Few dishes elicit such a visceral reaction quite like a precariously towering, steaming soufflé puffed up in all it's glory. Upon placement, a purring of oooohs and ahhhhhhs commence, ending only when the last bite of these delectable clouds has been consumed. So why is it that something so physiologically powerful is so darn hard to make right and so easy to make wrong? A myriad of landmines are buried on the path to a perfect soufflé such as over beating the egg whites, letting the whipped egg whites stand too long, a too hot oven, a too cold oven, etc… which is why I don't venture down this road too often.
So from where did this enigma hail? No one can pinpoint a date or a person solely responsible though it is undeniably a French culinary invention and to say otherwise would incite nothing short of a revolution. Earliest mentions date back to the late 18th century where it was served at La Grande Taverne de Londres in Paris by Chef Beauvilliers whom Brillat-Savarin lauded as "…for more than fifteen years the most famous restaurateur in Paris." Pas mal (not bad)! Marie Antoine Carême describes the technique in great detail in his book, Patissier Royal Parisien. It seems that for nearly 200 years, cooks have been baffled by this collapsing conundrum.
Soufflé, from the verb souffler, which means "to blow up" or "puff up" is a rather accurate description of what happens to this combination of a base, usually of flavored cream sauce or purée which transports the flavor, and beaten egg whites which create the lift. So far, so good. I have a huge jar of passion fruit purée so I thought pourquoi pas (why not)? I adapted a recipe from Marcus Samuelson, chef at Aquavit in New York City. His recipe calls for the juice of one lime but my passion fruit purée is so tart that I made the executive decision to pass that item. Sorry, you can take the girl out of the Valley… Bon courage (good luck)!
Passion Fruit Soufflé
• 8 egg whites
• 1 cup sugar
• 2 tbsp water
• 1 vanilla bean, cut & scraped (I was out so I used 1 tsp vanilla extract)
• 1 cup passion fruit purée
• butter & sugar (for brushing on ramekins)
1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
2. Rub six ramekins with butter at room temperature and coat with sugar. Place in fridge until ready to fill.
Note: Take a pastry brush (I use a regular paint brush from the hardware store and run it through the dishwasher first) and brush up and down the sides like ChaChi in Karate Kid — wax on wax off paint up paint down, I know I’m dating myself — and coat with sugar. This technique is called chimiser (shi-mee-zay). This creates up and down ridges which helps the soufflé climb up the side of the dish. See Chef John, I was paying attention!
3. Bring water, vanilla bean and sugar to a boil.
4. Whisk egg whites with an electric mixer until soft peaks form.
5. Add in the sugar /water /vanilla liquid. Whisk again with a warm whisk until stiff peaks form.
6. Gently fold in passion fruit purée with a spatula.
7. Fill ramekins with the mixture and bake for 7-10 minutes based on your oven.
8. Remove gingerly from oven, carefully not to knock it against anything, and serve immediately.
9. Hear oooohs and ahhhhhs.
If you have a hankering for a soufflé and happen to in my hood, an old Paris institution aptly named Le Soufflé is serving them for starter, main course and dessert with delicacies such as asparagus soufflé, chicken soufflé, seafood soufflé and one of the most mindblowing desserts I've ever had, the Grand Marnier soufflé. The waiter sets it in front of you for a moment so you can inhale the orange aroma wafting upward before plunging his spoon in a few times and dousing it with Grand Marnier. Le Oooh. Le Ahhh. Le Purrr.
36, rue du Mont Thabor
75001 Paris, France
+33 1 42 60 27 19
(M) #1, #12, #8 Concorde