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Bonus column: Martha Stewart

The Detroit News

There's nothing like a soufflé.  This classic dish  — savory or sweet, large or small  — is always delicious and impressive. Try my new favorite flavor variations and tips for success, and you'll see that soufflés have another fine quality: They are not as complicated to make as you think.

Soufflés are often made with dark chocolate — but I love using excellent-quality milk chocolate instead. It gives the dessert a creaminess and flavor that are almost reminiscent of hot chocolate.

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It’s a given: If your soufflé is made with the correct proportions of ingredients, your egg whites are beaten well and they are folded into the creamy base carefully, your soufflé will rise. And it’s also a given that a few minutes after you take it out of the oven, your soufflé will fall.

That’s science, the same science that discourages many of us from attempting to make these delicious, lofty, tasty concoctions, savory or sweet. But soufflés' reputation for difficulty is exaggerated. Anyone with a calibrated oven, a straight-sided soufflé dish and the wherewithal to beat numerous egg whites to a silken froth can make a soufflé that will excite and delight family and friends.

Soufflés do require organization and planning — and timing is of the essence. This comes with practice, and I do advise that you practice once or twice before making a soufflé the focal point of a dinner party.

At the core of success is a tried-and-true tested recipe, and I’ve developed three excellent ones for you. Start with the milk-chocolate version, one of my favorites. The golden soufflé dishes I've baked them in were discovered in a consignment shop in Seal Harbor, Maine; at 6 ounces, they are just the right size for a dessert soufflé. The milk chocolate has to be of the highest quality — rich, milky, dense. I use a Norwegian chocolate, Freia melkesjokolade.

Try the giant cheese soufflé with kale or leeks next. Just cheese is delicious, but the addition of the vegetables really takes it to the next level, making it a bit more dense and hearty. It is wonderful as a luncheon offering or a main course for dinner, with a salad alongside. A collar of parchment paper helps the soufflé gain height without toppling out of its dish, and its easy removal reveals what we all think of as the quintessential soufflé — towering, straight-sided and golden brown on top.

Most delicate is the light and airy tangerine soufflé, which rises very straight and high from the dish — but also deflates quite quickly once removed from the oven, so exact timing and immediate service are required! I love the fresh and tangy flavor of seasonal tangerines, but clementines, Meyer lemons or even limes can be used for the citrus-flavored dessert. Whichever soufflé you choose, it is sure to garner oohs and aahs from those about to be pleased with its taste and texture.

FOUR STEPS FOR SUCCESS

Savory and sweet soufflés are made using a similar technique: They all consist of a flavor base and beaten egg whites.

1. PREPARE THE PAN. Butter your dish and dust it with finely grated cheese (for a savory soufflé) or sugar (for a sweet one). This is said to help the batter climb up the sides as it bakes.

2. MAKE A COLLAR. Though not essential (especially for individual soufflés), a parchment-paper collar facilitates a higher rise. Fold the parchment in half to give it more structure, then wrap it around the dish so it extends 3 inches past the rim. Secure with twine.

3. BEAT THE WHITES. Separate the eggs carefully (even a trace of yolk will interfere with the whites’ loft), and let the whites come to room temperature. Ideally, beat them in a copper bowl: A chemical reaction between the egg protein and the metal makes a more stable foam. (A pinch of cream of tartar also helps.) Regardless, use a perfectly clean and dry bowl. Beat the whites until stiff but silky; overbeaten whites look almost curdled. If you do overbeat them, you may be able to fix them by gently whisking in one additional white.

4. FOLD VERY GENTLY. Use a large flexible spatula to fold the whites into the flavor base. Don’t overmix — that would deflate the airy foam.

MILK-CHOCOLATE SOUFFLÉS

Active Time: 35 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes 
Yield: 6 individual soufflés

unsalted butter, room temperature, for ramekins
6 tablespoons superfine sugar, plus more for ramekins 
7 ounces best-quality milk chocolate, finely chopped 
1 cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
pinch of coarse salt
3 large egg yolks, room temperature, plus 5 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 cup all-purpose flour 
pinch of cream of tartar
sweetened whipped cream, for serving (optional)

1. Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit with rack in lower third. Butter six 6-ounce ramekins; coat with sugar. Place on a rimmed baking sheet.

2. Heat chocolate in small heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water until melted, then stir until smooth. Remove from heat and keep warm.

3. Bring milk, vanilla bean and seeds, and salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. In a large bowl, whisk together yolks and 1/4 cup sugar until pale and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add flour and whisk until well combined.

4. Remove vanilla bean from milk mixture (discard or reserve for another use), then gradually add half to yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Whisk yolk mixture into remaining milk mixture in saucepan. Bring just to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce heat and simmer until thick and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in melted chocolate. Transfer to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto surface of mixture. Let cool completely.

5. In another bowl, whisk egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and whisk until peaks are stiff and glossy, 1 to 2 minutes.

6. Spoon 1/4 of whites mixture into custard base, then whisk thoroughly until smooth. Gently fold in remaining whites mixture until combined. (Don’t worry if some streaks remain.) Divide evenly among prepared ramekins. Bake until risen and set, 16 to 18 minutes. Serve immediately, with sweetened whipped cream.

CHEESE-AND-KALE SOUFFLÉS

The addition of egg-white powder helps stabilize the mixture.

Active Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 5 minutes 
Serves: 6 to 8

unsalted butter, room temperature, for dish
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan, for dish
1 large bunch kale (1 pound), stemmed and washed, water still clinging to leaves
coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper 
1/4  teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 
3 1/3 cups half-and-half
6 large egg yolks, room temperature, plus 11 large egg whites, room temperature
14 ounces mixed semifirm Alpine cheeses, cut into 1/4-inch cubes (I used 5 1/2 ounces Emmental, 3 1/2 ounces Comté, 2 ounces Scharfe Maxx, 1 1/2 ounces Appenzeller and 1 1/2 ounces Gruyère)
1/4 cup egg-white powder

1. Heat oven to 400 F with rack in lower third. Butter an 8 1/4-by-3 1/2-inch (11 cups to the rim) soufflé dish; coat with Parmesan. Using a long piece of parchment, form a collar around soufflé dish that extends 3 inches above top of dish; tie kitchen twine around collar to secure. Place on a rimmed baking sheet.

2. Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add kale; season with salt and black pepper and toss to combine. Cover and steam, tossing occasionally, until kale is wilted, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain in a fine-mesh sieve set over a medium bowl. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out excess moisture. Coarsely chop kale (you should have 1 cup); set aside.

3. In a medium saucepan, whisk together flour, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, cayenne and nutmeg. Gradually
whisk in half-and-half, then heat over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until thick and smooth, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto surface of mixture. Let cool completely, then stir in yolks, cubed cheese and kale.

4. Whisk together egg whites and egg-white powder on medium-high speed until stiff but not dry peaks form, 5 to 6 minutes. Spoon 1/4 of whites mixture into base, then whisk thoroughly until smooth. Gently fold in remaining whites mixture. Transfer to prepared dish.

5. Bake 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 375 F; continue to bake until soufflé is risen, set and dark golden brown, 50 to 60 minutes more. Remove collar and serve immediately.

CHEESE-AND-LEEK VARIATION

Melt 2 tablespoons unsalted butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add 1 bunch large leeks (white and pale-green parts only), thinly sliced, washed well and dried (5 cups). Season with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are tender, 15 to 17 minutes. Transfer to a bowl; let cool completely before stirring into mixture in place of kale at end of step 3.

TANGERINE SOUFFLÉS

Active Time: 30 min utes
Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes 
Yields: 6 individual soufflés

unsalted butter, room temperature, for ramekins
6 tablespoons superfine sugar, plus more for ramekins
1 cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
pinch of coarse salt
3 large egg yolks, room temperature, plus 5 large egg whites, room temperature
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons finely grated tangerine zest, plus 1/4 cup fresh tangerine juice (from 3 small tangerines)
pinch of cream of tartar
confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Lightly sweetened crème fraîche, for serving (optional)

1. Heat oven to 400 F with rack in lower third. Butter six 6-ounce ramekins; coat with superfine sugar. Place on a rimmed baking sheet.

2. Bring milk, vanilla bean and seeds, and salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. In a large bowl, whisk together yolks and 1/4 cup superfine sugar until pale and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add flour and whisk until well combined.

3. Remove vanilla bean from milk mixture (discard or reserve for another use), then gradually add half to yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Whisk yolk mixture into remaining milk mixture in saucepan. Bring just to a boil, whisking constantly, then reduce heat and simmer until thick and smooth, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in zest and juice. Transfer to a large bowl and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto surface of mixture. Let cool completely.

4. In another bowl, whisk egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons superfine sugar and whisk until peaks are stiff and glossy, 1 to 2 minutes.

5. Spoon 1/4 of whites mixture into custard base, then whisk thoroughly until smooth. Gently fold in remaining whites mixture until combined. (Don’t worry if some streaks remain.) Divide evenly among prepared ramekins. Bake until risen and set, 15 to 16 minutes. Serve immediately, dusted with confectioners’ sugar and with crème fraîche alongside.