With our Wake & Bake crew down a writer one early Sunday (we missed you, Storie!), we're lucky our talented friend Kim Nall was able to rise to the occasion...much like the soufflés she suggested we tackle! What happened in the oven that day was a delight to behold and even better to eat and share with our friends. -cm
I have a confession to make. I am afraid of pastry. Not of eating it, lord knows, but of all the highly specific, anal-retentive, check-your-mise-three-times-before-you-preheat-the-oven machinations of it all. Perhaps it is less that I am afraid of pastry, then, and more that I don’t trust myself to make it. I am no chef, but an insatiably curious palate combined with a decent gas range and a limited budget have made me a perfectly serviceable home cook. With a little research and the occasional trip to the kitchen supply store, I am capable of producing at least a basic version of just about anything I can dream up...
...until it’s time for dessert.
Consider the ideal pastry chef: patient, meticulous, fastidiously prepared, cool-headed...I, on the other hand, have such rampant ADHD that I once put a soufflé in the oven, went outside to do yard work, and forgot about it. While I respect the delicate, beautiful works of art that inspired confectioners can produce, or the poetry of a properly-executed popover, I have long been resigned that I possess none of the skills required to practice this craft.
When Caitlin and courtney marie invited me to be this week’s guest writer for Wake & Bake, they prompted me with the question “What is something you’ve always wanted to bake but have been afraid to try?” To me, the answer was obvious: let’s go back to that lonely, forgotten soufflé in the oven. It’s time to face my fear of pastry head-on.
I can think of no more suitable guide for this heroic journey than Julia Child, the patron saint of self-taught cooks. Armed with Caitlin’s well-loved copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking (and Caitlin’s formidable expertise and discipline in the kitchen), we were ready to slay the soufflé.
But how would we know if we had succeeded? Neither myself or the other W&B gals had ever had a true soufflé before! Luckily, there was a whole crew on the set that day for Spiderweb Salon's monthly Songwriting Scholarship session, including super-talented singer-songwriter (and former soufflé shop employee!) Megan Storie, who we recruited to be the ultimate taste-tester. Among the crowd of hungry friends that day were also our Shiny Sound Recording Studio buddies (Corbin, Jacob, and Conor), Spiderweb photographer Leah Jones, and Spiderweb producer Frank Darko. We had a lot of mouths to feed, and only one chance to get it right!
In order to experience the full breadth of what this complicated and elusive dish has to offer, we decided to attempt both the savory and the sweet varieties. We started with Julia’s cheese soufflé recipe. It seemed manageable enough: start with a béchamel, add goat cheese and egg yolks, fold in egg whites, pour into ramekins, and bake at 375 for 20 minutes…
Y’all, it was a good thing Caitlin was spearheading this operation. I have never folded an egg white, nor did I know before this experiment what a stiff peak even looked like. Despite Julia Child’s extremely detailed instructions (“Once stiff peaks are achieved, immediately stir a spoonful into the sauce”, etc.), I would have been crying in a puddle of egg yolks on the kitchen floor if left to my own devices.
Julia Child’s recipe says the cheese should be added when incorporating the first spoonful of egg whites, but we decided we would rather add it to the bechamel before the eggs to create a smooth, melted base. Her recipe also calls for the ramekins to be sprinkled with fresh parmesan, but we had some rosemary manchego on hand, so we used that instead. Lo and behold, even in baking there is room for bending the rules.
A true artist, Julia is very specific about the signs that a soufflé has become a finished masterpiece. “Do not open the oven door for 20 minutes”, she writes. “In 25-30 minutes the soufflé will have puffed up over the rim and the top will be browned. Bake for 3-5 minutes more to firm it up, then serve at once.” Then, in what is probably my favorite line she has ever written: “As it cools, it begins to sink. Therefore, there should be no lingering when a soufflé is to be eaten.”
You've got it, Julia: once they were out of the oven, everyone was recruited to the kitchen and given a spoon! I’m proud to say that the savory soufflés we produced were nothing less than fluffy slices of heaven. Not satisfied with perfection, we moved on to dessert.
The chocolate soufflés seemed easy by comparison. Same principle, different ingredients (creme base instead of béchamel, chopped dark chocolate, vanilla, cream of tartar, etc.) They were cooked just a little longer, and were absolutely delicious.
Get the chocolate version of our soufflé day recipe here!
Turns out, the scariest thing I could think of to make wasn’t that scary at all… as long as Caitlin was making it. Would I ever make a soufflé again without a gun to my head? Probably not. Do I regret the journey? Definitely not!
All kidding aside, I’m proud of our lovely, Megan-approved soufflés, and thrilled that so many of our friends were able to partake of the incredible bounty. Moral(s) of the story: 1) sometimes it’s nice to feel fancy, 2) Caitlin is an excellent pastry chef, 3) and the family that soufflés together, stays together.
Written by Kim Nall, edited by courtney marie. Photos taken/edited by Leah Jones and/or Frank Darko unless otherwise noted!