p2: Fig Tart

The Sweet

fig tartThe use of Figs in French dessert has never been that mysterious, its origins being as simple as figuring out when the fruit originally moved into the country and/or, if indigenous, when people started eating them. As such I’ve found that the real story of the Fig Tart is not the story of the fig, oh no, but the story of the Baked Almond Cream, known as Frangipane, sitting beneath them.

Today, frangipane is a paste, typically made from ground almonds, butter, and sugar, very similar to the candy Marzipan (France really is well known for their almond candies… think I’m gonna be making one in the future), differentiating from it solely by its inclusion of eggs and, most importantly, the fact that it is used solely to fill pastries and tarts that are then baked. It wasn’t always like this, however; it’s spun from an interesting origin.

The base origin of the name is said to come from Italy in the 1500’s (or 1700’s, sources are debated) under the nobleman and perfumier (to King Louis XIII supposedly) Marquis Muzio Frangipani, who at the time had introduced and sold almond-scented gloves. This handwear was so popular that, and so delightful to the nose, that pastry chefs all around tried to capture the scent in various fillings for desserts, naming it thus frangipani.

By the mid 1700’s, France was using the term themselves to describe a very creamy, custard tart thus scented with almonds or pistachios. This became the set recipe for frangipane in the country until tastes and habits turned to a denser, stronger almond paste, likely around the time marzipan really came into popularity.

Whether the evolution was really this simple and sole-purposed is unclear; another explanation states it originally comes from Franchipane, meaning ‘coagulated milk’ and likely twisted slightly to offer its name to an 1844 French dictionary recipe/definition of Frangipan, an artificial milk made by mixing evaporated skimmed milk with sugar and almonds.

Taken separately, mixing together, or however these two supposed origins did it, they nonetheless lead to the baking almond paste as it is today. Used in the center of King’s Cake and tarts of Fig and stone fruit alike, these desserts revel in the beautifully fragrant, nutty flavors that is the almond.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

20140830_231545This session’s tart shell is one that I’ve wanted to try for a while, and will likely attempt again in the future for fun. The recipe is quite interesting, and practically the opposite of every pie dough one can imagine; instead of taking cold, cold chunks of butter and cutting it into the flour, one bakes the fat until bubbling (and lightly browned) and dumps the flour in. The process, especially the point about stirring until it pulls from the sides, almost reminds me of pate-a-choux (can’t wait to make those again btw). What’s extra nice is it doesn’t need rolling out, just pressed directly into one’s pan of choice and baked, yielding a product that seems to caramelize and crunch nicely when finished properly.

Speaking of pans, if one is able to, I almost require the use of an actual French tart pan; less so because it’s ‘proper’, but one needs that low, sharp lip that pie pans just don’t have, and especially since we need to be able to take the whole tart OUT of the pan once it’s cooled. This is why many a proper tart pan’s circular bottom is separate from the sides, allowing one to push up and remove the metal from around your baked masterpiece. Oh, and I’m sure those curvy-flowery-edges help the dough get crispier from more surface area or something.

IF you don’t have one, however, much like myself, I do believe there’s one good substitution: Cheesecake. Or, as they’re mainly known, Springform Pans, which can lock and detach their round sides from the bottom quite snugly. Sides go straight up too, everything is completely non-stick, so they make for a great near-perfect switch-out. The only think I’d say, other than maybe the metal doesn’t conduct as well as a classic tart pan would, is that you’ll want to wrap some foil around the bottom during cooking; some really thin liquids WILL still leak out (my figs started juicing the bottom of the oven while baking! Oops).

20140831_181942As for the figs themselves, not sure about you but I’ve found it’s always been a bitch to get some good ones here in the Midwest, and unless you live in a state much closer to their production I’m guessing it’ll be the same to you. We still get a lot of them in the right season, have walked in on figs in my co-op plenty of times, but finding a basket where almost none have brown spots, cuts, blemishes, big soft spots, etc… it’s rare when I find one. Thus one can see why I jumped at the chance to make the tart this weekend, luckily finding an ideal basket on a random store trip, and with friends in town!

Oh, which before I forget and get too wrapped up in my fig-bitching, Colored figs are the most ideal for this dish. Any purple, or ideally those ones that are purple on the lower half but sort of green on top (think it’s a French species), are what you wanna go for. ‘White’ and striped green figs taste beautiful and fresh, thus why I plated my Suzette with them, but they’re too delicate for baking purposes; why would you even want to? As for the Brown Turkish, that’s your call.

In conjunction with figs, Oranges will play an integral role in your final Tart. Tasting well together, and with almonds, I’ve found quite a few recipes, old and new, that have added a tablespoon of zest or a bit of juice into their frangipane or shell. This leads me to conclude that not only would it be alright to include the aromatic citrus in a classic rendition, it’d be almost a crime NOT to use it if one attempts making a properly traditional, French Fig Frangipane Tart (kept in small amounts of course).

20140831_091212When it comes to making the frangipane, one of the most essential things is the combining and integration of the butter and almond meal. This is done, very simply and easily, with a nicely powered food processor. Which immediately means I’m screwed, because the only one I have is tiny, and really doesn’t cut things up THAT well anyways. Great for small amounts, but I have to work with a lot of this stuff at the same time. So I have to stick with my electric mixer; because of that, I need to make sure my almond meal is as fine as I can make it, and hope things work. To do this, I have to toast and grind the almonds myself, using my coffee(which it’s never used for)/spice grinder, always a handy tool if you have one like it; only need to blitz it quickly before it tries to make Almond Butter. On that note, one could also just go to one of those Whole Foods or co-ops where you grind your own almond butter and just use THAT as your fine-meal substitution, if  you don’t mind the extra deeply cooked nutty flavors. But that’s just an idea, and again I always like making my own stuff purely from scratch if I can.

Almost forgot. The finer the sugar grains the better; had to use a bigger grain since it was the only thing I had other than powdered sugar (THAT is a no-no), attributed a bit of graininess though flavor was good.

My Thoughts

Normally I save this part until near the end, but the fact of the matter is that, as far as I am concerned, I ended up ‘failing’ with my attempt at this dish. The tart dough ended up notably drier than I wanted, despite my absolute following of the recipe I am convinced that they’ve included too much flour (or not enough butter) to reproduce the dough that the original article so researched/interviewed to get (I noticed pictures another post that had the same recipe looked similar to my much stiffer, not-so-tender clump of butter-flour). As such I’ve readjusted it below to suit what should create a more successful attempt.

Secondly, and most important, I over roasted my almonds. Well, that’s not to say I burned them, but when I read that the almonds should be toasted, I cooked them to the level that I always toast them. With that nice, even color of light brown throughout, getting a tasty and deep nutty flavor reminiscent of the candied nut bags one finds at the market. Alas, I have come to realize this particular predilection is a more American assumption, for to toast almonds in France (at least for marz/frangipane) must mean to do it to the absolute minimum, with no color change. My little paste thus ended up deep, deep brown in color, with a flavor not unlike Almond Butter (peanut butter’s cousin), and much denser than I assume the texture should be after baking.

20140831_191841I still went through with the whole thing, and all-together it made for a very delicious baked tart nonetheless; crumbly pie shell, rich nuttiness and baked fruit that when combined tasted like a refined PBnJ, with a delightfully sticky and tart glaze/sauce on top. But nonetheless, the end result is much different than it should have been.

Hopefully, I can attempt this again sometime in the future. And if ever I do, I’ll make sure to post the picture and results here to thus fix my error.

‘French’ Fig Tart
Pre-baked Tart Shell (recipe follows)
1 ½ cups or more (depending on preference) Frangipane (recipe follows)
1 dozen Purple Figs
Desired Glaze or Jam

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Pipe or spoon Frangipane into Tart Shell, spreading the surface out with spatula to create a smooth, even layer.20140831_182920
  3. Halve or quarter figs, as desired, and arrange on top in close-nit, attractive pattern, with seeds facing upwards. Press down to better nestle into the almond paste.
  4. Bake in oven, with aluminum foil under pan if using springform, around 30-40 minutes, until frangipane is set and figs have softened. Depending on desired finish, one may want to increase heat to 425 during last 10 minutes so as to bake and caramelize figs more thoroughly.20140831_191627
  5. Remove, moving to a cooling rack, carefully releasing the sides of the pan after a few minutes to leave bare.
  6. While this cools, head your Glaze/Jam in pan or microwave until thin, brushing an even, shiny coat over the top of your tart.20140831_194134
  7. Slice when reached the preferred temperature (hot or cold is still good), serve with any fresh fruit or ice cream.

Tart Shell
120 grams Butter
1 Tb Vegetable Oil
3 Tb Water
Tb Sugar
Tsp Salt
140 grams Flour

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 410F
  2. Place Butter, Oil, Water, Sugar and Salt in oven-proof bowl and ‘bake’ for around 20 minutes, until butter is bubbling and has started to brown on the sides20140830_234213
  3. Quickly remove and dump in your Flour, stirring until it’s incorporated and pulls from the side of the pan.20140830_234755
  4. Plop into the center of your pan, pressing with spatula to start spreading it out.20140830_234946
  5. When it’s cool enough to handle easily, press dough with palm and knuckles to cover the bottom and sides of the pan in a thin, even layer.20140831_000833
  6. Prick thoroughly with fork and transfer to oven. Bake around 10-12 minutes, until dough is golden brown (as evenly as one can get it without any burning).20140831_001956
  7. Remove and leave on counter to cool. Cover with plastic, reserving on side until ready to use.

Almond Frangipane
325 grams Whole Almonds, Raw
125 grams Butter, softened
150 grams Sugar
1 Tb Flour
2 Eggs
Tsp Salt
1-2 tsp Orange Zest
1-2 Tb Grand Marnier

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400F20140830_231531
  2. Spread Almond on baking sheet and Lightly Toast in oven, 5-8 minutes at most
  3. Remove, let cool20140831_091431
  4. Pulse in food processor, or in spice grinder in small batches, until almonds are turned into a fine meal or, ideally,  powder20140831_104519
  5. Seperately, cream Butter and Sugar and Salt in processor or in bowl with electric mixer until fluffy.20140831_104602
  6. Slowly add in the almond meal and Flour, a bit at a time, mixing on high speed to full blend and break the two substances together into a smoth paste.20140831_104816
  7. Mix in eggs.
  8. Fold in Orange Zest and/or Grand Marnier once paste is fully homogenized.20140831_105719
  9. Transfer to bag or other container, leave in fridge until half an hour or so before use, letting it come to room temperature to handle.

Possible Pairings

20140831_193916Before I get into general matches, I actually happen to own a bottle of an Italian Biscotti-flavored Liqueur which ended up absolutely delicious with figs and almonds; even better since the heavy toasted-nut notes of MY creation mirrored the biscuitty-flavors of the cookie drink. Bits of orange flavor as well go along with the same orange aromas mixed into the almonds, and hints of fennel/aniseed and other spices used to recreate the typical biscotti flavors perfume beautifully alongside the delicate figs. It also ended up as a fun tie-in to the notable Italian origins. Great to chill and drink right next to it, or pour it on top of the slice.

Following the liqueur train of thought, Amarretto is an obvious choice to gently lift and undertone the crunchy tart. Whereas an orange-based liqueur, preferably something bright and fresh like Orangecellos, or Honey Liqueur can bring out the fresh figgy flavors out more.

A simple thought to finish this up quickly: Sherry, say a Manzanilla (lighter variety) if made properly, or an Amontillado (darker, oxidized variety) if encountering overcooked almonds like thus. The pleasantly strong nut aromatics blend into the food well, the dish is nicely refreshing, and the dry salty components could be a fun contrast with the sweetness, keeping it away from a too-sweet finish like a liqueur might do.sherry

p1, Pissaladiere

enhanced-buzz-29835-1385791378-15The Dish

This particular little flatbread comes from Provence, along the southern coast, in particular focused in the town of Nice. Though I’m not quite sure why or how its regional identity gravitated to that specific city, Pisssaladiere’s origins are not surprisingly shared with the close neighbor of Italia. Supposedly the “day of creation,” much like with Ceasar and his Coq au Vin (just switch the countries), a French Pope named Clement (those who’ve studied Chateneauf du Pape are familiar with him) travelled to Rome for business (his Chateau and office were still in France), upon which the local cooks had to scramble to make something with the new ingredients he had brought over. After taking some salted fish that was brought over, they turned it into a paste and spread it over a local flatbread, likely foccacia, finishing with cooked onions and sliced olives (local or French is unsure, likely local). The new dish was a hit, and the rest is history, with families making versions of the dish on both sides of the border. Nowadays, at least in France, the anchovies are used whole, often criss-crossed like one of our own pies, instead of sauced on.

What I find most interesting, and amusing, is the name. One’s first thought when reading it, and seeing the thin flatbread-with-toppings, is its obvious connection to “pizza.” Which, apparently, there is none. Absolutely none. I know right? I mean it’s got it in the name, just s instead of z.

Well, the name actually comes from the Latin (once more some Italian origins, and yet still no technical relation to pizza evolution) pissalat, “salted fish,” as well as pissala which is similarly “salted fish/anchovy paste.” And though the true origins of the term “pizza” is in debate, there being multiple words that it’s thought to evolve from, my research has turned up that not ONE of the theories links to Pissaladiere. So I guess we’ll just have to settle with a boring, non-pizza related French history of a salty flatbread that technically originated in Italy.

A Word On…

20140625_155844Anchovies:It’s not much of an anchovy dish unless one can find the GOOD anchovies. Though I can’t say much for ordering specialty French-caught and hand-preserved fishies, I know any decent quality store or market (Italian ones too) should stock some good options. Got this little jar at my local seafood place, and god they were delicious; the ‘chovies were HUGE, and actually sorta thick (not those steamrolled strips of salty paper) and meaty… so good. Did NOT get as much from the container as I thought, though, so the resulting pie was a bit lacking in toppings. Which is fine, the flavor’s quite noticeable.

Olives:I just love a good, tasty, cured olive. Whenever I find myself in a certain Italian shop, sooner or later my mouth ends up hanging over the giant buckets filled with the whole fruit in their oil/brine to sample. So when I was at a local wine and cheese shop, and saw similar quality Italian Green olives in their case, I couldn’t help buying some ahead of time for the unique dish I knew I was soon to create.

Then I actually did some research and found out that pissaladiere usually uses Black French Olives… oops. Probably could have found some too, or at least a better substitute. Oh well, at the end of the day, as far as I care with any olive dish, all one needs is a delicious, good quality variety that you love. Pretty easy to find, just don’t do it from those long buffet-trays in the nearby supermarket.

20140625_163101If you’re not familiar with preparing un-seeded olives, it’s easy, but depends on how attached the seed is to the flesh. Usually it’s pretty simple to smash them under the flat of your knife and pop one out, then cut your thick, not-so-perfect rings. Some will NOT cooperate, so you will have to cut around.2014-05-08 18.45.39-2

Onions:Looking through recipes, I’ve seen two main ways to cook the onions (white or yellow), without any real highlight on which is properly classic. There’s sautéing with herbs and garlic until soft, then getting those edges nice and golden; and then there’s just caramelizing it to the max. Due to my unsurety, and the ability to work with a whole round, I thought I’d just go ahead and do a half-and-half, see what I prefer. I mean all I needed to do was separate half the onions partway through cooking; capers, instead of heating through like the soft onions, should just be sprinkled on top of the caramelized before cooking.

Dough:Like the Flammekeuche, most recipes out there focus on some form of bread dough as the base. It’s not the only kind used though; quite a few sources list this dish as made with either Bread or Shortcrust dough (basically pie dough). In fact, when debating which style I should use, I ran across an article mentioning the commonality between French and Italian pissaladiere. Seems the only difference seen between the two, other than potential inclusions of red veggies across the border, is the French’s use of Shortcrust. Thus my decision was made; though the origins of any topping’d flatbread would begin with simple bread dough, the shortcrust makes a fun differentiation that’s still classic with the culinary interests and trends of the last couple centuries. If you want to go with a bread dough, then I suggest any decent looking recipe that uses olive oil (yeasted or not, it seems to be the one commonality).

Pissaladiere
1 Stick/4oz Butter, chilled
7oz Flour
1 Egg, Beaten
1 Tb Water and/or Anchovy liquid
3-4 Yellow Onions
1 Tb Olive Oil
1-2 Bay Leaves
Thyme Sprig
3 Cloves Garlic, chopped fine
1 Tb Capers
3-4 oz Quality Olives
1 Jar/Tin Anchovies, however much needed/desired
Black Pepper

Directions

  1. To make the dough, chop the cold dough small and rub, with fingertips, into the flour until mostly “cornmeal” texture, leaving some larger lumps for flake purposes (can also do this in a food processor).20140625_155858
  2. Mix in enough of the Egg, Water, and Anchovy Oil/Liquid to bind everything together. Reserve remaining egg to the side.20140625_160347
  3. Press into a firm, flat round, chill in fridge for at least an hour.20140625_160921
  4. While this is cooling, chop onions into the desired size (I like large chunks, thin slices cook up very well though).20140625_161049
  5. Heat a pan up to Med/Med-High heat, while at the same time preheating the oven to 400F, with baking stone.20140625_162331
  6. Add Olive Oil, Onions, Bay Leaves, and Thyme, cooking until soft, 5-8 minutes depending.20140625_162555
  7. Add in Garlic and continue cooking until edges are nicely golden and caramelized. Chop capers fine, mix in, and continue to cook about 2 minutes more or until flavor is well incorporated. Turn off and let chill.20140625_163937
  8. Prep other ingredients, slicing Olives as needed and draining Anchovy Filets on paper towels.20140625_163525
  9. Remove Shortcrust dough from fridge, transfer to floured countertop, and roll to ¼” thickness. Trim to a large rectangle or circle, rolling up the edges to form a rim (one could also roll the leftover dough into thin strips and attach).20140625_172759
  10. Move to a well floured and cornmealed paddle/baking sheet to start filling.20140625_174306
  11. Fill the bottom with a thick layer of the soft onions (herb stalks removed), sprinkling the desired amount/concentration of olives on top. Arrange anchovies over in a cross-hatch pattern.20140625_182350
  12. Wash the edges with the remaining egg and transfer to baking stone in oven, cook 20-30 minutes, until lightly browned and crust is set and flaky.20140625_182428
  13. Remove, let cool a couple minutes, slice and enjoy.

The Verdict

I can’t say I was able to reach the ideal of what this dish should be, I mean obviously I needed WAY more anchovies (I swear it looked like there was a lot more in that jar), but the elements were still very satisfactory. I officially prefer the golden, not-completely-caramelized onion base in terms of bringing that overall Provencal flavor; plus it’s still soft without hiding the beautiful onion flavors under pure caramel. The nice, pickled and salty garnishes come out even more and make for a nice appetizer, particular with that super-flaky pie crust base. Speaking of which, I wonder if the result I got was still “traditional;” if anything I feel like I wanna go for dough more reminiscent of what’s used in many of the dessert Tartes, crispy and semi-flaky but nice and firm. If I have any leftover from one of the desserts I am sure to make in the future, I might go ahead and use it to make another pissaladiere. Because it’s delicious.

20140625_181648Primary Pairing – Muscadet a Sevre et Maine

If I were to pair this dish Regionally, I might have gone with something like a Rose, as Buzzfeed well suggests, or potentially find a random white wine from the oft-unseen, not-well-known little regions that rarely meet our market to much acclaim. But I only have one rose at the moment, which I already have a specific dish in mind for, and the latter would be a giant pain to research, and even then I wouldn’t have enough confidence in my palette expectations of these wines which I’ve had no experience with.

Besides, at the end of the day I found myself craving a certain little region on the western coast of the Loire River known as Muscadet. Using the Melon de Bourgogne grape, the wines of this region are known for a particularly unique identity, especially those of the Sevre et Maine AOC. Made near the sea, using a method known as “sur lie” where the wine is allowed to rest on the settled yeasts and other particulates, it develops trace amounts of both salty and yeasty notes, along with an almost imperceptible fizz or effervescence; aspects which make it great to match the briny anchovy-olive pizza and buttery pie crust. Followed with a light body and refreshingly crisp acidity, a good Muscadet would be able to stand through any hints of richness and pungently preserved flavors without overpowering, a perfect aperitif choice.

20140625_181344My Bottle: 2012 Selection des Cognettes Muscadet S-et-M, Sur Lie

Always a great, readily available and affordable bottle from this region, the Cognette vineyard is able to keep flavors clean, with nice notes of elderflower and pears alongside the typical yeastiness, without getting too much of that “fatty” skin feeling I find in most low-end white wines (it’s hard to describe really). Made for a nummy accompaniment to the flaky tartlette. I coulda sworn I took a picture of the glass with the sliced triangles of the pissaladiere too, but somehow it’s disappeared…

Secondary Pairing – Fino/Manzanilla Sherry

What better drink to pair with a light, super salty, coastal dish made in a hot southern region than a Fino Sherry, made in the white albariza hills of Southwest Spain, the sea breezes wafting over the stockpiles of sherry casks in the giant Solera system. Such versatile fortified wines they produce, and the completely uncolored, notably salty and acetaldehyde notes (unique yeasty, nutty, creamy notes subject almost solely to Flor-affected products, like sherry) go amazingly with a myriad of dishes, especially this anchovy-laden tarte. The body may be a bit high, but its acidity and pure, clean flavors can cut through to make one reminisce of a lighter experience. Taken in sips, like a fine brandy, a chilled Fino or Manzanilla mixes with Pissaladiere to make a stimulating start to any day of leisure.220px-CatavinoEnMano

p2: Souffle

Okay, how the heck is it that out of 44 different classic French desserts they could have chosen (3 of which are all some form of profiterole, 5 or more are different Tarts, and 2 of those tarts are some kinda plum), there’s not a single damn Soufflé!? Oh, well I guess they already have a souffle in the savory side… but wait, they also have a Savory Crepe paired with a Crepe Suzette, so that logic is thrown out the window! Well I say screw them, I’m changing it! This is now the “French 45,” and we shall have Soufflé!!imagesN8HN2EYL

The Sweet

The development of soufflé is likely long-lived but shortly-documented, its transition from fried egg to pastry most likely kicking off in Medieval Times, when Whisked Egg Whites started being incorporated into a variety of dishes. Though it wasn’t until the development of Meringue techniques in the 1600’s that the true potential in soufflé could be seen, but not yet realized.

Finally, new Ovens, heated by air drafts instead of coal, made their appearance in the early 1800’s, flagging in the first “true” soufflés (certain chefs such as Beauvilliers and Louis Ude had supposedly made very similar kinds of pastries less than 20-40 years prior, but they would be either unpublished or labeled), providing an even temperature for the pastry to cook properly. The first to make notable use and publication of the technique, and thus credited with its creation, is a certain Antoine Careme, the King of Chefs and the Chef of Kings, aka one of our personal Gods in the Kitchen. There’s much I could go into recounting about Careme, but that’s a post in and of itself.

untitledBesides perfecting the recipe, which he soon used to make hundreds more including the grand and famous Soufflé Rothschild (made with gold flecked liqueur-macerated-crystallized fruit), he also provided the inspiration for traditional Straight-sided cooking dish, using a similarly shaped Stiff Pastry Casing (as many oven-cooked things at the time were cooked in barely edible breads, pastries, and other handmade pots, it’s actually quite an interesting talking point, especially “chicken pot pie”).

And from there it’s history. Long years of refining old recipes and experimenting with new has lead to soufflés both precise and imaginative, along with a strong guidebook and understanding of the true “dos and don’ts,” and what we can get away with. There is of course much more to say about this and the soufflé’s history, of course, but I gotta save some material for the Cheese Soufflé whenever I get to it.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

Here’s the thing about soufflé: it’s a lot easier than people think it is. It’s not this super-long, extensive recipe based off exact measurements, extremely delicate poofy little pastry that’ll break at the slightest vibration. In fact, this weird little cliché of soufflés deflating for who knows what unseen force is just plain weird and unfounded. Any simply, properly made soufflé is very durable and stuSAMSUNGbborn; it’ll of course “shrink” a bit after it’s taken out of the oven (as it’s the warm air that causes it to rise up, so it’ll of course shrink down as it cools). But unless you actually stab it while cooking, its stability is guaranteed.

And it’s all based off of only Two components: Whipped Egg Whites, and a Flavorful Base/Batter. That’s it.

Again, simple. Before cooking, whip your egg whites to a very firm “stiff peak” stage; when you pull the mixer from the whites, there will be little horns that stand straight up when turned upside down (and stay that way if you tap it). You can use this as-is, or sometimes I’ll add in a small amount of sugar around “soft peak” stage and re-whip it to stiff peaks, sorta making a “light meringue” for a bit of stability (and it can make a fun crusty bake). Fold this into the base until it looks like foamy mousse batter thing, you be the judge of what looks right, and that’s it.

Of course, that’s not where people usually have issue grasping the concept, is it? Probably most of the caution and uncertainty comes through making this actual base, how to get in that flavor you want. What recipe do I use, what proportions of individual ingredients do I need to make sure it rises properly?

Well STOP. None of that stuff matters. The only things you need to know for making your base is that A: it’s Intensely Flavorful, and B: getting the right thickness is important. That’s it, it should be strong and distinct enough to survive the “thinning” of all the egg whites we fold in, much like when you make a mousse (which is basically what soufflé is, a baked mousse). And I like to think it should be somewhere in the range of “pan/cake batter” consistency, so long as its thick enough to hold flavor and stability, but thin enough “flow” and ribbon easily when lifting a spoon. There’s of course a general range here, it doesn’t have to be exact; can have something a little loose or a little thick. We just don’t want a firm, thick, cement batter that you can’t even fold egg whites in or a barely watery one where the foam will dissolve.

Now all you have to do is pick your flavor and find a simple way to make it taste good. Vanilla Soufflés are basically just made with Pastry Cream or a thick Anglaise; a Chocolate often made by melting the delicious goodies with a bit of milk and adding it to some egg yolks, sugar, and flour (similar to lava cake batter). If you wanted a Citrus soufflé, just make a Curd (lemon, lime, blood orange, whatever); Fruits you can just puree whole, maybe mix it with something (very classic recipes have you adding sieved fruit to sugar cooked to the “hard crack” stage). I’ve even read an article about a chef who just ignores any fats (egg, milk, whatever) and just thickens Juices and Flavored Water with Corn Starch.

There’s no real rules so long as it’s, again, flavorful and has a good, foldable thickness. Of course many chefs try and dissuade from the use of Fats (as just stated); which I do agree with, and I usually try and use only a little of those, the idea being that the fat will slide between the delicate network of the long protein strands in the whipped whites, thus taking it apart. But I just love the richness it’s able to add, along with the ability to make an ideal “batter” simply (most of the things I mentioned earlier are basic custards or cake batters), and so far hasn’t actually affected the soufflés I’ve made to any noticeable degree. Besides, the very classic soufflés are basically egg whites folded with the yolks, only flavored.

Just don’t use Butter. For the love of god, NO BUTTER; you’ll have enough on the baking dish as is. You can stick with milk and yolks, they’re a little more of an indirect lipid source. You’ll have enough on the baking dish as is.

Now we just have to fold in the egg whites. You can do this with the batter at room temp, or some recipes do it soon after MAKING a Hot base; though I don’t like the idea of folding egg whites into something HOT (too much risk for destroying the delicate air bubbles), having it “warm” wouldn’t be an issue, and can help in the rising qualities. Just don’t use the batter while cold, it will weigh things down (in a sense).

As far as cooking vessel goes, any bakeproof ceramic/porcelain/whatever (NON-METAL) thing works. Little ramekins are classic, or you could use a casserole (I saw Jacques Pepin make one in a long rectangle one). All it has to be is WELL BUTTERED, very thoroughly; get the rim too. After which, you can choose whether or not you want to “dust it with sugar,” giving a fine coating on the bottom and sides. People say this “helps it climb,” but really it’s just to get a little crunchy coating around the sides.

Oh, and fill it to or very near the top; there’s no reason to leave room for overflow, we want to give our soufflés the best chance to grow Straight Up. Actually, one of the ways toSAMSUNG help this, so it doesn’t sort of mushroom out over the sides, is to wrap a chimney of parchment paper around the dish.

Final thing, concerning cooking temperatures and time. Usually sticking to 350-375 is a good bet, I’m liking this one thing I’ve found of starting the oven at 425 and turning it down to 375 as soon as the soufflé goes in. Of course smaller ramekins will cook faster than the large ones; about 12-15 minutes, with 25-30-ish for large casseroles. Feel free to open the oven and give the dish a little prod to see if it’s set or jiggles; again, they’re sturdier than what we’ve been told.

Quite a lot of recipes also have one cooking it in a hot water bath, like custards… which I just don’t like. There doesn’t seem to be a NEED for it, and it just prevents it from any chance of getting a nice little texture on the crust.

There we go, Soufflé. With all I wrote you’d think it was difficult (I know, I tend to ramble incoherently and ongoing at times, my apologies), but if you look at the individual points made I promise it’ll now look a lot more approachable than it did before. So let’s bake one shall we!?

Banana Soufflé
2-3 Egg Yolks
2 Tb Flour
1 Tb Salt
1 Tb AllspiceSAMSUNG
1 tsp Cinnamon
2-3 Tb Sugar, plus extra
½ cup Brown Sugar
1/3 cup Rum
1-2 Overripe Bananas (depending on size)
5-6 Egg Whites
Butter, as needed

Directions

  1. Thoroughly whisk egg Yolks, Salt, Flour, Spices, 2 Tb of Sugar and Half of the Brown Sugar until pale and fluffy.SAMSUNG
  2. Move rest of brown sugar into sauce pan with Rum, heating to a simmer until melted. Remove to let cool.SAMSUNG
  3. Mash Bananas, whisk into Yolk along with the cooled rum syrup. Taste and adjust alongside consistency with extra flour, sugar, rum, banana, or whatever desired/needed. Reserve until ready to bake.SAMSUNG
  4. Heat oven to 425F.SAMSUNG
  5. Take Ramekin/Casserole dish, thoroughly rub Butter into bottom, sides, corners, rim, etc (I suggest twice). Sprinkle with leftover Tb of sugar, shaking and turning around to evenly coat the bottom and sides.SAMSUNG
  6. In Stand or Hand mixer, whip egg whites to Stiff Peaks. If desired, sprinkle and mix in a couple Tb of sugar on low speed, turning back to high to re-whip towards stiff peak stage.
  7. Gently fold the beaten whites into your banana base, 1/3 of the eggs at a time.SAMSUNG
  8. Quickly transfer to your cooking dishes, filling to or as near to the top as possible.SAMSUNG
  9. Move to oven, immediately turning the temperature down to 375F. Cook until Browned, lightly Crispy, fully Risen and the center is Set, about 25-30 minutes for larger casseroles and 10-14 for small ramekins.SAMSUNG
  10. Serve immediately alongside Rum Sabayon and Banana Ice Cream.

My Thoughts

So easy, so delicious, I really love making these soufflés. I don’t think the one I made turned out perfect, but that’s fine, it’s an easy fix. Which is another great factor to making this classic dessert: when something goes wrong, you know exactly how to fix it (and in an easy way), which is more than what we can say for other baked goods.

If it’s dense and doesn’t rise, you need more egg whites/a thinner batter; if it’s too big and delicate, less; spongy and shrunk, overcooked; still batter-y inside, cook more next time; if it doesn’t rise straight and “tents” instead, more butter on the sides (I think I needed some on the rim); if it seems too moist and tender (hard to describe what I mean, but you’ll know), reduce the liquids in the base, and so on and so forth.

I still have yet to “know” what the proper and classic soufflé is supposed to be like structurally; is it supposed to be cake-like, really moist, egg-white-y… there’s been a lot of results from different recipes I’ve tried out. But as long as it tastes damn good, and hits that comfort spot in your soul, and looks pretty, that’s all that matters.

Which certainly happened with the Banana. It was like everything right with banana bread, and custard, and warm cake… all together. Actually, with the Sabayon and Banana Ice Cream (super easy and tasty, just blend frozen bananas), it sorta reminded me of reconstructed Bananas Foster. Just needed some sea-salt caramel and a crunchy topping to complete the idea.

Despite the various rambles and unclear conjectures, I do hope this post may help encourage a few people to try making their own soufflé. If you do, you’ll have to tell me the results!

Possible Pairings

It all depends on what kind of soufflé you’re making, but a good “general” choice is Moscato d’Asti, or a Sparkling Demi-sec. Moscato is great with different chocolate dishes, is light in body to not override, and of course why not have bubbly with this air-pocketed pastry?

untitledAs far as my Banana one, I’m sort of craving something with botrytis, but I don’t want that thick, heavy syrup that a Sauternes can get. One of the simpler, more affordable St. Croix-du-Mont or Loupiac would be great (two regions near the legendary Sancerre, same style but less concentration), maybe a Coteaux du Layon from Loire, so long as one of them has Botrytis.

Though I don’t consider them on a regular basis, if you can find a dessert wine made from Chardonnay, that would probably be a good drink with the banana. Again just avoid anything heavy. Oh, maybe a Vidal Ice Wine would be good.Amontillado-sherry-287x300

A tasty, lighter sweet Rum to pair with the tropical fruit, brown sugary-ness, and of course the Rum Sabayon. Ties into the idea of bananas foster better too.

And in the world of fortifieds, I could totally go for a sweetened Amontillado Cream Sherry, so long as it’s made well. I do love a good sherry, and rarely do the cheaper sweet stuff, but this could work. Port wouldn’t really work, except maybe a “White Port.”