Posted by: vlibrizzi | February 3, 2009

Making a souffle: a lesson in the art of patience

Any French person would tell you that you cannot even begin to call yourself a French chef until you can make a proper souffle. It requires delicate handling, precise oven temperatures, and exact ingredients, and if any of them are not perfectly measured, your souffle will surely turn into a cheesy, gooey pancake. Therefore, one must have patience, an indomitable will, and, well, a lot of time on one’s hand…maybe that is why the French have perfected the dish. 

So, I, never one to turn down a challenge, knew that I had to learn to make one of these souffle things before I left France. It couldn’t be that hard. Could it?

img_2032I joined a few of my friends last night at the cottage of one of our native Parisian friend in a quaint, local village to attempt to conquer the dreaded souffle. The two women who are standing in the photo to the right are also INSEAD partners, but are French, and were willing to show us how to cook their favorite family recipes for the night.

 

img_2035

Before teaching us their souffle secrets though, our friends/teachers needed to assess our cooking skills, so we began with something a little bit easier…a stuffed tomato recipe that came from another one of our French friends’ grandmother. We worked together to make the stuffing of hard-boiled eggs, ham, tomato “guts” (as my French friends translated it), bread, and lots of local French spices. (In this photo, you can see us carving out the tomatoes.)

img_2040Then, once we put the tomatoes in the oven for 20 minutes on “medium” heat (the French ovens do not have precise temperature measurements so you have to guess which number between 1 and 6 corresponds with the correct temperature), we moved onto the real project. 

We began our souffle by grating a mixture of mimmolette and emmenthal cheese, and then mixing that cheese into a homemade bechamel sauce (you can see us taking turns mixing the pot in the photo above). Then, we added egg yolkes to the mixture, stirred it, and in the meantime, made soft white peaks from the egg whites and slowly folded them into the mixture. This is where the patience comes in; you have to fold very slowly, making sure not to crush the peaks too much, but to combine them into the mixture. When I took my turn at the stirring, I was quickly shooshed away by my French friend who said I was stirring too hard and making the mixture “fall.” I stood back and watched her slowly cover the white peaks with the yellow egg and cheese mixture for what seemed like hours. It looked like painstaking work to me but it didn’t seem to faze her in the slightest…the slower you stir, the better it tastes afterall.

We then greased the casserole pans (with butter…no Pam spray here in France…they wouldn’t hear of it!), and placed the fluffy mixture inside. We watched as our souffle cooked in the oven through the small oven window…all wanting to open the oven door to see how it was cooking, but knowing full well that if we did, the whole souffle might fall. 

img_2041After about 30 minutes in a low to medium temperature oven, the souffle was done. You can see our masterpiece in the photo to the right. It tasted wonderfully…so light, so cheesy! Perfect! 

Now, I know why the French are the best chefs. I have a lot to learn from them. And, while I succeed in my goal of making my first souffle, I’m not sure if I’ll ever make one as good as the one we made together last night.

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Responses

  1. Yum! You’ll have to show me that one, Val. It looks good.
    But the lack of PAM kills me!


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