I have to override my statement about celebrating New Year two times a year in one of the previous posts: Chinese New Year actually makes it three.

Remember last year’s Mei-Mei’s Rice Cake Rolls with Toasted Pine Nuts? Perfectly traditional, they embodied my friend’s cultural and culinary traditions.

This year’s celebration had a sophisticated French undertone.  Mei had been hinting around for an orange soufflé for a while. And I saw no better time to surprise her with a ramekin or two than Chinese New Year that fell on early February and hit the midst of the citrus season.

souffles

My initial impulse was to go pick my own oranges because I am a strong believer in my own adage “Fresh does it”. But due to a lack of u-pick citrus groves in my locale, I had to divert my good intentions to a neighborhood Publix. Navels, in particular, looked plump and shiny, smelt pungent, and felt heavy.

So I went with them.

Having never made a soufflé before, I was both intimidated and intrigued by its reputation of a technical peeve. You know, cooking up the custard so it’s just right and doesn’t turn to soup as it cools, whipping up egg whites until stiff peaks form into some sort of a fluffy meringue(?), folding the two together with as little loss of air from the meringue as possible and, naturally, checking the soufflés for doneness without opening the oven door lest they collapse.

I wasn’t even sure if I’d ever separated egg whites from egg yolks before.

how to separate eggsbeating egg whites into a meringue

 

stiff peaks

Excuse my boasting, everyone, but I glided through the whole cooking process thanks to the Feb/Mar 2013 issue of Fine Cooking that contained a step-by-step guide to mastering this temperamental dessert.

The feature was timely indeed!

I successfully tweaked the magazine’s recipe for lemon soufflés by simply substituting lemon juice with orange, slashing the amount of sugar in half, and increasing the orange zest by a quarter of a tablespoon. I wanted mine to have a bite.

The soufflés delivered a fantastic flavor and a superb texture—a silky, moist, air-like delicacy permeated with a citrusy brightness that I laced with the best chocolate sauce by master chocolatier David Lebovitz. Simply outstanding.

bitter sweet chocolate

I thought the bite needed to have been a tad more developed. Next time I would whisk a teaspoon or two of orange liquor into the custard once it’s cooked.

bitter sweet chocolate

citrus season

My soufflés also delivered a very realistic presentation. Within 10 minutes after they’d emerged out of the oven, they went from rising above the sides of their ramekins by about an inch and a half down to on a par. Flat as a valley they got, to be honest.

orange custard

From raised to flat to sunken, these souffles are delish in any shape or form!

Google-s out, they are supposed to collapse as the steam inside begins to cool, and that only happens once they are out of the oven.

You knew, didn’t you? I didn’t! So I took my sweet, success-went-to-my-head time sizing up in awe those miraculous mounts of baked-up air as they rested perched on the rims of their ramekins.

Had they collapsed in the oven, I would know that something went terribly and irreparably wrong during the copious and complex prep stages. Or maybe I just looked wrong at them through the oven glass window as they baked!

As a deduction, bring your soufflés to the table as soon as they come out of the oven.

It is all about the timing. The aesthetics. The wow factor.

the art of making a souffle

But who’s going to eat a scorching dessert? Really.

 

 

Recipe for Orange Soufflés, adapted from Feb/March 2013 issue of Fine Cooking

 

Ingredients:

 

For the ramekins:

1. 2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2. 3 to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar

 

For the orange pastry cream:

1. 4 large egg yolks

2. 1 cup whole milk

3. 1/3 granulated sugar

4. 3 tablespoons cornstarch

5. 1 ¼ tablespoons finely grated orange zest

6. ½ cup strained orange juice

7. ¼ teaspoon table salt

8. 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

9. 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

 

For the meringue:

1. 8 large egg whites, at room temperature

2. ½ teaspoon cream of tartar

3. ¼ cup confectioner’s sugar

 

Directions:

1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and heat the oven to 375F.

2. Generously butter 5 six-ounce ramekins. Coat the insides with sugar, tapping out any excess.

3. In a 3-quart heavy-duty saucepan, whisk together the egg yolks, milk, sugar, cornstarch, orange zest and juice, and salt.

4. Over medium heat, cook the pastry cream until the mixture bubbles, about 4 minutes; it’s okay if it’s lumpy at this point. Continue simmering while whisking until smooth and very thick, about 2 minutes more.

5. Remove from the heat and whisk in vanilla and butter.

6. Transfer to a large bowl set in a large bowl of ice water and whisk often until cooled to room temperature, about 10 minutes.

7. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl, using s hand-held electric mixer), beat the egg whites on high speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. With the motor running, add the cream of tartar and continue beating until the bubbles become smaller and the whites almost form soft peaks, 30 to 60 seconds more. With the motor still running, add the confectioner’s sugar 1 tablespoon at a time and beat until the whites hold a glossy, pointed, stiff peak when you remove the beater, about 30 seconds more. If the peak droops, finish whisking them to stiff peaks by hand to avoid overbeating.

8. Stir the pastry cream with a large silicone spatula to loosen it, then stir in a third of the meringue until combined. Gently fold in another third of the meringue by starting at the edge of the bowl and slowly bringing the spatula up through the middle of the pastry cream and then back to the edge of the bowl, rotating the bowl and repeating this motion until the meringue is mostly incorporated. It’s okay if there are a few white streaks at this point. Add the remaining meringue and fold until just combined, leaving no white streaks visible.

9. Divide the soufflé mixture evenly among the prepared ramekins and smooth the tops with an offset spatula. Run your index finger around the edges of the ramekins to create a shallow trench.

10. Put the ramekins on a large rimmed baking sheet and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of a soufflé comes out with just the tip still wet, 15 to 20 minutes.

11. Serve immediately with a sauce, if using.

 

 

 

Notes:

1. When separating the whites from the yolks, be meticulous, as any fat from the yolks will cause airy beaten egg whites to deflate.

To separate the eggs, use the hand method: Crack an egg, and pass the yolk back and forth between the broken shells, releasing the white into a cup. Then transfer the white to a bowl. Dropping the white of each egg into a cup before adding it to the bowl with the other whites will prevent you from losing the whole batch if you make a mistake.

Or, working over a bowl, crack the egg into your hand with fingers spread slightly. The egg white will drip through your fingers into the bowl.