My two sons, both now grown, have always been souffle fans, especially if I made the dish. One could say that the younger's addiction was prenatally induced. About a week before he was born, his mother wakened me one 2 a.m. I asked if I could get anything.
"A chocolate souffle," she replied. I went downstairs and made one big enough for two or three. She ate it all.
In later years both sons often watched me in the kitchen, especially when I was making souffles, sauces and brioche. On one holilday visit after he had left home, Chris -- the older of the two -- shunned my invitation to have his last meal in a restaurant in favor of my making a souffle.
I buttered a souffle dish and took six large eggs from the refrigerator. Normally I'd have done the entire operation alone, but time was short, so my wife helped. She first grated about a quarter-pound of Swiss gruyere. Meanwhile, I made a medium white sauce with 3 tablespoons of butter, 3 tablespoons of flour, a dash whate pepper, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and a cup of milk. Then, off the stove after the sauce had thickened, I stirred in the cheese.
My wife separated the eggs, saving the yolk of one for some other use. I know that many if not most souffle recipes call for adding the egg yolks one at a time to the white sauce. But I've found that beating the yolks together, dribbling them slowly into the white sauce (which should have cooled by then) while whisking or stirring, is easier and produces fine results. In went the beaten yolks. Then I corrected the seasoning. Slightly more pepper.
I beat the egg whites until they formed stiff peaks that would stand. Copper or stainless steel bowls for beating whites are favored by many chefs, who shun glass bowls on the grounds that the glass is too slippery and thus won't prevent the whites from sliding to the bottom of the vessel. In my experience, though, glass or pottery bowls work just as well.
Make sure no bits of egg yolk get into the whites during the separating, for the yolk will prevent the whites from forming the minute bubbles that expand as the souffle bakes. Even the tiniest bits of oil or grease on the bowl, whip or beater will prevent the whites from rising, so be sure all the implements are perfectly clean.
The egg yolk problem when separating eggs is best solved by what I call the three-bowl method. Line up three small or medium bowls. Crack the shell of the egg on the rim of the first bowl, and separate white from yolk in classic manner over the bowl. If no yoke bits appear in the white, pour white into bowl two, and put the yolk into bowl three. If the yolk breaks and any particle gets into the white, set aside for another use. Continue with the remaining eggs. Thus you will be guaranteed yolk-free whites. I find it's imposible to get bits of yolk out of whites ready for beating.
Common practice is to use a rotary beater or a hand-held electric one. But almost three decades ago we invested in a KitchenAid mixer. I rate it one of the best pieces of kitchen equipment we own, expecially for making souffles: it whips egg whites into stand-up peaks in munutes. Then I turn the speed to mixing and folding, and slowly pour the basic mixture into the still whites. The machine does an excellent job of folding -- the whip-like attachment circulates through the bowl as it slowly folds the basic mixture into the egg whites.
The usual method of folding by hand is accomplished with a wide rubber spatula: put the basic mixture in a large bowl, add about a fourth of the whites, and gently lift the mixture to the top of the whites. Then add the rest of the whites and continue until all of the basic mixture is incorporated. rI know one skilled chef who insists that using his hands is to be preferred to a spatula. Whatever your folding technique, don't worry if some blobs of white remain unmixed. This is better than handling the whites excessively, decreasing their rising power by breaking up the tiny bubbles in the beaten whites.
Pour the mixture into a souffle dish and draw a circle around the outer edge of the surface with a finger or spatula. The area encircled will rise above the main part of the dish like a cap. Place the bowl in the center of an oven preheated to 375 degrees. Bake 25 minutes and take a look. If the souffle has not yet browned, give it another five minutes.
My souffle came off well, its center delightfully moist, and our son caught his plane well fed and on time.