Mary Berry.... Mary freakin' Berry.... Lemon soufflé?? Week four?? That's okay -- I'm up for a challenge.
Honestly soufflés get an unfair bad rep in the baking world. Generally, they are said to strike fear in the hearts of bakers. People are afraid of walking near the oven. They don't breathe as they handle the dishes. They would rather make (gasp!) pie crust. I'm here to tell you there is nothing to worry about when making soufflés!
They key with soufflés is really preparation. If you have all your ducks in a row, then putting together the soufflé isn't that hard. I will say that this recipe is weird. Mary Berry has us moving mixtures from bowl to pot to bowl to pot, whisking and mixing and folding all the while.
Regardless of your preparation, the first step is to create a custard base, and the key is to heat it over a low heat until it thickens enough so you can make a line along your spatula and the custard doesn't flood back. That's when you know your eggs are cooked, your cornstarch is activated, and you're ready for it to do... whatever magic it does when it's in an oven with egg whites. Speaking of egg whites....
Now, I'm not saying you have to beat your egg whites by hand, but what I am saying is you could probably use the upper body workout, and there's nothing quite as satisfying as seeing a bunch of sticky, soupy whites turn into a fluffy, soft, thick mixture (except maybe seeing bread dough rise).
I mean, would you really want to miss this kind of magic? That's what baking is all about! You take all these raw ingredients and completely transform them into something that has no visible relation to the parts you've summed up. If you want to get nerdy about it, you're literally changing the cellular makeup of these ingredients and rearranging molecules to get a texture and a flavor. With bread, you're taking short strands of gluten proteins and rearranging them to create long, stretchy chains of gluten protein. With egg whites, you're taking this sticky glob of protein and breaking apart all the bonds, separating them by tiny little pockets of air, and then quickly evaporating those pockets in the bake to create a tender, light and airy soufflé. If that's not real-life magic, I don't know what is (except maybe this).
Back to the whipping -- whisking your whites by hand also makes it less likely for you to over-whip your whites. You're looking for a mixture that is billowy like clouds, bubbly with air like Pellegrino, and holds a cute little peak when you lift the whisk slowly out of the mixture. You don't want your whites to get dry. And if you think that's a subjective term that will not help you in your actual baking, then you've obviously never over-whipped your whites. Dry whites are quite obvious. And awful.
At this point, you have the custard and the whites, and you're good to go. Mix a bit of the white into the custard to thin it, then fold in the rest of the whites until no streaks remain (the above picture needs a bit more folding), and you have your soufflé. It's at this point that you have to move quickly and the dreaded soufflé time crunch comes in.
Quickly, pour into ramekins, and this is an interesting spot to stop and talk about different techniques. Most soufflé recipes I have come across have you filling the ramekins 3/4 full, and then popping them in the oven. Theory being that it rises, and you don't want it to rise too much, be top-heavy, and tip over like a life-sized Barbie doll would do. As a novice baker, I accepted that theory because -- would a recipe ever be incorrect? My view on this changed when I saw this video by Chef Steps. They filled their ramekins to the brim, leveled it off with a knife, and then cleaned up the sides. I was very pleased when I read Mary Berry's recipe that she was already privy to that secret of soufflé-making. As far as I'm concerned, this is the only way you should make the dish. Otherwise, you're cheating your guests out of a taller soufflé. And a soufflé is all about the height.
Which is why most of your time spent while the soufflé is in the oven looks like this. Empty plate, waiting to be served. Soufflés generally keep their height for about 2 minutes, and then fall, and fall fast. Of course, by that time, they are still too hot to eat, so the idea is to wow the guests with a towering soufflé, then quickly distract them by pouring coffee or showing a good Gordon Ramsay meme, so they move on to some other subject while they wait for it to cool and then consume it.
So how did Mary Berry do? Wow, girl likes her lemon. This thing was tart. With juice and zest of two whole lemons, that means you're getting half a lemon per soufflé. You go juice half a lemon and chug it with the zest and tell me that's not a pucker-worthy concoction. Personally, I'd be less heavy-handed with all the lemon and add a bit more sugar (which could actually give it more structure and not be such a falling tower of soufflé), and like it much better. Or, even better, add a crème anglaise to pour into the middle and soothe a bit of the acidity. Maybe next time.
Mary Berry's Hot Lemon Soufflé
makes 4 individual soufflés
2 LEMONS (juice and zest)
2 LARGE EGG YOLKS
4 LARGE EGG WHITES
6 tablespoons GRANULATED SUGAR
3 tablespoons CORNSTARCH
1 tablespoon ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR
1/2 cup (90 milliliters) HEAVY WHIPPING CREAM
1/2 cup (110 milliliters) MILK
MELTED BUTTER + GRANULATED SUGAR, for greasing ramekins
1. Brush the insides of the ramekins with MELTED BUTTER and add a small amount of GRANULATED SUGAR to each, turning to coat sides and bottom, set aside in fridge
2. Preheat the oven to 350F and place a sheet inside
3. Prep ingredients into 5 bowls: 1) lemon juice + zest, 2) egg whites (mixing bowl), 3) egg yolks + sugar, 4) milk (saucepan), 5) cream + flour + cornstarch (medium-sized bowl)
3. Whisk HEAVY CREAM, FLOUR, and CORNSTARCH to form a smooth paste
4. Warm the MILK in a large saucepan over medium heat until just boiling and mix a little at a time into the cream mixture until smooth and thick
5. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and place over a gentle heat, beating vigorously and constantly until thickened
6. Remove mixture from heat and add lemon juice and zest
7. Beat yolk mixture into a thick paste and add into the saucepan, then put back over the heat until it begins to bubble, and remove from heat to cool
8. Whisk egg whites until soft peaks begin to form and whites look like clouds
9. Add one large spoonful of the egg whites to the custard and beat well to relax the custard
10. Fold in the remaining egg whites in 2 or 3 batches, and combine until it's a pale yellow mixture with no white streaks
11. Fill the ramekins to the brim and level them off to flat tops, then run your thumb around the inner edge of the ramekin to clean it up
12. Place the ramekins on a baking tray in the middle of the oven on a sheet that has been heating for 14-25 minutes until risen and golden -- do not open the oven during cooking
13. Dust with powdered sugar, and serve within 2 minutes of cooking (otherwise...)
A personal challenge to conquer every technical challenge, and select signature bakes, from The Great British Bake Off
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