Souffles Wait For No One (and other lessons learned)

I made souffles for the family Friday night. Two different souffles. One was a savory souffle (Spinach-Asiago) for the entree and the other was sweet (Kahlua-Chocolate) for dessert. I have made souffles before and I know that while they are not actually as difficult as they might appear, they are rather finicky kitchen creations.

They also take time. Time to make, and time to bake. And with only one oven, that presents some challenges. It would be easiest to bake both at the same time but that won’t work for a couple reasons. One is the simple fact that I want the savory souffle to be served as the meal and the sweet souffle for dessert, and a finished souffle will not wait even five minutes after removing it from the oven. The second is that I can only make one souffle at a time. It takes about 10-12 minutes production time to get a souffle in the oven. I can’t let the first souffle wait 12 minutes before I begin baking it, nor can I open the oven to quickly start baking the second souffle (the cold air rushing in could collapse the souffle and once collapsed, it is done.)

So I decided the best method will be to bake one, serve and eat it, and then make and bake the second. That will leave about 45 minutes between courses, but it can’t be helped.

Spinach-Asiago Souffle, as it came out of the oven.

Four perfect portions.
I served this with a  mixed tomato and mozzarella pearl salad, dressed with a bit of olive oil.
(All the tomatoes were from my garden, as were the basil shreds.)
Everyone in the family enjoyed the souffles. With souffles, timing is everything and it went perfect. Everyone was at the table, enjoying the salad as I pulled the souffle from the oven. I briefly showed the uncut souffle to everyone (I am a proud chef sometimes) and then portioned and served it.
That’s when the lessons began. When the timer on the oven began to sound, I canceled it but left the oven on to bake the dessert. Then I ate and after eating, I assembled the Kahlua-Chocolate souffle. I was hurrying a bit but everything went together well, and about 12 minutes after starting I was able to get the ramekins in the water bath. But I had extra souffle batter, so I needed to quickly prepare another 1 quart casserole and I baked the remaining souffle in it. I didn’t have room in the water bath, so I decided to risk baking it naked. I set my timer for 28 minutes and went back to the table.
At about 20 minutes, I went to look in the oven, and the souffles were not rising as expected. I dared to open the door to take a closer inspection, and immediately found the problem. When I canceled the timer, I also turned the oven off. It still had residual heat when I put the second souffle in, enough heat that I didn’t notice that the oven was in fact off.
I stood up, chuckled and told my family that dessert would be delayed. I turned the oven back on, and hoped for the best. After laughing at me a bit, and reminding me that I have done that in the past, we sat down as continued to just talk.
Actually, the family time was the sweetest dessert I could have asked for. We all sat at the table for an hour waiting for the second souffle to be baked. The boys were in a great mood. We spent the time reminiscing about their childhood, the previous homes we’ve lived in, childhood friends, and generally just had a wonderful time laughing at our remembrances and anecdotes. I think that my mistake was the luckiest thing I have done in a long time.
Eventually, the timer sounded again. All conversation stopped as I went to the oven, and pulled out the ramekins.
Four individual Kahlua-Chocolate souffles.
Nice! They survived 20 minutes in a cold oven, and then a slow warm-up to baking temperature and were nicely baked. Not a tough exterior but with a slightly moist interior.
Then I pulled out the casserole. I did not take a picture of it in the casserole, because … well, it had a rough life.  Here is what it looked like on the plate:
Kahlua-Chocolate Souffle, DOA (Dead on Arrival)
That is my thumb on the plate, right next to the “souffle” for a scale comparison. (And I have small thumbs.) The souffle is maybe 1/4 inch thick (6mm). I essentially made a Kahlua-Chocolate flourless pancake. Don’t get me wrong. It still tasted good, especially with a little whipped cream. But countless generations of chef are rolling in their graves at what happened.
Why did this large souffle die while the small ramekins survived? The water bath. That water was still HOT when I put the ramekins in, and that kept the dishes warm enough to maintain the air in the egg whites. The casserole was baked naked and the 20 minutes without heat was enough to let the millions of air bubbles deflate. I also rushed this batch a bit. I only whipped the egg whites to soft peaks, and didn’t cook the butter-flour mixture as long as I should have.
Moral of the story? I don’t know; I’m not Aesop. But I know that in the future, I will not rush my souffles (or other foods). At the same time, I will plan future meals so that I bake a dessert while eating the main course. I will pick a dessert that everyone loves, because last night’s dessert helped hold my family together for an extra hour. If you have growing/grown children, you know how brief those times can be. I will find ways to make us take more time together. Meals are quickly forgotten, but time spent with those important in a life is eternal.
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