The idea of baking a soufflé and letting it fall, or at least deflate slightly, before rebaking sounds oxymoronic. But in fact this method of making individual soufflés—on the small side, since they are so rich—and then rebaking them surrounded by a sauce creates a delightful first course. Here’s how it goes: You make a basic soufflé mixture that is heavier than usual because of more béchamel. It bakes in individual ramekins until well risen but is left a little underdone. All of this can be completed early in the day. You then turn the soufflés out of the molds, arrange them in a baking dish that holds them snugly, and pour a sauce over them—something as simple as a little cream with some diced tomatoes and minced tarragon in it. Then, you slide the dish into the oven and the soufflés repuff, absorb the delicious sauce like sponges, and end up wonderfully custardy yet light. The method is endlessly versatile, which means you can fold various ingredients into the soufflé mixture and infuse with any sauce that appeals.
– 1 tablespoon butter, room temperature.
– ¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or grana padano cheese.
– 4 tablespoons butter.
– 4½ tablespoons flour.
– 1½ cups milk.
– 3 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano or grana padano cheese, grated (about 1 cup lightly packed).
– Pinch of ground or freshly grated nutmeg.
– 4 eggs, separated.
– Pinch of cream of tartar if not using a copper bowl1 teaspoon butter, room temperature, for preparing the gratin dish.
– 1 cup heavy cream.
– 3 tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped.
– 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped fresh tarragon.
– 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or grana padano cheese.
Step 1:To prepare the soufflé dishes, brush the bottom and sides of six 5- or 6- ounce ramekins or custard cups with the butter. Coat the bottom and sides of the dishes with the grated cheese, tapping out the excess.
Step 2:To make the soufflé mixture, in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour and stir for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture is smooth and smells toasty. Slowly add the milk while whisking constantly, then raise the heat to high and continue to whisk for about 5 minutes, or until the sauce boils, thickens, and is smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese until smooth, then season with the nutmeg and with salt and pepper to taste. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time and set aside.
Step 3:Preheat the oven to 400°F. Put the eggs whites in a copper bowl, or in a stainless-steel bowl with the cream of tartar. Using a mixer on high speed or a whisk, beat until stiff peaks form. Stir about one-fourth of the beaten egg whites into the sauce to lighten it. Then gently fold the sauce base into the rest of the whites.
Step 4:Divide the soufflé mixture evenly among the prepared dishes. Run your thumb around the rim of each dish to form a moat about ½ inch wide along the edge of the soufflé mixture. This keeps the top of the soufflé mixture from attaching to the rim. Put the soufflés in a baking pan or dish with sides at least as high as the ramekins and ideally just large enough to hold them. Pour enough hot water—the hottest water from the tap is fine—into the pan to come two-thirds up the sides of the ramekins, making a water bath (bain-marie).
Step 5:Slide the baking dish into the oven and bake the soufflés for about 20 minutes, or until they have risen an inch or two above the rims. Take thepan out of the oven, remove the ramekins from the bain-marie, and let cool for 10 minutes. At this point, the soufflés will fall somewhat, but don’t worry. They are going to puff again during the second baking. Rub a gratin dish or baking dish just large enough to hold the soufflés with the butter. Carefully turn the soufflés out of the ramekins and set them in the gratin dish. If you are not serving the soufflés right away, cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
Step 6:To finish the soufflés, preheat the oven (or raise the heat) to 450°F. In a small saucepan, combine the cream, tomatoes, and tarragon and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper.
Step 7:Pour the sauce over the soufflés and then sprinkle them with the cheese. Slide the dish into the oven and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the soufflés have risen again, turned golden brown on top, and the sauce in the bottom is bubbling. Use a spatula to transfer the soufflés to warmed plates, and spoon over any sauce left in the bottom of the baking dish.