I don’t know why but, for many people I know, dishes with unpronounceable French and Italian names conjure images of sophistication and awesome sexiness. Like zabaione or soufflé. For some reason, the more tongue-twisting the name of the dish is, the more impressed people are. If you’re entertaining and you want to impress, serve something no one knows for sure how to pronounce properly and they’ll think you’re the epitome of culinary sophistication.
Of course, you don’t have to tell them that a zabaione is just thin custard or that soufflés are relatively inexpensive and quite easy to make because they’re really nothing more than baked eggs with a few added things. But eggs are funny things. Depending on how they’re cooked, they can be dense or light as feather. A soufflé falls under the second category. The yolks and whites are separated, the yolks are mixed with all the other ingredients, the whites are beaten until stiff and then carefully folded into the yolk mixture to preserve the tiny bubbles created during beating. During baking, these tiny bubbles expand and inflate the mixture to create a light as feather cake.
A soufflé can be sweet (see chocolate soufflé) or savory. Whether sweet or savory, how much a soufflé rises depends not only on the proper beating of the egg whites but also on the presence of other ingredients. A soufflé with nothing but eggs, sugar and flour, for instance, will rise higher than a soufflé with solid ingredients like fruits, berries, cheese or vegetables. A soufflé with solid ingredients will rise higher if the ratio of solid ingredients to eggs is lower. It’s just simple science — the more solid ingredients, the denser the mixture and the more air bubbles needed to push everything upward.
Cheese and spinach soufflé
- Divide a tablespoonful of butter to grease the bottom and sides of two ramekins.
- Sprinkle bread crumbs on the buttered surface and shake out the excess.
- Place the prepared ramekins in the freezer while you prepare the soufflé.
- Heat the remaining 2 tbsps. of butter in a pan. Add the flour and make a light roux. Add the spinach, stir, then pour in the milk. Sprinkle in some salt and pepper. Heat, stirring, until thickened then set aside to cool.
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- In a bowl, lightly beat the egg yolks. Stir in the cooled spinach mixture and the cheese.
- A note here: If you want your soufflés to rise higher, use three egg whites instead of two. Beat the egg whites until stiff.
- Add a few tablespoons of beaten egg whites to the yolk mixture and stir lightly. Add the rest of the egg whites and fold in.
- Divide the mixture between the two prepared ramekins.
- Bake at 400F for 12 to 14 minutes until risen and the top is lightly browned.
- Serve immediately. The soufflé will deflate after a few minutes so it is best to serve it straight out of the oven.