Food + Wine

My Soufflé Photography Career

My husband sends me a text in the middle of work yesterday that read:

Want me to blow your mind?

My hands were covered in batter, as was my phone, and I had floured handprints on my hiney.

(stop. handprints were mine. keep your head in the game.)

Me:

Always.

He:

Thanksgiving is next week.

mind. blown.

We both thought we had another week!  Like, literally, the previous day he made a joke about me already watching a Hallmark Christmas movie in bed ‘when Thanksgiving is over 2 weeks away!’

(more on my Hallmark holiday movie obsession later)

The timing of the text was pretty perfect though, because I had just finished shooting my final test batch of Buttermilk Sage Sweet Potato Soufflés for ya’ll to make for the big day, and was riding high on the wave of excitement and pride.  That text just meant I needed to rush on the post a little harder than I thought 😉

So… ok.  I’ve made soufflés before, but never created my own, and was always satisfied with the results, but never thrilled.  Well I am now thrilled and was moved to tears when this final batch came out perfectly.  There is such deep pride attached to creating something that fails at first, then being able to celebrate the minor successes within that ‘failure’ in order to recognize what needs to be tweaked… then reworking it, and reworking it until it becomes a complete success!

One of those, ‘I can move mountains’ moments.

Feels nice.

And although I’m aware soufflés fall quite quickly after removing them from the oven, and knew I had to work fast in order to shoot them… I was still not at all prepared for the stress and anxiety that ensued.  First, I cried when I opened the oven door.  Yeah, I’ll admit it.  I let out a piglet squeal and then a tiny, baby tear welled up in my eye.  Not ashamed to admit it.

Big cooks do cry.

Then, after having my set already finished and waiting for the soufflé stars to be ready for their close-up, I rushed the tray over to their places, and tried so very hard to transfer each one to set as quickly as possible.  But guys.  GUYS.  These JUST came out of the oven.  So, like, scorching hot.  And if you’ve ever tried to grab something small in a crowded space with big ole oven mits… it’s like impossibly hard.

Like Mickey Mouse trying to pluck his eyebrows in an elevator.

So, as I’m burning each and every one of my finger prints off my fingers, slowly but surely each soufflé was beginning to fall, ever so slightly.  So many terrible words came out of my mouth in these moments. Just sailor trash.  They didn’t even make sense.  Just nasty word in front of dirty word encased in many hand gestures.  Only the dog was around to witness such filth.

Except lucky for me, she’s old and deaf so my lady reputation is in tact.

(ha. lady. right.)

But really, each mini-second makes a huge difference with the rising and falling of a soufflé.

So I just started camera snapping like a lunatic, hoping to at least get something in-focus here.  I don’t even think I cared about where I placed them all on the set.  They basically fell from my burning fingers and stayed wherever that may have been.

However, I was smart enough to grab a quick iPhone snap as I nursed my first burnt finger, just for proof as to how PERFECT they turned out… knowing my real shots would never show such beautiful volume…

*tears*

So y’all.  These soufflés are not only simply lovely to look at… they’re also sooo good.  I really wanted to go for a sweet and savory sweet potato side-dish here, as I don’t agree with the fact that everyone turns them into candy this time of year.  Sweet potatoes are already sweet!  They are delicious and versatile and super healthy… so destroying them with pounds of sugar and butter and (gulp) marshmallows just makes me kinda sad.  It’s like we’ve trained our palates to think they’re a dessert that we can write off as a side-dish.  Now y’all know that marshmallow topped, brown sugar laden mound on your plate is just as sweet, if not sweeter, than that pie you’re about to dive into.

Look, I love me some tradition.  And I’m no Scrooge.  I’m just trying to open up some eyes here.  Eat what you want, like what you want.  Especially this time of year.  I mean, goodness… my family’s favorite thing on the plate for Thanksgiving is canned pineapple mixed with cheese and sugar and topped with melted butter soaked butter crackers.

But… if you’re looking for a way to elevate the sweet potatoes on your menu this year and make them a little less candy and a little more balanced, then I swear you’ll love these!  They’re still sweet, but also savory, and creamy and somehow rich and light all mixed into one.  I’ve also made it as easy as possible for you.  These are flavored with dried sage and pumpkin pie spice –  EASY!  Yes, you can use fresh sage and measure out your spices… absolutely.  Just tryin’a help ya out.  Plus you’re using a whole can of pureed sweet potatoes here (NOT candied yams)… and yes, you can absolutely use fresh potatoes and cook/puree them yourself- I have, for sure… but again, I’m just trying to help you out on this busy day!

AND you can make the batter ahead of time (let it come up to room temp), wait to whip and fold in your whites before baking, then bake when you’re ready to serve!  Isn’t that sweet?!!

So for this post I’m doing things a little different in the recipe section… I am being far more detailed and redundant than usual.  This is not meant to scare you, but rather to give you all the proper support and tools for you when you enter into Soufflé-dom.  Once you get each step correct, you will. not. fail.  But you must pay attention and do each step perfectly in order to succeed.

And succeed, you will.

And now, I return to my Hallmark holiday movie… this one looks fun.  It’s called Floured Handprints On My Hiney, starring the cast from Family Matters.

BUTTERMILK SAGE SWEET POTATO SOUFFLÉ

makes 9 small, or 3 med-large (roughly 9 servings)

All the things you will need:

9 small, individual ceramic ramekins (4 oz / 1/2 cup size)

*OR*

3 medium / large soufflé dishes (12 oz / 1 1/2 cup size)

  • 2 TB unsalted butter + more for buttering dishes
  • 3 TB AP flour
  • 1 cup whole milk buttermilk (room temp)

  • 1 1/2 cups sweet potato puree (eq. to 1 (15 oz) can – only use 100% sweet potato puree)
  • 4 eggs, separated + 2 extra whites only (total of 6 eggs needed)  (eggs at room temperature!)
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried ‘rubbed’ sage leaves

  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/4 tsp white sugar + more for sprinkling into buttered dishes
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

So now that you know your whole ingredient list, I’ll walk you through it!  And your needed ingredients for each step will still be highlighted for easy-following.  (I severely dislike slash don’t understand the scrolling back up to find the amounts of each ingredient in a recipe. So weird to me.  I write in cooking sentences.)

so.

Preheat your oven to high broil.

*Prepare your soufflé dishes by rubbing the entire insides and up the sides/rims with unsalted butter to coat.  Then add in about 1 TB of white sugar and turning the dish around on its side, letting the sugar cover all the butter inside.  Any loose sugar, add to the next dish and keep going, refilling with more sugar as needed.  Every inch inside each dish should be covered with butter and sugar, all the way up to the rim.  You do this so the batter has something to cling to as it rises… if there was nothing tacky on the sides of your dish, your soufflé will try to rise from the air incorporated into the whipped egg whites… but then immediately fall after doing so while in the oven, because it couldn’t grab ahold to anything.

WHILE YOU ARE GOING THROUGH THE BUTTER/FLOUR/BUTTERMILK STEPS BELOW, YOU ARE GOING TO BE WHIPPING YOUR 6 EGG WHITES IN YOUR STAND MIXER (WITH THE WHISK ATTACHMENT) AT THE SAME TIME.  THESE NEED A GOOD BIT OF TIME AND THIS IS THE EASIEST WAY TO GET THEM THERE. 

sorry I just yelled at you.

(No stand mixer?  No worries, just use an electric beater and beat after you complete all the other steps (in glass or metal bowl only…plastic holds on to tiny bits of grease after washing and won’t allow for good whippin’).  No electric beater?  Baby, get those biceps stretched out cuz they’re gonna take a beating.)

So… as I was saying…in your stand mixer, add in your…

  • 6 egg whites (no traces of yolk allowed, or they won’t whip)
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1/4 tsp white sugar
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

Just let those go on medium speed while everything else gets done.

In a medium non-stick skillet, on medium heat, melt…

  • 2 TB unsalted butter

Do not let it brown.  Just melt it.

Add in…

  • 3 TB AP flour

Use a whisk and combine the two until a thick paste forms.

Do not let it brown.

Once pasty, slowly…a little at a time… pour in, while whisking…

  • 1 cup whole buttermilk

Keep whisking while you pour in a little at a time to prevent lumps.  Once all is added, keep whisking while you let it bubble on medium heat and watch it become glue-like in consistency.

Let it lightly bubble while whisking for about 1 minute.

Remove from the heat, transfer to a large mixing bowl and allow to cool slightly.

Once cooled but still warm, carefully and slowly whisk in…

  • 4 egg yolks

If you go a bit at a time, and your butter mixture isn’t screaming hot, there will be no egg curdling.

Whisk until smooth and glossy.

Whisk in…

  • 1 1/2 cups sweet potato puree (1 (15 oz) can)

Be sure to get it all evenly mixed in and smooth.

Add in…

  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 1/2 tsp dried ‘rubbed’ sage leaves

Whisk until all mixed in and smooth again.

Your egg whites should be just about done by now. You want stiff peaks.  You want to be able to stop the mixer, lift up the whisk and have there be a very firm peak of egg whites on the end of it that does not want to come off.  If it’s at all runny, or droopy, it’s not ready.  Keep going.

Once they’re done, take a rubber spatula-ful and add to the sweet potato mixture.  Now gently fold the whipped whites into the batter by starting in the middle with the spatula and scooping down into the bowl, then circling the spatula around the edge, then back to the middle again.  It’s a circular motion meant to keep the air in the whites.  (If that makes no sense, google ‘folding’ and watch someone who had more time show you how to fold.)  But the point is… you do not want to aggressively stir this, or all that hard work will be ruined.  This is very important. You’re ready to add more whites when you no longer see big white streaks in the batter.  Do not over-mix.

Keep doing this, adding a new spatula sized glob each time after the previous one is folded in, until all of it is incorporated and just when you no longer see white streaks, and not a second after.  It should be light and airy now.

Using a soup spoon, carefully spoon some batter into each prepared ramekin/soufflé dish, up to the very brim.  If you get any batter over the edge of a dish, you must wipe off or this will hinder the rise.

Place your dishes onto a sheet pan for easy transferring.

Place your pan/s on the bottom rack of your oven set to broil.

Broil for 3 minutes.

Without opening the oven, reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.  Set timer for 20 minutes.

The soufflés are done when they have puffed up several inches above the dish and are golden brown around the edges with a slight, but firm jiggle in the center.

And you have about 15 seconds until they fall completely.

So have your guests ready and waiting by the oven so they get to cry with you when they come out perfectly 😉

Note: When a soufflé falls, it has not turned bad, it is not un-fit to eat… it is just not poofy and magical looking.  So eating a fallen soufflé is totally cool.

If we don’t speak again until next week… have a Happy Thanksgiving, y’all.  Much love xo

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