When my kids were little, they liked to hang out with me in the kitchen. They’d snap the ends off green beans and gleefully spin the salad spinner, though soon they would be bored with whatever task was at hand and toddle off to some other form of amusement.
Once they hit their preteen years, they were much more interested in rolling up their sleeves and cooking a dish from start to finish. It was important to them to bring something to the dinner table that was all theirs, and the more impressive, the better.
Of course, not every recipe was achievable or advisable, even for a 10-year-old who knows his way around a cutting board. I had to put the kibosh on more than a few “good” ideas. Fried candy bars, homemade cotton candy and any kind of flambéed food (a theme my young pyrotechnic-loving sons returned to again and again) didn’t get past the idea phase.
But when my middle son, Connor, wanted to try making a chocolate soufflé, I saw no reason to stop him. Soufflés are one of those dishes that appear to have a high level of difficulty, but are really not that hard. My favorite kind of dish!
Connor and I talked through the process and I hung out in the background, just to give the occasional pointer, but he essentially did the entire dish himself, and it turned out beautifully. He was so excited, I took a picture. Even though it was years ago, I think he’s still proud of that moment.
Even better than the soufflé itself was the confidence it gave him to keep cooking. That confidence has brought him back into the kitchen countless times. Now he brings his friends with him, and they all cook together.
Since that chocolate soufflé, many others — both sweet and savory — have passed through our oven doors. This week, fall is in the air, so an earthy, hearty Cauliflower and Cheddar Soufflé seems like a good choice. It’s a perfect light main course, paired with a crisp green salad, but also makes a sophisticated side course for a simple roast chicken or pork.
No matter which soufflé you want to make — with or without your kids — here are a few tips to help ensure success every time.
• Don’t over-whip your egg whites: Egg white cells are like little balloons. If you whip too much air into them, they will burst and your soufflé won’t rise. Whisk them to the soft peak stage, but when in doubt, stop whisking. A little acid, like cream of tartar, will help strengthen the structure of the whites, which will also help with the rise.
• Don’t over-fold: Being too aggressive as you fold the base of your soufflé together with the whites will cause them to lose air. Since you just spent time whipping that air into the whites, you don’t want to lose it before your soufflé gets into the oven.
• Bake on the bottom rack: For a better lift, the bottom rack works best. Make sure to move the other racks up high, though, to give your soufflé lots of headroom. It will need it!
Meredith Deeds is a cookbook author and food writer from Edina. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @meredithdeeds.