Maple Walnut Soufflé
One of the first souffles I learned to make during an apprenticeship in France was a classic French walnut souffle. When I returned home, I longed to add another layer of flavor to the original. Maple walnut ice cream is a classic American treat, so I turned to this traditional combination for inspiration. In a souffle, the buttery luxuriousness of maple syrup turns into a light, airy confection that perfectly marries with the earthy richness of walnuts.
There is something magical about a souffle-the dramatic rise and fall, the seductively warm, light, yet richly flavored interior-that makes it the perfect ending to a romantic evening. Many home cooks hear scary tales about the difficulty of making souffles, so they give up attempting one in their own kitchens, believing souffles are something to be savored only when dining out.
Yet it is possible to make souffles that are just as delicious, sensuous, and showstopping as the ones found at the best restaurants. Like most things, making a souffle is a matter of technique and of understanding the reasons behind the technique.
“Souffle” generally refers to a light, airy, creamy baked mousse that rises significantly in the oven and then deflates a few minutes after it has been removed. It is rushed to the table so diners can enjoy the souffle’s hot, inflated, dramatic state before it collapses.
To produce a souffle you need to combine a thick flavor base with an egg white foam (some form of whipped egg whites). Sometimes the thick flavor base is simply jam or chocolate ganache, but more often it is a pastry cream. All of our souffles at Chanterelle are a combination of an Italian meringue, instead of plain beaten egg whites, and a flavored pastry cream.
An Italian meringue holds air for a much longer period of time than does a French meringue or plain beaten egg whites, so I am able to prepare the souffles in the morning and bake them in the evening. Even though making the meringue seems like a complicated process, it similarly allows you to prepare these wonderful, light, seemingly it la minute desserts ahead of time. When you are ready for dessert, you simply place the prepared individual souffle molds in the oven, bake, and then serve.
“Meringue” is a generic term for an egg white foam whipped with sugar. (See the Note "A French meringue and egg white foams" to understand how egg white proteins form foams through agitation and the effect of added sugar).
There are three common types of meringues: a French meringue is an egg white foam with granulated or powdered sugar; a Swiss meringue is an egg white foam that is first heated with sugar until all the sugar dissolves (at around 110°F to 120°F) and then whipped; an Italian meringue is an egg white foam with a sugar syrup cooked to 248°F. A crunchy meringue cookie or the topping of a lemon meringue pie is simply the baked version of anyone of these whipped egg white foams.
The finished characteristics of a whipped Italian meringue differ from those of the French and Swiss meringues. If you leave an Italian meringue and a French meringue in separate bowls on the counter for 6 hours at room temperature, you will notice a complete difference between the two bowls at the end of this time. One will contain the same whipped egg whites you made 6 hours ago (Italian), and the other will look slightly foamy but mostly like unbeaten egg whites (French).
There are numerous proteins in egg whites that form liquid and airholding scaffolding structures (gelled foams) under different conditions (some respond to heat, some to agitation). The combined process of beating and cooking that takes place while making an Italian meringue produces a very stable whipped meringue in which almost all the proteins have gelled, leaving you with a voluminous and stable meringue.
A properly whipped egg white foam (in our case an Italian meringue) gently incorporated into a thick flavor base (in our case a pastry cream sometimes containing added raw egg yolks) is a souffle waiting to be baked. Once the souffle goes into the oven, air trapped in the egg white foam structure expands, making the souffle rise above the rim of the dish. Depending on the ingredients in the thick flavor base, the souffle may also attain height through other protein reactions in the flavor base.
Acid in egg white foams:
Whenever you are instructed to beat egg whites into a foam (for a meringue, a mousse, or a souffle), the recipe usually calls for a pinch of vinegar, lemon juice, or cream of tartar. Acid has three major effects on egg proteins: it causes proteins to denature, enables them to make early bonds (aggregations), and reduces the likelihood of sulfur bonding, a strong protein bond. Adding a small amount of acid to whipping egg whites has the same effect: it helps to denature the egg whites during the early stages of agitation, making them easier to whip up; it greatly reduces the likelihood of complete coagulation of egg white proteins-which produces a grainy, lumpy, watery, weak egg white foam. Added acid makes it possible to whisk the egg whites vigorously for a set time period without any signs of dryness or beading (little clumps of coagulated proteins) forming on the sides of the bowl.
Similarly, the secret behind the use of copper bowls for whipping egg whites is that copper reduces the likelihood of sulfur bonding, enabling you to beat your egg whites with a reduced risk of overcoagulation. But a touch of acid has the same effect.
Total Timeunder 2 hours
Make Ahead RecipeYes
OccasionCooking for a date, Formal Dinner Party
Dietary Considerationhalal, kosher, peanut free, soy free, vegetarian
Taste and Texturebuttery, light, nutty, sweet
Type of Dishdessert
- 5 tablespoons (2½ ounces) butter
- 2/3 cup plus 4 tablespoons sugar
- 1¼ cups maple syrup
- 1 cup (4 ounces) finely chopped walnuts
- 1 cup whole milk
- 9 eggs
- 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon flour
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 tablespoon brandy
- Pinch of cream of tartar
- Twelve 4-ounce or eight 5-ounce ramekins
- Candy thermometer
- Stand mixer
- See "Souffle Guidelines" in the Notes section, below
Prepare the souffle molds:
Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter and generously grease your souffle ramekins. Refrigerate the buttered ramekins and then butter them again. Dust the insides of the ramekins with 3 tablespoons of the sugar and return them to the refrigerator. Keep the remaining butter at room temperature.
Make the pastry cream:
Boil the maple syrup in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat until the syrup reduces by half and registers 240°F on a candy thermometer. If you do not have a thermometer, test the syrup after it has boiled, foamed, and reduced somewhat. Drop a fork tong of syrup on the counter-if it dries in a mound, scrapes off the counter cleanly with your fingernail, and is somewhat pliable and gummy between two fingers, it is ready. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes. Add the walnuts and milk and reheat until the syrup dissolves in the milk.
Meanwhile, separate the 9 eggs, placing the whites in the bowl of a stand mixer; place 7 of the yolks in a medium bowl, and reserve 2 yolks in a small bowl to use later in the recipe. Briskly whisk the 7 yolks with the flour, salt, and cornstarch, making sure that the mixture is smooth with no lumps or streaks of white remaining. While continually whisking, add about half the hot milk mixture to the egg yolk mixture to warm it, then whisk the yolk mixture into the remaining hot milk in the pan.
Bring the custard to a boil over mediumhigh heat, whisking continuously and making sure to scrape the bottom of the entire pan. Once the mixture boils for 20 seconds and thickens, remove it from the heat and stir in the remaining butter and the alcohol. Transfer the custard to a clean stainless-steel bowl and allow the mixture to cool, stirring every 2 to 3 minutes.
Make the meringue (see "Acid in egg white foams" in the Notes section, below):
Combine 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon of sugar and 3 tablespoons water in a small saucepan over medium heat and attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Simultaneously place the 9 egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk on medium-high speed. Once the egg whites begin to foam up, add the cream of tartar.
When the egg whites are completely foamy and begin to hold the lines of a whisk, turn the heat under the pan of sugar syrup to high. Once the sugar syrup has come to a rolling boil and reaches 225°F to 230°F, gradually add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon at a time, to the egg whites. As you add the sugar, the whites should become shiny and gain volume. If you see the whites beading (small lumps of egg whites forming on the side of the bowl), you have whipped them too dry; slow the machine down and add the remaining sugar.
Once the sugar syrup on the stove reaches 248°F quickly, in a slow continuous stream, pour the hot syrup into the egg whites with the mixer set on a medium-high speed. The whites should still gain more volume and take on a satiny white color. Continue to whip the meringue on medium-high speed until it stiffens and cools, 3 to 5 minutes.
Fold the meringue into the pastry cream (see raw egg yolks in pastry cream for souffle):
Whisk the remaining 2 egg yolks into the maple walnut pastry cream. Add about a quarter of the meringue to the maple walnut pastry cream to lighten it and then add the remaining meringue. Place a spatula in the center of the bowl, scrape the bottom, and bring the bottom over the top. Rotate the bowl 45 degrees and continue folding until all the egg whites are incorporated.
Fill the prepared ramekins:
Using a rubber or plastic spatula, fill the prepared ramekins with the mousse, avoiding leaving any air pockets under the mousse in the ramekins. Flatten the tops of the ramekins with a metal spatula, scraping any excess mousse back into the bowl. Clean off any bits of mousse that might have dripped onto the sides of the ramekins.
Bake the souffle:
You can now either bake your souffles or place them in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 4 hours or in the freezer for up to 24 hours. Before baking frozen souffles, allow them to sit out at room temperature for 1 hour. When you are ready to bake the souffles, preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake the souffles until they rise over the rims by about ½ their original volume, 9 to 12 minutes in a convection oven or 15 to 20 minutes in a regular oven without a fan.
Serve these souffles as soon as they come out of the oven with a dollop of vanilla ice cream or crème fraîche.
2006 Kate Zuckerman