sprinkled with a few drops of coffee liqueur. This recipe makes a slightly large souffle because it is typically served as a party dessert, and I wanted it to have an exceptionally high rise.

CHOCOLATE SOUFFLE

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2/3 cup non-alkalized unsweetened cocoa powder 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 4 teaspoons cornstarch 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon 1 cup nonfat milk 2 teaspoons vanilla 7 large egg whites, at room temperature Dash salt 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar 1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate, grated Powdered sugar

To prepare chocolate base, combine cocoa, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, cornstarch and cinnamon in heavy-bottomed non-reactive saucepan. Whisk to blend well. Whisk in milk.

Set over medium heat and whisk constantly 5 to 7 minutes, until it begins to boil. Then boil, stirring, making sure to reach into corners, 1 minute, or until mixture is as thick as pudding and generously coats spoon. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Let cool to room temperature. (Base can be prepared ahead, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.)

Arrange rack in lower 1/3 of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Coat 2-quart (8-cup) souffle mold or 6 (1 1/2-cup) individual souffle dishes with butter-flavor no-stick cooking spray. Sprinkle bottom and sides with 2 tablespoons granulated sugar. Tap out excess sugar.

Whip egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until foamy in large, grease-free bowl using electric mixer on medium speed. Gradually add remaining 1/2 cup granulated sugar and whip until whites are medium-stiff but not dry.

Be sure chocolate base is at room temperature. Stir well. Fold about 1 cup whipped whites into chocolate mixture to lighten, using whisk. Sprinkle in grated chocolate and then fold chocolate mixture into remaining whites. Turn mixture into prepared molds and smooth tops with spatula.

Place molds in baking pan large enough to hold. Add hot water to come about 1/3 of way up sides of molds. Bake until well risen and firm when lightly jiggled, about 35 to 40 minutes for large souffle (instant-read thermometer inserted near center should read about 160 degrees), or about 25 minutes for individual souffles. Remove from oven. Sift powdered sugar to taste over tops. Serve at once. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Per serving, based on 6 servings:

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172 calories; 7 grams protein; 3 grams fat; 1 gram saturated fat; 34 grams carbohydrates; 86 mg sodium; 1 mg cholesterol.

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Ethereal in texture, bright-pink in color and delectable in taste, this fat- and cholesterol-free souffle can be made in any season because frozen raspberries work as well as fresh. The raspberry flavor of this souffle is intensified if you use either Chambord (a sweet raspberry liqueur) or Framboise (raspberry eau-de-vie).

RASPBERRY SOUFFLE

1 1/3 cups fresh raspberries or frozen unsweetened whole raspberries 5 tablespoons granulated sugar plus extra for molds 1 1/2 teaspoons grated orange zest 1 tablespoon water 2 tablespoons cornstarch 2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice 2 tablespoons Chambord or Framboise 5 large egg whites, at room temperature 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar Dash salt Powdered sugar

To prepare raspberry base, combine 1 cup raspberries, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, orange zest and water in heavy-bottomed non-reactive saucepan. Set over medium heat and bring to boil, stirring and mashing berries with wooden spoon.

Meanwhile, dissolve cornstarch in lemon juice. Stir cornstarch mixture into raspberries and return to boil, stirring constantly. Then boil, stirring, about 45 seconds, or until mixture is no longer cloudy and is as thick as preserves. Remove from heat. Stir in Chambord and remaining 1/3 cup whole raspberries. Let cool to room temperature. (Raspberry base can be made ahead, covered and refrigerated. Bring to room temperature before proceeding.)

Position rack in lower 1/3 of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Coat 1 1/2-quart (6-cup) souffle mold or 6 (1 1/2-cup) individual souffle molds with butter-flavor no-stick cooking spray. Sprinkle bottom and sides with sugar. Tap out excess sugar.

Combine egg whites, cream of tartar and salt in large grease-free bowl. Using electric mixer on medium speed, whip until foamy. Gradually add remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and whip until whites are medium-stiff but not dry.

Be sure raspberry base is at room temperature. Stir well. Fold about 1 cup whipped whites into raspberry base to lighten, using whisk, then fold mixture into remaining whites. Turn mixture into prepared souffle molds and smooth tops with spatula.

Place molds in roasting pan. Add hot water to come about 1/3 of way up sides of molds. Bake until well risen, medium-brown in color and fairly firm when lightly jiggled, about 35 minutes for large souffle (instant-read thermometer inserted in center should read about 150 degrees) or about 25 minutes for individual souffles. Remove from oven. Sift tops with powdered sugar to taste. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

Per serving:

90 calories; 3 grams protein; 0 grams fat; 0 grams saturated fat; 18 grams carbohydrates; 92 mg sodium; 0 mg cholesterol.


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