Have you ever had an ear-worm that stays with you for days on end? I had that last week, only it was a food that was stuck in my mind and not a song. Souffle, my mind said. Over and over I thought about the souffle. How would I replace the egg whites? How would it rise? What flavor was best to start with? I had only ever had one non-vegan one in my life. This would be a battle of the wills.
Let me start by saying there is no recipe here. After making three souffles on Sunday, I wasn’t happy with any of the results. Our kitchen looked like a test kitchen, with dishes entering and leaving the sink quickly, a lot of note-taking, and of course, many bowls with various versions of ‘egg whites’ sitting around.
I knew that this would take more than one attempt. My goal was to start with the plainest option: a vanilla souffle. I thought that if I could master the portions for a plainer flavor, that the rest would come easily. The issue would be replacing the egg-whites and making sure that the souffle would rise sufficiently. Keep in mind, the original recipe calls for both 4 egg yolks and 5 egg whites.
Trial one: replicate the recipe exactly as it is called for, simply replacing butter with Earth Balance and egg whites/yolks with the substitutions as given by Ener-G Egg Replacer.
Result: disaster. I had not whipped the ‘egg whites’ sufficiently and the whole batter never really set. I was left with a rubbery pudding. Into the trash it went.
Trial two: halve the egg whites and add 3/4 tsp of baking soda. I had read that baking soda would be more appropriate in a recipe like this, as it would not leave a bitter taste. I still had not whipped the egg whites sufficiently.
Result: a second disaster. This second trial had risen a little bit more, but still had a very pudding-like texture. I wasn’t sure if I wasn’t cooking it long enough, or if it was something in the batter. Maybe I needed more flour? But this time the edges had cooked a little bit more, and that sort of crust at the edges tasted really nice – almost like a crepe. But the middle still tasted sort of bland. I peeled the cooked edges off and ate them quickly, tossing the rest into the trash.
I axed the plan to build on a plainer tasting souffle. I wasn’t ready to replace the actual egg flavor, the thing that would bring the souffle together (and not just in making the batter actually rise and emerge from the pudding phase). I needed something with a lot of flavor.
Chocolate souffle. I quickly scanned the ingredients, happy to see that I could use that morning’s leftover coffee in the recipe. I added the chocolate to a bowl with the coffee, set it over a pot of simmering water so that it could melt slowly and got to work on the next steps. By this time I was an expert at mixing the flour, milk, and butter to create a thick base sauce. I whisked the ‘egg yolks’ in another bowl, added them to the base along with vanilla extract. And then I sat down to whisk the egg whites by hand. Six in this case. If you’re doing the math, that’s 8 teaspoons of egg replacer powder.
This is where fate intervened. As I sat there whisking and whisking, and whisking some more. Justin finally turned to me and asked why I wasn’t using the standing mixer. Maybe he was annoyed that all of the noise was interrupting the football game.
But why not indeed! I fumbled for an answer, thinking that it wasn’t enough liquid for the mixer to be able to work in this situation. But ten minutes into whisking by hand, I was tired and nowhere nearer to having attained the texture of actual beaten egg whites. Out came the standing mixer. I poured it all in to the bottom and turned it on medium and walked away. Ten minutes later, I had beaten egg whites.
In fact, I had so many of these egg whites, that it wouldn’t all fit into my souffle dish. I first added all of the egg whites to the chocolate, but my pot started to overflow, so I had to dump it all back into the standing mixer bowl. I folded it together, but the texture seemed to be a little bit lumpy. I opted to mix it a little bit more aggressively to ensure that the ingredients had been incorporated thoroughly – and in fact the egg whites didn’t deflate. I poured it into the souffle dish and popped it into the oven.
This last trial wasn’t a complete disaster. I let it bake for the full 40 minutes, but it wasn’t done. It did deflate – what had gone into the oven as almost overflowing, came out as slightly deflated. I was able to get a cooked crust evenly across the top, but the inside still had a pudding texture. But this time it wasn’t rubbery and the flavor was quite excellent.
We let it cool for a few minutes as the batter was still bubbling underneath the surface and then quickly dug in. Maybe I should be marketing this as a mousse, but I don’t think it would be that much fun to eat a big bowl of starch. I’d rather try a vegan mousse by using soaked cashews or tofu. I am feeling ambitious enough to try the souffle again, increasing the flour a touch and adding more baking soda that that I can get a more cake-like texture. Hopefully next time I will be able to post a recipe.