I have a confession, and it may disqualify me from being a food blogger; in fact, maybe I should cut my losses and back away from the oven altogether… Okay, here goes nothing: I have never watched Julia Child. Go ahead– judge, gasp, point fingers… it’s to be expected for such an egregious culinary transgression. For no particular reason, I just never saw any of her shows or purchased her cookbooks. I know that she is a huge cultural icon and an inspiration to countless cooks and bakers; maybe it’s because French cuisine is not my favorite? There’s really nothing else I can think of. (I saw Julie & Julia— does that count for anything?) Anyway, I’m sure the same cannot be said of most American kitchen aficionados, and Baked Occasions has even dedicated a recipe to celebrate Julia’s birthday, which was on August 15 (she passed away in 2004). For our Baked Sundays Mornings recipe this week, we made the luscious Salted Caramel Soufflé in her honor. I am not well-versed in soufflés; I could probably count the number of soufflés I’ve made on one hand, so I was a bit apprehensive. Fortunately I had made this exact soufflé once before, when testing recipes for the book in 2013. (Which sadly did not mean that my soufflé came out great…)
If you happen to be thinking, “Uh, salted caramel is so eight years ago…”, let me tell you that this is one of the best executions of salted caramel that one could strive for. I, too, am weary of salted caramel lattes, potato chips (seriously, that’s a thing), flavored liqueurs, yogurt, Hostess cupcakes, and even scented candles. These things are not salted caramel! Salted caramel originated in the Brittany region of France, where caramel candies with fleur de sel are traditional, and chocolatiers like Pierre Hermé gradually brought it into the realm of desserts in the 1990s, but it has simply gone too far. Things that are “salted caramel flavored” have little in common with actual salted caramel, and this trend has eclipsed the magnificence of the real stuff. The essence of salted caramel is sugar, butter, cream, and salt– the end. This soufflé beautifully incorporates caramel with milk, egg whites, and just a few other ingredients to make a perfectly balanced sweet-and-salty French pot of soufflé love!
To make the soufflé, I first made the caramel by boiling sugar, water, and corn syrup until it turned a dark amber. I had trouble with the temperature on my first attempt– I checked the color at about 305°F, and it was nearly burnt, even though we are instructed to take it to 345°F. Flustered, I quickly grabbed the nearest measuring cup filled with white dairy liquid and started adding it to the sugar syrup… but it was the wrong measuring cup. You’ll add both heavy cream and milk to the mixture, and I accidentally grabbed the milk and not the cream. I had to start over– definitely watched the pot more carefully the second time! I’m not sure what happened there, as the second batch of caramel went to 325°F before getting really dark. (I’ve found that in some BAKED caramel recipes, the desired color is reached at a lower temperature than stated, though I didn’t make any notes on this when I tested the soufflé.) Anyway, I then added the cream and fleur de sel (French sea salt flakes), at which point the mixture bubbled up, but it did not harden; if your mixture hardens, it’s fine because you’ll heat the mixture again momentarily after adding the milk.
While the caramel mixture sat over a low flame on the stove, I whisked together a mixture of egg yolks, sugar, flour, and cornstarch, to which I added ⅓ of the caramel while whisking constantly, then the rest of the caramel.
The third and final mixture of egg whites, cream of tartar, salt, and sugar then gets whipped to stiff peaks in a stand mixer, which I gradually folded into the caramel/egg yolk mixture. Now, the recipe headnote states two things very explicitly: 1) Make sure your eggs are really, truly at room temperature (not *almost* room temperature, actual room temperature), and 2) exercise patience and good technique in folding the whipped egg whites into the caramel. I tried very hard to do this, but it’s definitely possible that my folding was not quite spot-on after a while because after my caramel re-do, it was late into the evening and I was pretty damn tired and impatient…
Anyway, I then transferred the batter to my sugar-encrusted soufflé dish, which was too small to hold all the batter. I don’t remember having any issues with this during recipe testing, but this time, I could barely fit ⅔ of the batter in the dish. (We are instructed to use a 2-quart dish, which seems to be huge, or am I unclear on what 2 quarts look like??) I was going to bake off six mini-soufflés in ramekins, but as I was sharing the soufflé with just my good girlfriend and not a full dinner party, I decided to nix it. (Also, I forgot to stick them in the oven. But let’s go with the first reason. Yes.)
The recommended baking time is 22-30 minutes. It’s pretty cool to watch the soufflé puff and rise, especially after about 15 minutes in the oven. By 22 minutes, the outer edge was already browned and set, but the center of the soufflé was still very jiggly– we sat in front of the oven door and giggled like little girls as big bubbles exploded under the surface and jiggled the whole soufflé; in fact, my friend noted that for several minutes the bubbles seemed to pop almost on a rhythmic interval. I let it bake for about 25 minutes because it started to look a little too toasty on the edges.
By the way, the old wives’ tale about soufflés falling if you make noise is just that– a wives’ tale. What does affect a soufflé’s rise is temperature, so you do not want to open the oven door during baking. Even at 25 minutes, I held my breath for a moment, but it was fine. However, within minutes of leaving the oven, it did start to slowly deflate, eventually shrinking several inches. My soufflé unfortunately didn’t get much rise in the first place, which is why I think my earlier folding wasn’t the best; I’m not sure what else would contribute to a lack of height.
Nevertheless, the soufflé was creamy, airy, and delicious, especially with a dollop of whipped cream. The salt level was just right, and while the dish was rich, we both reached for an extra spoonful after a healthy dinner! The top baked up with a consistency similar to bread pudding, which we both loved. The bottom, on the other hand, was a bit undercooked and wet, so it’s possible that it would have benefitted from a few more minutes in the oven.
I liked the dish better this time than when I tested it, so overall I was pleased. I definitely need to work on my soufflé technique, though it was successful enough.
This would be really lovely after a group dinner, particularly if you want to impress people with your French culinary skillz. You can find the recipe for this Salted Caramel Soufflé in Julia’s honor at Baked Sunday Mornings, and please do check out my fellow soufflé-makers’ goods as well! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2016.