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Try Your Hand At Souffle New Year’s Eve

Wed., Dec. 31, 1997

Tradition rules the holiday table through Dec. 30. Soothing and familiar foods are the favorites, but come New Year’s, anything goes.

A group of us cooks got together one New Year’s Eve to share our culinary skills, with everyone contributing a new dish to the table. The most memorable was a light-as-air savory souffle.

Souffles are perfect party food because they look impressive, taste great and take no time at all to prepare. A souffle literally holds its breath in the oven, as a network of eggs and other ingredients expand and puff.

As a beginning cook studying in France, I was surprised to learn that souffles are astonishingly quick to assemble, taking about 10 minutes from bowl to oven. As long as you tread lightly while the souffle is baking, success is almost assured.

Some souffle basics: Eggs are the primary ingredient. Egg yolks bind the souffle (keep it from being runny) and egg whites lift it (making it puffy and light). You can reduce the egg yolks - and the total fat - in most souffles, but egg whites are essential. And it’s important to keep the two separate. If you get even a tiny drop of egg yolk in the egg whites, they will not beat to the required froth.

Most souffles have three simple steps. First you prepare your souffle dish. Lightly oil it and attach a collar or 2-inch-wide ring of paper. The collar holds the sides of the souffle if it rises beyond the dish’s capacity. Always preheat the oven.

Next, create the base by sauteing an aromatic vegetable such as onions or mushrooms and preparing a light sauce with low-fat cheeses.

The final step is beating and folding in the egg whites. It’s really a simple task - no need to pretend you are a TV chef with copper bowls. Just use a trusty hand mixer. The best, lightest souffles result from beating the egg whites only to the soft-peak stage; when you lift out the beater blade, it creates a little mountain of egg white, and the tip of the mountain falls back into the bowl. Stiff peaks mean the egg whites can start to separate, creating an unfortunate layered look in the finished souffle.

Now, rubber spatula in hand, you assemble the souffle. Pour the sauce or flavor base into the souffle dish and gently lay the beaten egg whites on top of it. With your spatula, fold the egg whites into the sauce. The trick here is to watch the level of the souffle; if it doesn’t fall while you fold, you’re using just the right amount of stirring.

Be sure to incorporate all the egg whites into the body of the souffle, but stop stirring as soon as this is accomplished. Put your souffle into the oven, set the timer and don’t open the oven door until it rings. Voila!

Savory Mushroom Souffle

After that memorable New Year’s dinner, I created this easy mushroom souffle for future feasts.

4 cups minced fresh mushrooms

3 green onions, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup nonfat milk, warmed

2 whole eggs

4 egg whites

1/2 cup shredded low-fat Swiss cheese

1-1/2 teaspoons dried tarragon

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Lightly oil and collar 1-quart souffle dish.

Place mushrooms, onions and oil in large skillet and saute over medium-high heat 15 minutes or until mushrooms weep moisture. Add flour and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Pour in warm milk, whisking constantly, and cook, stirring, until sauce thickens to consistency of heavy cream, 3 to 5 minutes.

Separate eggs and combine all egg whites in 1 bowl.

Remove mushroom sauce from heat. Stir in egg yolks, cheese, tarragon and nutmeg. Pour into prepared souffle dish. Beat egg whites to soft-peak stage and fold into sauce.

Bake souffle at 375 degrees 25 minutes or until lightly browned and puffy. Serve immediately.

Yield: 6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 112 calories, 4.78 grams fat (38 percent fat calories), 10 grams protein, 7 grams carbohydrate, 75 milligrams cholesterol, 110 milligrams sodium.

New Year’s Souffle

The late James Beard was the original inspiration for a simple broccoli souffle, which I have adapted to the following harvest recipe - a lovely combination of red, green and gold.

1/2 cup minced onion

1 teaspoon olive oil

3 whole eggs

4 egg whites

1/2 cup steamed chopped broccoli or asparagus

1/2 cup steamed chopped red bell pepper

1/4 cup peeled, steamed and cubed acorn squash

2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Lightly oil and collar 1-quart souffle dish.

Saute onions in oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat 5 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent browning.

Separate eggs, combining all egg whites in 1 bowl.

Remove onions from heat. Add broccoli, bell pepper, squash, ricotta, egg yolks and Parmesan cheese. Pour into prepared souffle dish. Beat egg whites to soft-peak stage, then fold into broccoli mixture.

Bake at 375 degrees 35 to 40 minutes or until lightly browned and puffy. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 318 calories, 18.47 grams fat (52 percent fat calories), 25 grams protein, 13 grams carbohydrate, 207 milligrams cholesterol, 495 milligrams sodium.

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