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Puffed Up Again

January 28, 1998|MARION CUNNINGHAM | Cunningham's latest book is "Cooking With Children" (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995)

Souffles are just about as rare on our tables today as white truffles. Even in souffles' heyday, cooks trembled at the idea of making one and having it fall.

The truth is that souffles are terrific: They take little work to prepare and are a most inexpensive yet festive dish. Every recipe has the potential to fail--but so what?

Souffles may seem off-putting because they need to be served immediately after baking. But don't we try to serve all hot food hot?

Be sure to have the table set and the plates ready. And it's a good idea to have a crisp, fresh green salad to start if you're having a cheese souffle to follow. This gets everyone seated and prepared for the presentation.

The other notion that needs to be dispelled regarding souffles is that whipping the egg whites is tricky. All you need to know is that the whites should be beaten only until soft peaks form. You can test this by turning a beater with a gob of beaten whites upside-down; whe the whites hold a soft peak that bends over just a little, they're just right. You don't want to beat the whites until they are very stiff.

Most souffles use about 5 whites and 4 yolks and have a base of a thick white sauce that gives it body. A souffle this size takes about 35 minutes to bake.

And try flavor variations--leftovers such as finely chopped chicken, a bit of fish or vegetables for main courses and pumpkin, peach, mango or strawberry for dessert.

CHEESE SOUFFLE

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, plus extra for preparing souffle dish

1/4 cup flour

1 cup hot milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

Pinch cayenne pepper

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Cheddar cheese

4 egg yolks, slightly beaten

5 egg whites

Melt butter in saucepan. Add flour and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, 2 to 3 minutes. Add milk and continue to cook and stir over low heat until thick and smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Add salt, cayenne and 1 cup cheese, and stir until cheese is thoroughly incorporated. Sauce should be very thick.

Beat 3 tablespoons hot cheese mixture into egg yolks. Add yolk mixture to cheese sauce in pan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Pour into large bowl.

Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Stir 1/4 egg whites into cheese sauce, then fold in remaining whites.

Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons grated cheese over bottom and around sides of buttered 1 1/2-quart straight-sided souffle dish. Spoon souffle mixture into baking dish. Bake at 375 degrees on middle rack of oven until souffle is very puffed and golden, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve immediately.

4 servings. Each serving:

369 calories; 710 mg sodium; 341 mg cholesterol; 29 grams fat; 9 grams carbohydrates; 18 grams protein; 0.04 gram fiber.

CHOCOLATE SOUFFLE

1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate

5 tablespoons sugar, plus extra for preparing souffle dish

2 tablespoons hot water

2 tablespoons butter, plus extra for preparing souffle dish

2 tablespoons flour

1/8 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup milk

3 eggs, separated

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt chocolate with 2 tablespoons sugar and hot water in small saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.

Melt butter in skillet. Add flour and salt and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually stir in milk and bring just to boil, stirring constantly. Sauce should be smooth and thick. Blend in chocolate mixture.

Beat egg yolks slightly. Stir 1 to 2 tablespoons hot chocolate sauce into yolks, then add yolk mixture to sauce in skillet. Stir well, remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Beat egg whites until foamy. Gradually add remaining 3 tablespoons sugar and continue beating until whites are stiff but not dry. Stir 1/4 of whites into chocolate mixture, then fold in remaining whites. Stir in vanilla. Spoon into buttered 1 1/2-quart souffle dish sprinkled with sugar. Bake at 325 degrees until very puffed, 35 to 40 minutes.

6 servings. Each serving:

173 calories; 136 mg sodium; 119 mg cholesterol; 11 grams fat; 16 grams carbohydrates; 5 grams protein; 0.18 gram fiber.

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