Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fear of falling

Why do we take soufflés and life so seriously?

Is it because we hold a picture in our mind of whatever it is we attempt turning out PERFECT?Well, truthfully, perfect isn't very interesting, or fun. And, we don't learn all that much when things turn out just as expected. Haven't all your most interesting adventures occurred when your adventures didn't go according to plan?

Students in our cooking classes claimed their favorite moments were when things went horribly wrong. They loved watching us figure out how to fix them. For instance, I would purposely overheat and curdle Hollandaise Sauce in order to show them how to bring it back by whisking it into a raw egg yolk. If a kitchen disaster was unfixable, we'd advise students to just to rename whatever it was, or to tell their guests "It's the French way . . .," a phrase that works perfectly when serving a souffle that seems too soft in the center. (The French like their souffles runny, and spoon the runny center over the firmly cooked sides as a sauce.)

Once I horrified our television audience and my late husband Paul von Welanetz by turning a bowl of egg whites beaten to "soft peaks "upside down over my head. He clutched his heart and said "Don't do that!" But he was in on the joke and knew I was only demonstrating the secret to perfect souffles every time. Here is the secret:

Beat egg whites for souffles just until they adhere to the sides of the bowl and do not slide when the bowl is tilted.

Now you know! And now you just have to try one of my most sophisticated yet super-simple recipes featured in the brand new cookbook Orange County Fare by the Junior League in Orange County (see cover and details below).

Seriously, you cannot mess these tiny souffles up because they are supposed to fall! In doing so, little cavities are formed in the middle that can be filled with lemony cream cheese and topped with your favorite savory filling such as caviar (pictured), smoked salmon or graavlax. I promise your guests will be raving about these little show-stoppers:

Once you've served these to rave reviews, you'll have the courage to try a true dessert souffle. Here is a link to my favorite dessert soufflé in a past post:

A sense of playfulness and flexibility in the kitchen, and in life, makes all the difference.


For 48 appetizers

A spectacular appetizer that stretches a tiny bit of savory topping long way! Best of all, can be made a day ahead of time and. You will need mini-muffin tins to make the tiny soufflés.


¼ cup unsifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup whole milk

3 egg yolks

4 egg whites, at room temperature

Zest (grated outer peel) from 1/2 lemon

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Dash of Tabasco sauce

Grated fresh nutmeg, to taste


6 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons sour cream

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2 to 4 ounces black caviar (see Note), smoked salmon, or graavlax

Note: I use about 2 ounces of delicious and moderately-priced American bowfin black caviar available in the freezer section of fish markets or online. Caviar freezes beautifully and is handy to have on hand for very special occasions!

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray 48 mini-muffin cups with non-stick cooking spray.

In a heavy, preferably non-stick saucepan, combine the flour, salt, and 1/4 cup of the milk to a thick paste. Stir in the remaining 3/4 cup milk and stir constantly over medium heat, until the mixture thickens.

Remove the pan from the heat and add the yolks, stirring vigorously. Add the zest, lemon juice, Tabasco and nutmeg.

In an impeccably clean mixer bowl—this is an egg white rule because any oil in the bowl will prevent whites from increasing in volume--beat the egg whites until they do not slide when the bowl is tilted (soft peaks). Using a rubber spatula, fold half the whites into the mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whites. Spoon this soufflé base into the muffin cups filling them about ¾ full. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, until lightly golden. Remove from oven and let cool in the pans—they will sink slightly.

For the topping, combine the cream cheese, sour cream and 1 teaspoon lemon juice in a bowl and mix well. Spoon into a plastic baggie, cut off the tip, and, just before serving squeeze just a bit of the mixture into the indentation of each soufflé. Top with a tiny dollop of caviar, smoked salmon or something else savory.

To prepare in advance: Make the mini soufflés up to a day ahead of time, cover and refrigerate. Serve at room temperature or slightly reheated in a low oven.

This beautiful new Junior League of Orange County Cookbook Orange County Fare: a culinary journey through the California Riviera was just published.

It contains many recipes I can't wait to try: Ambrosia's Roasted Tomato, Saffron and Fennel Soup, Duke's Souffle (a favorite of John Wayne), and The Five Crowns Black Pepper-Crusted Salmon.


  1. Love the picture of the bowl above your head - looks like a halo!

  2. Diana, you're the best! Thanks for all your fantastic tips, ideas and recipes. I'm so glad to know you. XO~Rob