Who doesn't like soufflés? They never fail to impress your guests, yet are surprisingly easy to make. The only pitfall is that they have to be made at the last minute and eaten the moment they emerge from the oven.
My favorite type of soufflé solves this problem. It is the love-child of a pudding and a soufflé that is known, not surprisingly, as a pudding-soufflé. Unlike its more jittery cousins, it is baked in advance, unmolded from its ramekin and rebaked later when you are ready to serve it. This convenience makes it ideal for a restaurant or a dinner party (perfect as a starter or vegetarian entrée for Thanksgiving or other holidays).
The texture of the pudding-soufflé combines the best of its parents, coming out both velvety smooth, yet light and airy. But what really sends this type of soufflé over the top is the contrast between this exquisitely creamy interior and its crunchy breadcrumb-lined exterior.
According to Richard Olney, whose recipe for Zucchini Pudding Soufflé appeared 30 years ago in his Simple French Food, this convenient twice-baked soufflé is based on the soufflé à la Suissesse, a parmesan pudding soufflé. My riff on Olney's recipe (and on subsequent derivations by the chefs of Chez Panisse in their many cookbooks) is this Butternut Squash Pudding Soufflé, my entry for the 20th "Is My Blog Burning?" event sponsored by Kitchen Chick.
Butternut Squash Pudding Soufflé
Yields 6 soufflés
1 small (1-2 lb.) butternut squash
1 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 T unsalted butter, plus more for greasing ramekins
1 c dry breadcrumbs, finely ground
3 T cake flour
1¼ c milk or half-and-half
few sprigs thyme, plus ½ t chopped thyme
¼ t freshly grated nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper
½ c Gruyère cheese, grated
yolks from 3 eggs, lightly beaten
whites from 5 eggs
Preheat oven to 400˚F (200˚C). Cut off stem of squash, then cut in half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard seeds from cavity of squash. Rub all surfaces with olive oil and season with salt. Place a clove of garlic in the cavity of each half and lay the halves, cut side down, on top of a bed of thyme on a baking sheet. Place in oven and roast squash for 45 minutes until tender. Allow squash to cool, then scoop flesh out from skin, discard the skin and thyme, and purée the flesh and the garlic in a food processor. Measure out 1 cup of the purée, reserving the rest for another use, such as a soup.
Butter six 8-ounce ramekins thoroughly. Holding ramekins one at a time over a bowl, pour some breadcrumbs into the ramekin, turn it, allowing excess crumbs to fall into bowl. Set aside buttered and crumbed ramekins and reserve the excess crumbs for later use.
Make a very thick béchamel sauce, which will serve as the base for the soufflés. Over medium-low heat, melt 3 tablespoons butter in a sauce pan. Add the flour and stir with a whisk. This is what is known as a roux. Continue to stir and cook for a couple of minutes, without allowing the roux to brown. Slowly pour in the milk or half-and-half, a little at a time, continuing to stir constantly. Lower the heat to low, add a couple of sprigs of thyme, season with ½ teaspoon of sea salt, cayenne, nutmeg and a few grindings of pepper. Allow the béchamel to cook for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent lumps, sticking and burning.
When the béchamel is ready (above photo), turn off the heat, remove the thyme sprigs, and add the cheese. Stir until melted and incorporated. Transfer this soufflé base to a large mixing bowl. Stir in the squash purée until well combined (see photo). Taste to make sure your base is well-seasoned. It is crucial to have a flavorful base. Add the egg yolks and mix again.
Have ready a 9 by 12 inch baking dish with 2-inch sides. This will be the bain marie (so many great culinary terms today!) which will hold the ramekins during baking. Also, bring a tea kettle of water to a boil to fill your bain marie. From this point on, you have to work quickly.
Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold half of the beaten egg whites into the batter in the bowl to lighten and aerate it. Then gently fold the other half of the whites into the mixture. Fill the ramekins to the top with the soufflé mixture. Here's a tip: I usually transfer the mixture into a pitcher to help facilitate the filling process. Sprinkle the tops of the soufflés lightly with some of the reserved breadcrumbs (you may not use them all).
Place the filled ramekins into the bain marie. Place in the middle rack of the oven, then pour the hot water into the pan around the ramekins to come up about halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for about 25 minutes, until puffed up and golden brown (see photo below).
Remove from the oven and let rest in the water for 15 minutes. The soufflés will deflate slightly, but will puff up again during the second baking.
Run a thin knife around the edges of the ramekin to loosen the soufflés. Then, using a towel to hold the hot ramekins, gently turn over and remove each soufflé. Place it on a parchment lined baking sheet. They can sit at room temperature for several hours (or refrigerated overnight, and brought back to room temperature before proceeding).
When ready to serve, put the baking sheet with the soufflés in a 400˚F oven and bake a second time until puffed up and deep golden brown, about 8 minutes.
I serve them with a complementary salad, such as a salad of chicories and arugula with toasted hazelnuts or pecans. The vinaigrette of the salad helps to balance the sweetness and richness of the squash soufflés.