is a soufflé a delightful indulgence?

or just a heartbreaking pain in the ass?

Most days I am fairly grounded. I value humor, intellect and honesty over glitz and glam, but I can also be a dreamer and a romantic. And do I love to treat myself every now and then. After all, I have both a favorite spatula and a favorite caviar spoon. And while I drive a 2019 Honda Civic, a ridiculously sensible ride, I named her Little Ms. Badness because she is sleek and turbo-charged with a thin black pinstripe just edgy enough to satisfy my semi-secret desire for speed and style.

Admittedly, sometimes I crave a little luxury, like a bottle of exquisite wine, a perfect sushi platter, a flawless filet or maybe the power and panache of an exotic Italian performance car. But in this life I drive a reliable Honda, so I channel my fearless bon vivant in the kitchen rather than behind the wheel.

I led with all that because this weekend I dared to step out of my comfy, earthly realm and have a another little fling with haute cuisine. In the course of one week I jumped from sheet-panning instant ramen to fretting over one of Julia Child’s signature French masterpieces, the soufflé.

From the French verb souffler, meaning “to puff up,” a soufflé is more than just a glorified omelet – it’s a delicacy made from folding a savory or sweet béchamel into stiff egg whites and baking to airy perfection. Precise timing is critical for both the chef and the audience which only adds to the mystique – soufflés wait for no one. While the soufflé dates back to 1742 in France, it didn’t achieve mass popularity in the States until the 1960s, and then mostly in upscale French restaurants. Today soufflés remain synonymous with black ties and white tablecloths as simple, but ethereal symbols of grandeur.

“This is my invariable advice to people: Learn how to cook—try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless and above all have fun.”

~ Julia Child

I was worked up about my soufflé project all week and kept putting it off for no practical reason. I didn’t really dread the effort, the planning, the time or the nominal expense. I was even okay with the shameless hubris it took to channel Julia. What got to me was wondering whether this endeavor would be a temporal high or a spatial disaster.

Bliss was always going to be fleeting, but failure would linger.

Why all the drama? Well to start, I was flirting with cooking royalty, way above my station. Plus soufflés can be fickle and persnickety undertakings with a very real threat of disaster. Finally, it has been gently, but repeatedly suggested that I’m too competitive. But it’s not losing per se, but failure that offends me. I feel like failure assigns blame, whereas loss acknowledges factors you cannot control. Either way, I hate to fail and I hate to lose, which is problematic for learning and growth, especially in the kitchen.

So naturally I decided to make two.

Remarkably I did not fail. Not even a little. I fully expected molten Gruyère dripping from my oven walls and an undercooked chocolate egg soup. Both soufflés could be deemed satisfactory for a first attempt and my non-judgmental clientele were delighted. For me, it was tickled relief with just a hint of cocky satisfaction.

I may not ever own that fancy sports car, but I can make a killer soufflé or two…in a t-shirt and jeans, sipping a martini and singing along with Meat Loaf, no less. And despite the constant risk of failure, I’ll do it again and again and again. To answer my initial question, yes, it is a total pain in the ass, but also truly a delightful indulgence.

Aren’t we all?

cheat sheet

  • Bring all of the ingredients to room temp. Not really negotiable.
  • Clean the egg white bowl with vinegar and salt to ensure stiff peaks. Make sure NO yolks sneak in.
  • Secure the buttered foil collar with a straight pin.
  • As my mother would say, “chain yourself to the stove.” This advice comes from her lifetime of experience burning rice. She’s not wrong here.
  • Julia said to choose a dish that was a little small which encourages the soufflé to puff at least 2” over the rim. I understood the assignment.
  • When I say butter, I mean butter.
  • Get your people organized so the moment it comes out of the oven you are ready to serve. What’s the use of all the drama if your audience lallygags to the table and misses the show?

the rest of the week

for your viewing pleasure:

ps. I’d still look damn good in a Maserati.

3 thoughts on “is a soufflé a delightful indulgence?

  1. I loved your piece. The soufflé epitomizes French cuisine in so many ways: relative simplicity of ingredients, complexity of preparation, and delicacy of texture and flavor. So out of fashion these days, to the point that French cooking seems almost anachronistic. I will be the first to plead guilty to loving the bold flavors of Italian kitchens, and the fiery peppers, rich spices, and bright colors of epicurean traditions now more in vogue. We would be well advised to set aside these obvious pleasures more often for the subtle delights of the French table. If you will indulge a musical analogy, to forego Wagnerian bluster for Mozartean elegance. I’ll take a ride with you in that Maserati anytime. Rest assured, I’ll be wearing black tie.

    Liked by 1 person

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