You'll never get a lemon

Submitted by Judy on Sat, 07/16/2011 - 7:48am.

Murphy’s Law was operating in full force last night as I tried to
duplicate Chef Mary Sue Milliken’s Lemon Soufflé recipe seen on Bravo
TV’s Top Chef Masters a few weeks ago.

While Milliken lost in the final round to Chef Floyd Cardoz, the judges’
oo-ing and ah-ing sent visions of lemons dancing in my head. But the
recipe serves 12. Who would be my guinea pigs?

My opportunity came last night as my houseguests from Sweden – a
delightful family of five – sampled the dish. Unfortunately they also
“sampled” my haphazard style as they watched me screw up a seemingly
simple recipe. And yet, despite six (count them) mistakes, the result
was tasty, but here are some tips so that may learn from the wisdom of
my experience.

Pay attention and concentrate! The good news is I have an open kitchen
which allows me to talk to guests as I’m cooking. The bad news is I have
an open kitchen which allows me to talk to guests as I’m cooking.

Read the recipe! Seems obvious, doesn’t it, but I can’t tell you how
many times I’ve looked at the list of ingredients without consulting the
method. “Oops” is not something you want to hear in the kitchen.

So where did I go wrong? Here goes:

(Step 1) Notice it says “half the sugar.” Don’t throw all the sugar into
the yolks and then try to pick some out later. In this case, the other
half the sugar is for whipping the egg whites, which need to get only to
the medium peak stage, so no harm done there. (Whew!)

(Step 2) When you’re bringing milk to a boil, don’t start chatting and
turn your back on it and let it boil over with skim forming on top so
that you have to strain it.

(Step 2 again) Note you s-l-o-w-l-y whisk in the hot milk. That I did!
Gotcha. (Ha!) No curdling in my soufflé! However, when you return the
mixture to the pan, don’t forget to turn down the heat so the mixture
slowly thickens. Otherwise your soufflé is lumpy, and try as you may,
you cannot get all the lumps out by whisking.

(Step 2 again) Now is the time to add the butter…

(Step 2 again)… and lemon juice, not after you’ve already folded in the
egg whites.

(Step 4) “Smooth top” means “smooth top.” A soufflé is supposed to have
a (drum roll) smooth top! (The better to camouflage a lumpy middle!)

This is one recipe you cannot make ahead. A soufflé is an ephemeral
treat, best served immediately or you risk the biggest error of all:
deflation! However, you can prepare your ingredients ahead.

Amazingly, my lumpy soufflé tasted fine (or perhaps my Swedish guests
are just polite!) But I’m rarin’ to try Round 2 the next time I round up
some willing guinea pigs. Want to come over?


Makes 12

Soft unsalted butter, for buttering molds
Granulated sugar, for molds

1/2 cup granulated sugar
8 large egg yolks
9 large egg whites
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (generous)
1 cup whole milk
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Garnish: Powdered sugar, delivered lightly through a sieve

1. Preheat oven to 375˚F. Liberally butter 12 (6-ounce) soufflé dishes;
coat well with sugar. Whisk together yolks, flour, zest, and half the
sugar (1/4 cup).

2. Bring milk to a boil in small saucepan. Slowly pour milk into yolk
mixture, whisking constantly to prevent yolks from cooking. Return
mixture to pan; lower heat and whisk until thick like pudding, 1-2
minutes. Strain; stir in butter and lemon juice.

3. Beat whites until foamy. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Beat
until medium firm peaks form (not dry). Stir a third of whites into yolk
mixture. Gently fold in remaining whites.

4. Fill each soufflé dish to top; tap to settle. Smooth top. Run thumb
around edges to ease batter from sticking. Place on cookie sheet; bake
15-18 minutes or until they rise at least an inch above rim but are
still jiggly in center. Dust lightly with powdered sugar. Serve immediately.