“Soufflér. That means to puff, or to breathe.”
The past participle of soufflér is soufflé. And that’s what we were making.
Most of the kids had eaten a savory version of a soufflé before; only one had not.
“It’s kind of fluffy.”
So we talked about how a soufflé becomes so fluffy or puffed up.
“What do you guys think? How do we get all that air in there?”
They had great responses:
“Baking soda and vinegar?”
“A bicycle pump?”
I was incredibly happy they remembered that all those things, aside from the bicycle pump, were leavening agents.
“We were able to whip those egg whites until they were nice and fluffy, right? The proteins in the whites formed a network that trapped a lot of air. That is exactly what we’ll use to leaven our soufflés; all those air bubbles will expand in the heat of the oven and cause our soufflés to push up.”
But first, we needed to make the base. This one would be made with pastry cream and flavored with bananas.
They had made pastry cream once before.
They combined the egg yolks with sugar, flour, and salt to form a kind of thick paste.
Then they whisked in a bit of milk that we had heating on the stove.
“Do you guys remember why we don’t just dump everything into the pot of hot milk?”
“Because the eggs will get clumpy?”
“Right! So we introduce the heat gradually, that’s called tempering the eggs, then we cook everything together.”
Once the mixture had thickened and come to a boil, they strained the resulting custard into a bowl.
We set the pastry cream aside while we prepared the soufflé dishes.
“Straight-sided dishes are best because they will help the soufflé rise up, not out. And we need something for the soufflé base to cling to as it climbs the sides, so we’ll brush the insides of the ramekins with soft butter and coat them with sugar.”
With the dishes ready, we turned our attention back to finishing the base.
They mashed the fruit into the pastry cream and added some vanilla.
We inspected our egg whites.
“No goldfish, right?” Meaning there were no bits of yolk floating around in the whites. “The yolks contain fat, which would interfere with the whites’ ability to form that network we talked about — the one that traps the air. Any fat will make it difficult, or even impossible, for the whites to whip.”
We started whipping the whites, and when we could see that the whip was leaving trails as it passed through the egg whites, they began adding the sugar.
It took only a few minutes for the meringue to reach a firm peak. Actually, we could have whipped it even less, we were just on the edge of being over whipped. A little dipping of the tip of meringue, like a soft serve ice cream cone, would have been better.
They took turns folding the meringue into the soufflé base.
“Remember, when you’re folding, down through the middle and up the sides.”
“It’s better to have a little bit of whites still streaky through the base than having an overfolded soufflé. The more you fold it, the more air you knock out of it.”
We portioned the mixture into the sugared ramekins, filling them to the brim.
I leveled them off with a spatula so they would have a nice, flat top.
“You can run your thumb around the inside of the dishes so that the mixture doesn’t stick on the edge as it’s baking and give you a lopsided soufflé.”
We popped the tray into the hot oven, and after about 10 minutes I called everyone over to take a peek.
Soufflés, especially those made from a starch or chocolate base, are not as temperamental as the movies would have you believe. You can even take one out of the oven, test it for doneness, and put it right back in.
These were ready though.
Everyone sat down and we passed out the soufflés. They had their choice of raspberry or chocolate sauce to pour in.
And they were eaten before they even started deflating.
Banana Soufflés adapted from a recipe in Room For Dessert by David Lebovitz
Note: These can be made a few hours in advance and held, unbaked, in the refrigerator.
4 servings (can be easily doubled or tripled)
2 medium bananas (equal to about 1/2 cup mashed banana pulp)
2 t vanilla
1/2 t lemon juice
1/2 c pastry cream
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
pinch of cream of tartar
1/8 t fine sea salt
2 T sugar, plus more for coating the ramekins
Position the oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Butter the insides of four 4-ounce ramekins and coat with a fine layer of sugar. In a large bowl, mash the bananas into the pastry cream and add the lemon juice, vanilla, and salt. In the bowl of a standing mixer, whip the egg whites on medium speed until frothy then add the cream of tartar. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue whipping until soft peaks form. Begin adding the sugar and whip until the meringue forms a firm but not dry peak. Add about 1/3 of the meringue to the banana mixture and fold gently to lighten it. Fold in the remaining meringue until combined. Spoon the mixture into the prepared dishes, filling them to the rim. Level the tops with a spatula and use your thumb to create a shallow indentation around the inside of the ramekin. Set the soufflés on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes or until the tops are nicely browned and the soufflés are firm but still slightly jiggly. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.
Pastry Cream (makes about 1 cup)
1 cup whole milk
3 T flour
4 T sugar
1/8 t fine sea salt
3 large egg yolks
1/4 t vanilla
Warm the milk in a saucepan. Meanwhile whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, and egg yolks. When the milk is hot, whisk about 1/3 of it into into the egg mixture. Pour everything back into the pot and cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened and just begins to boil. Remove from heat and strain into a bowl. Stir in the vanilla. Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days.