My first experience with soufflés came during my very first hours working as an extern (code name for person who knows nothing and makes even less) in the kitchen of a now defunct French restaurant in Washington, DC. I’d watched the soufflé demonstration in cooking school, but weaseled my way out of actually making one by volunteering to work on another (less scary) of the afternoon’s required recipes. I had no interest in tackling the terrifying mix of egg whites and custard. (And what was up with all that folding?)
Well, wouldn’t you know that my first assignment in a restaurant kitchen was to make three different soufflés? For about 200 people over two dinner seatings…on NEW YEAR’S EVE! Um, ok.
So, here’s how it went down:
Chef: Get me 10 pounds of sugar. (pointing at two large bins of white stuff)
Chef: Mix this with this. Set it aside, then mix that with that. The waiter will ask if guests want soufflés when he takes the initial order. He’ll tell you. You mix the base, but don’t put it in the oven until … (At this point, I am so completely overwhelmed with the task before me that I swear all I can hear is the sound the adults in Charlie Brown’s world make when they talk — wonk, wonk, wonk, wonk, wonk, wonk.)
In a nutshell, I was supposed to have three different bases ready to mix soufflés to order. No big deal, except that I had to mix and bake them in a shared oven (so much for keeping the oven door closed) and time them perfectly so that they were baked, plated, garnished and ready for waiters to whisk them to the guest’s table at just the right time, after the dinner dishes were cleared, but not too soon so that after-dinner drinks could be offered and delivered, and before they fell.
This is where my irrationally confident mojo kicks in. Instead of having a total and complete nervous breakdown, I am ready to go, cool as a cucumber. I got this.
As I’m standing there armed with a million whisks and my bases and meringue ready to go, Naughty Waiter walks past and violates every sanitation law in the books by dipping his pinky into my enormous bowl of fluffy meringue (this is why I call him Naughty Waiter) for a taste.
Naughty Waiter: Wow, that is REALLY salty!
ME: What the–(pushing rage aside) wait, what?
So much for I got this. What I got was 10 pounds of salt that Chef unknowingly whipped into the egg whites. It was ten minutes to service and I had to start all over. Confidence blown. Mojo had left the building.
In the end, I pulled it off. I lost count of how many soufflés I made that evening, but they all made it to the tables on time and delicious. Not one fell prematurely. I got nauseous just thinking about soufflés for about six months after that night and I still get nervous around large quantities of sugar and salt positioned too closely together, but I can make a soufflé with my eyes closed.
I am tough (you should see me with my knife). Soufflés are not and here’s the proof.
- 2 tablespoons butter, plus additional for ramekins
- 4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
- 1 large egg yolk
- 4 large egg whites
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Preheat oven to 375 F.
- Generously butter four six-ounce ramekins and place on a baking sheet.
- Melt chocolate and two tablespoons butter together in a small saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly until chocolate is melted and smooth. Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.
- Stir egg yolk into cooled chocolate. Chocolate will stiffen slightly. (It will look like chocolate frosting.)
- Whip egg whites to soft peaks in a stand mixer or by hand. Gradually add the sugar to the egg whites and continue whipping until whites are at stiff peaks.
- Spoon about a cup of the whites into the chocolate and stir until fully incorporated and no white streaks remain. (This first batch of whites is added to lighten the chocolate, making it easier to fold into the remaining whites, so it’s ok to stir instead of fold here.)
- Gently add the chocolate to the remaining egg whites, folding carefully until fully incorporated and mixture is uniformly brown with no white streaks.
- Spoon batter into prepared ramekins, filling each ramekin about three-quarters full. Use a damp paper towel to wipe any chocolate away from the edges. (Chocolate drips will cook and harden before your souffle is done and may prevent your souffle from rising evenly.)
- Bake 17 — 20 minutes until souffles are puffy but still jiggle slightly when the baking sheet is gently nudged.
- Remove the souffles from the oven and immediately place each ramekin on a small plate topped with a napkin or doily to keep the ramekin from moving while in transit.