Sunday soufflé is perfect for moms

May 11, 2012

Sunday is Mother's Day, and families throughout the country will honor Mom by taking her out for a special meal. Unfortunately, that’s one of the busiest days in the restaurant business. The experience may not live up to your expectations if you have to vie for attention from scrambling servers and wait for food from hectic chefs. Why not prepare an elegant brunch at home?

Dining late in the morning will give your mother the chance to sleep in, while you set the table with linens and crystal. Include a vase of spring flowers as a centerpiece, or fill several miniatures with a single blossom for each place setting. Even if the orange juice won’t be mixed with champagne into a mimosa, serve it in a fluted glass garnished with a plump blackberry.

For a colorful starter, a simple fruit salad is easy to assemble. Combine citrus sections, chunks of apple and pear, assorted berries, kiwi and mango. Drizzle lemon juice over the fruit to add a tart brightness and keep the cut fruit from browning. Store the covered bowl in the refrigerator, removing it at least 30 minutes before serving so the flavors aren’t dulled by the chill.

The main course should be showy and unusual, not too difficult yet with the appearance of creative culinary skill, and it must be delicious. My recommendation is a soufflé, perhaps with spinach and shallots like the one in the photo. This delicate, fluffy dish is made from a combination of flavored white sauce, egg yolks and whipped egg whites. Although I was originally daunted at the prospect of attempting a soufflé, over the years I’ve learned the keys to success.

The French word souffler means "to blow up" or more descriptively "puff up," which is exactly what happens when it’s baked. For a savory soufflé, the first step is to butter the inside of the soufflé dish. This is a round, glazed porcelain pan with a flat bottom and ribbed or fluted exterior. They come in various sizes, ranging from one cup for individual servings to eight cups in capacity. Coating the inside will encourage the mixture to rise, sliding up the sides with ease, puffing up three or more inches over the rim.

The next step is to select your flavoring; choices can include ham, mushrooms, cheese, fish and vegetables. Typically the add-ins are finely minced and sautéed (if necessary) to evaporate any excess liquid. Once these are ready, it’s time to separate the eggs: the yolk from the white to separate the fat from the protein. Traditional recipes add the yolks to a cooked white sauce, along with the flavoring ingredients. After the whites are beaten into stiff peaks, they are gently folded into the sauce.

How the egg whites are whipped will determine the fate of your soufflé. As you beat egg whites you’re incorporating air. The protein in the egg white forms a delicate skin around the air bubbles. It’s critical to have thoroughly clean whisks and bowls (never plastic) for the egg whites to properly whip. The slightest trace of oil or yolk particles will prevent the structure from forming, and the air bubbles will disintegrate. Because they are so thin and fragile, once they’re whipped, you’ll need to handle them with care.

One of the fallacies about soufflés is that a loud noise will cause them to fall (you’ve seen the cartoon), disappointing the cook and hungry guests. Every soufflé will eventually fall: heat expands the air in the egg whites; out of the oven the air contracts and the soufflé deflates without any loud sounds required. To solve this problem, have everyone seated, enjoying their juice or champagne cocktail as you carry the puffy cloud to the table.

I’ve included recipes for two dishes to serve at brunch - spinach soufflé for your entrée and a make-ahead frozen strawberry soufflé for dessert. Happy Mother’s Day.

Spinach Soufflé
4 egg yolks
5 egg whites
1 T minced shallot
1 T butter
3/4 C blanched spinach*
pinch salt
3 T butter
3 T flour
1 C boiling milk
1/2 t salt
1/4 t white pepper
1/8 t nutmeg
pinch cayenne pepper
pinch salt
pinch cream of tartar
1/2 C grated Swiss cheese

Remove eggs from refrigerator 15 minutes before you begin. Butter the inside of a six-cup soufflé pan; set aside. Preheat oven to 400 F. Separate the eggs, placing yolks in a glass measuring cup or small bowl and the whites in a copper or stainless steel bowl; discard the extra yolk. Chop the spinach and drain off any excess liquid; set aside. Combine the butter and shallot in a small skillet and sauté for a minute; do not brown. Add spinach and salt; cook for two minutes to evaporate any liquid. Remove skillet from heat; set aside. In a medium saucepan, melt 3 T butter over medium heat. Add 3 T flour and stir to combine; cook for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and pour in boiling milk, whisking until well blended. Add salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne; return to heat and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in egg yolks, one at a time, whisking well after each addition. Stir in spinach mixture; set aside. Add pinch of salt and pinch of cream of tartar to the bowl of egg whites. Beat slowly until foamy, then increase speed, beating until stiff, shiny peaks form. Add one-quarter of the whipped egg whites to the saucepan. Add the grated cheese, reserving 1 T, and stir to combine. Gently fold the remaining egg whites into the spinach mixture. Scrape batter into the prepared soufflé pan and top with the remaining 1 T of cheese. Place pan on middle rack in the oven and immediately reduce temperature to 375 F. Bake for 25 minutes and serve immediately. To serve, insert a large spoon and fork vertically into the dish to remove a portion. Yield: 4 servings. *Note: squeeze out excess water by wrapping in paper towels and pressing firmly.

Strawberry Soufflé
1 pt strawberries
3 T strawberry jam
2 T cherry brandy
4 egg yolks
2 T sugar
1 C heavy cream
4 egg whites
3 drops lemon juice
2 T sugar

Separate the eggs, placing yolks in a large mixing bowl and the whites in a copper or stainless steel bowl; set aside. Place the berries in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until pureed. Add the jam and brandy; pulse briefly to combine. Beat the egg yolks with 2 T sugar until thick and smooth; set aside. In a mixing bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form; set aside. Add the lemon juice to the egg whites and beat until foamy. Gradually add 2 T sugar and beat until firm and glossy. Fold the berry mixture into the egg yolks. Fold the whipped cream into the berries and yolks. Gently fold in the egg whites and stir just until blended. Transfer the mixture to a 6-cup mold or soufflé pan. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze overnight. Yield: 8 servings.