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Lemon Souffle

February 10, 2012

Souffle is such a scary word.  At least to an amateur cook its scary.  I’d always had the impression that a souffle was one of the hardest things to cook correctly; it’s easily overcooked, it might not rise if you don’t treat the egg whites properly, etc.  So, I’ve always stayed away from even going there.  But I love souffles.  And it’s rare these days to even see a souffle on a dessert menu in a restaurant.  And of course, at a restaurant, it’s expensive (presumably because it’s hard to find at other places and it’s hard to make), and you’ve got to give them 20-30 minute notice to make one.  The whole thing just seems too cumbersome.

A souffle is a lightly baked cake that is made with a combination of egg yolks and whipped egg whites.  The actual word souffle is a derivative of the French word souffler which literally means to “blow up” or more loosely mean “puff up” which is characteristically what happens to a souffle when you bake the mixture of custard and egg whites.

One day, after having looked through some recipes online, I decided to throw my hat into the ring and give souffle-making a try.  The worst that could happen would be that it didn’t turn out, right?  I figured it couldn’t be that bad.  I had all the ingredients on hand, so it’s not like I had to make a special trip to the store for this.  The reason lemon souffles were chosen over more traditional flavors like chocolate or grand marnier?  Well, I happened to have lemons on hand, and it so happens that my husband loves lemons, so I figured if I made it lemon-flavored he’d at least try it.

First off, don’t be intimidated by the ingredients, the difficult part is the technique, but that doesn’t even mean making this dessert is that difficult.  You’ll need: ramekins, lemon juice and zest, butter, eggs, sugar, flour and salt.  The ingredients are so minimal, the steps are so many.

Before you even start on the souffle mixture, you’ll need to prepare the ramekins.  Souffles are traditionally baked in ramekins which can vary in size, but are generally flat-bottomed, round porcelain containers that have a fluted exterior border.  You’ll need to butter and sugar (or flour) the inside of the ramekin entirely so that the souffle can rise and not stick to the ramekin.  Once the ramekins are prepared, pop them into the refrigerate to cool and set while you’re making the souffle “batter”.

Start by separating the eggs.  Both the whites and the yolks are used in this dish.  Separate the egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer, which you’ll be using later to beat the egg whites.  Set the egg yolks aside until you need them.

Into a non-reactive bowl, add 3/4 cup of sugar.  I chose to use baker’s sugar since it dissolves more easily, but regular granulated white sugar is just fine.

After the sugar comes the flour.  All purpose flour is all you need.  Nothing special or fancy.  The flour will help stabilize the mixture and allow it to rise like normal dough.  The recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of dough, but I believe if I did this again, I’d add a bit more flour to the mixture, perhaps 3 tablespoons or so.

As with most things you bake, when you add sugar, you’ll also need to add a bit of salt.  The salt really does act as an agent to help draw out the sweetness in various additives.  In this case, adding 1/2 teaspoon of salt helps cut through the tartness of the lemon flavor.

That’s all you need for the dry ingredients.  Now come the wet ingredients.  Start with a cup of whole milk.

The next wet ingredient will be 1 tablespoon melted butter.  The butter adds moisture and flavor to the dessert.

Finally, it’s time to add the egg yolks to the mixture.  Whisk everything together to ensure that it’s all combined.  The “batter” should be fairly thick and form ribbons once whisked together.  Mine turned out a bit too watery, which was probably my downfall.

Now, for the flavor of the souffle, lemons!  You want to zest and juice 2 lemons.  You’ll want to add both the lemon zest and lemon juice into your “batter” now.  Believe me, it may not seem like a lot, but the lemon flavor really comes through in this dessert.  Whisk everything until fully combined.  This forms the base of the souffle.  The base is what adds the flavor to the dessert.

On to the egg whites.  The beaten egg whites are what adds the lift to the dessert.  The fluffy egg whites cause the dessert to rise dramatically and “puff up” to create the souffle.  The egg whites that you separated earlier should now be in the bowl of an electric mixer.  As this takes a few minutes to accomplish, an electric mixer would work much better than a hand mixer.  Start the electric mixer on low and let it start beating the egg whites.

Slowly start to increase the speed on the mixer.  As the speed goes up, you’ll notice the egg whites go from a clear liquid to a white bubbly, frothy mixture, finally to a white foamy mixture.  This is exactly what you want.  After about 5-7 minutes of beating the egg whites will start to turn the consistency of whipped cream.  What you are looking for is stiff peaks; that means that when you stop the mixer and run a spatula through it to form a peak, the peak will  hold up on its own and not collapse.  That is exactly the consistency you are looking for.  The egg whites turn from the liquid form they start out of into this whipped cream form due to the amount of air that you are beating into them.  It’s this air that will also cause your souffle to “puff up”.  So, don’t over beat the egg whites.  When you achieve stiff peaks, stop beating.

Immediately transfer the egg whites into the bowl with the egg yolks and slowly and gently start to fold the egg whites into the mixture.  To fold means to use your rubber spatula and slowly turn the mixture of the egg yolks and fold it around the egg whites.  You are doing this carefully and folding instead of whisking in order to preserve the air and body in the beaten egg whites.  If you whisk the air out of your egg whites, your souffle will never rise.  You want to fold until everything is just combined.

Take the ramekins that have been chilling in the refrigerator out and put them into a deep baking dish.  Fill each ramekin with the souffle “batter” that you’ve created by using your spatula to spoon the mixture into the ramekin.

When the ramekins have been filled, run your finger along the top of the ramekin to make sure it’s clean.  Doing this will help the souffle to rise while it bakes without any obstructions.  Prior to putting the baking dish into the oven, you’ll want to fill the dish with hot water until it is halfway up the side of the ramekins.  Baking the souffle in a water bath will ensure that the souffle bakes evenly.

Souffles go into the oven set at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes or so.  Once they’ve risen and the tops start to turn brown, you know it’s done.  It’s time to take the souffle out of the oven.  Immediately remove them from the water bath they’ve been sitting in as well in order to stop the cooking process.  If all goes well, they’ll be nice and puffy.  They will have risen straight out of the ramekins.  They should remain this way for 10 minutes or so before they start to deflate.  Like all baked doughs that rise, eventually they will fall.

At this point, you can serve them as is, or sprinkle them with a dusting of powdered sugar, or scoop out a whole in the middle and serve it with some creme anglaise.  The souffle will be hot and flavorful and cake-like and delicious!

The verdict?  It was ok.  Not perfect, that’s for certain.  But not a complete failure either.  It was edible.  So much so that I had 2 souffles and my husband also had 2.  It had too much egg white, or not enough batter, I’m not sure which yet.  The consistency of the souffle wasn’t exact as there seemed not to be enough flour and it wasn’t a cake-like consistency.  But the souffle did rise exactly like it was supposed to, which is good.  And the flavor of the lemon certainly came through.  I think that perhaps, my batter was too runny to begin with.  That could be a lack of enough flour to stabilize the batter, or perhaps too much lemon juice that ended up diluting my batter.  When I combined it with the egg whites, it was obvious that it was runnier than it should be.  When I transferred the mixture into the ramekin, I certainly had too much egg whites and probably not enough batter.  But since the flavor was there, and this seems to be a problem easily fixed, I’ll definitely give souffle-making another try.  I’ll probably try to make a more traditional chocolate souffle next time around.

In the end, I’m glad I decided to just jump in and try to make a souffle.  It turned out as well as it could have.  Now, I’m not so intimidated about whisking egg whites, or folding them in, or of making souffles.  Things you try for the first time usually don’t come out perfectly the first time around.  But, for my first time, I think this was a pretty darn good attempt.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 10, 2012 8:26 am

    I love cheese soufflés, as a lemon-dessert it must be quite good! Will add it to me list of “must-trys”. Thanks!

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  1. Creme Anglaise « Ducky's Always Hungry

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