My annual asparagus kick is in full and mighty swing, and among my usual favorites, I’ve been wanting to try a new recipe, something Easter-ish and brunch worthy. When I think Easter, I think eggs, so why not a soufflé? They’re a delicious exercise in texture (ethereal and airy with a pleasant silky-spongy quality) and adding a purée of verdant asparagus to the classic béchamel base adds bright, springtime interest to the savory elements of eggs and nutty Parmesan.
I’ll admit, soufflés are considered finicky to prepare, the high-maintenance Parisian girlfriend of the culinary world, but I really do believe that reputation’s undeserved. While there’s definitely some technique involved (click the links in the recipe for tips on whipping and folding egg whites), the absolute worst that could happen is you’ll end up with a slightly-less-than-perfect soufflé. (Quelle horreur!) We’re talking brunch here, people, not nuclear fission, so if yours isn’t the end-all-be-all of egg cookery, so what? To illustrate that exact point, my soufflé fell before I got a proper photo in (both the doorbell and the phone rang as they were coming out of the oven), but even de-poufed, they were lovely to look at and (most importantly) delicious all the same. As an added bonus, you can also do most of the work ahead; prep the batter today and finish baking on Easter.
adapted from Elise Bauer’s Simply Recipes; serves 6
- 1 lb asparagus
- 1/4 cup shallots, chopped
- 1 large clove garlic, chopped
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
- 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, divided, plus more for buttering ramekins
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs, finely ground
- 3 Tbsp cake or all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cup whole milk
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon dry ground mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 tsp salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
- 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 5 egg whites
- six 8-oz ramekins
Put on a large pot of salted water to boil. Meanwhile, remove the woody ends of the asparagus spears and discard; chop the spears into 1″ pieces. When the water comes up to boil, blanch the asparagus for 2 minutes; drain in a colander and run over with cool water.
In a small sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallots, garlic and thyme and cook, stirring, until softened, about 3 minutes. Let cool a bit. Add the asparagus and shallot mixture to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth.
Prepare the béchamel: wipe down the asparagus pot and heat 3 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, one minute. Slowly pour in the milk, whisking, until all combined. Add the dry spices, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Lower the heat to low and cook, whisking occasionally, for about 12-15 minutes. Take off the heat and whisk in the Parmesan and 1 1/4 cups of the vegetable mixture. Taste and adjust your seasonings, if needed. Add the yolks. (You can refrigerate the soufflé batter at this stage, up to 2 days; bring up to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and move a rack to the center of the oven. Butter the ramekins well and coat the interiors with the breadcrumbs. (This will help the batter cling to the sides and rise as they cook.) Set in a deep-sided pan large enough to accommodate them. Put on a tea kettle or small saucepan of water to boil for a water bath.
With a stand or hand-held mixer or by hand, whisk the egg whites (make sure they’re free of any yolks) in a clean bowl to until they start to lose their shine and reach firm, nearly stiff peaks. (Take care not to overwhip, or it will be difficult to incorporate the whites into the batter. If you’ve taken them too far, try adding another egg white.) With a spatula, transfer a quarter of the whites and fold in to the batter. Gently fold in the remaining whites (you’re trying to avoid deflating any of the remaining whites to keep the batter nice and airy). Gently transfer the batter to the ramekins, leaving just a 1/4″ or so of space from the rim. Pour the hot water into the baking dish, halfway up around the ramekins, to make a water bath. (This buffer will regulate the transfer of heat while they bake, to ensure a silky texture.) Transfer to the oven.
Bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes; lower the heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake, until well-browned and puffed, about 15 minutes more. Serve right away.
Note: for a vegetarian dish, omit the Worcestershire sauce. Adding a pinch of cream of tartar to the egg whites before whipping can help stabilize them. Also, I substituted two large ramekins (16 oz each) and increased the baking time.