Asparagus Soufflé

Have you ever attempted to make a soufflé and it just didn’t live up to your expectations? That’s when it pays to have friends who actually know what they are doing. After trying unsuccessfully to recreate a fabulous soufflé I enjoyed at a brunch given by chef, and fellow food blogger, Brett of In Praise of Sardines I broke down and asked him for help. Thank goodness for talented friends who are generous with their advice!

Here is what Brett had to say when I asked him for some tips to making my soufflé light and fluffy:

  1. Butter the ramekins thoroughly, then coat with very fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Use cake flour instead of all purpose in the bechamel.
  3. Use extra egg whites. Whip them to soft peaks that are dancing on the edge of becoming stiff peaks.
  4. Work quickly and fold with a light touch.

Brett also shared his soufflé recipe (see his butternut squash pudding soufflé) with me which I fiddled with a bit, incorporating some ideas that seemed to work from my other soufflé endeavors, which I share with you now. Note that soufflés really are a bit tricky to make; this is not a beginner recipe. But if you are confident with your egg white whipping and folding skills, you should have no problem with this one.

What I love about Brett’s approach is that you can actually make these soufflés in advance, which is perfect for a brunch gathering or a party in which you want to have most of the cooking done ahead of time. We ate half of them right out of the oven, and we re-baked the other half for a later meal. Both sets were delicious.

  • Prep: 10 minutes
  • Cook: 1 hour, 15 minutes
  • Yield: Makes 6 individual soufflés.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb asparagus spears, bottom ends trimmed and discarded, thick spears peeled, spears cut into 1-inch pieces
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped shallots
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup finely ground dry bread crumbs
  • 3 Tbsp cake flour (can substitute all purpose flour)
  • 1 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Pinch dry ground mustard
  • Pinch ground cumin
  • Pinch ground ginger
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese (can substitute Parmesan, but frankly I prefer the Gruyere)
  • 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 5 egg whites
  • 6 8-ounce ramekins

Method

1 Blanch asparagus for 2 minutes in boiling salted water (1 teaspoon of salt for every quart of water). Drain. Rinse in cold water to stop cooking. Set aside to let cool.

2 Melt 1 Tbsp butter in saucepan on medium heat. Add shallots, garlic, and thyme. Cook gently until soft, do not let brown. About 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

3 Purée asparagus and shallot mixture in a blender. Measure out 1 1/4 cup of purée.

4 Butter 6 8-ounce ramekins. Coat well with the bread crumbs, reserving any leftover bread crumbs.

5 Make a thick béchamel sauce. Over medium-low heat, melt 3 Tbsp butter in a medium sized saucepan. Add the cake flour and whisk to completely incorporate the flour into the butter, continue to stir for a couple of minutes. Do not let brown. Very slowly, add the milk to the mixture, little by little, whisking constantly. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt, the nutmeg, cumin, mustard, ginger, and some fresh ground black pepper. Lower the heat to low and let cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the mixture from sticking to the pan.

6 After 15 minutes, remove the béchamel from the heat and stir in the cheese. Transfer the béchamel and the asparagus mixture to a large mixing bowl (if you have a mixing bowl with a pour lip on the side, use it, it will make it easier to pour out later). Taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings. The souffle base should be well-seasoned. Stir in the egg yolks until well combined.

At this point you can make ahead the souffle mixture. Refrigerate to store for up to two days. Return to room temperature before proceeding.

7 Preheat oven to 400°F.

8 Prepare to make a water bath (a bain marie). Have ready a 9x12 baking dish with at least 2 inch sides. Put on a kettle of water to boil.

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9 Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites and using a mixer, beat the egg whites to firm but soft, almost stiff, peaks. (Make sure there are no traces of egg yolk or shell in your egg whites before starting.) Do not over-beat. Over-beating results in stiff peaks that are dry, somewhat reminiscent of styrofoam. Use a rubber spatula to first fold in one quarter of the beaten egg whites into the asparagus mixture, then the remaining three-quarters. Use a light touch to keep from deflating the egg whites.

asparagus-souffle-3.jpg

10 Fill ramekins with the mixture up to a quarter-inch from the top. If you want, sprinkle leftover bread crumbs on top. Place the ramekins in the bain marie baking dish. Place baking dish on the middle rack in the oven. Pour boiling water into the baking dish around the ramekins until the water comes up halfway the sides of the ramekins.

asparagus-souffle-4.jpg

11 Bake for 10 minutes at 400°F, reduce the heat to 350°F and bake for about 15 minutes more, until puffed up and golden brown. Don't open the oven door until the soufflé is just about done, or it may fall.

You can serve the soufflés immediately or you can serve them later. To proceed for serving them later, let the soufflés sit in the bain marie for 15 minutes. Then use run a sharp knife around the edges and invert the individual soufflés to a buttered baking sheet. Cool to room temperature, wrap in plastic and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Return to room temperature before re-baking. Heat oven to 400°F, bake the souffles on a buttered baking sheet, not in ramekins, for 7-8 minutes, and serve.

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