The Art of the Soufflé: Finding the Best of a French Classic in Paris
by Emma Brode
Editor’s note: By the time we get to February springtime feels so close yet so far away! These grey days of winter seem longer than ever and we all need a remedy for another rainy day. Enter the Soufflé. This French classic is the culinary equivalent of a ray of sunshine- bright golden and warming all over. Whether you prefer sweet or savory, simple or elaborate, we’re sure you’ll find a soufflé a votre goût at our favorite Paris soufflé specialists.
There is no dish quite so comforting, so sophisticated or so damn difficult to prepare as the soufflé.Ranging from sweet to savory, traditional to contemporary, this classic French dish can be presented as an appetizer,a main dish, and even moonlights on some menus as a dessert. The soufflé is not only versatile, it is also elegant, mysterious and puzzling. What is it? And more importantly, how do you get it to rise and stay that way?
In her cookbookMastering the Art of French Cooking, Julia Child describes the soufflé as “a sauce containing a flavoring or purée into which stiffly beaten egg whites are incorporated. It is turned into a mold and baked in the oven until it puffs up and the top browns.” Her book of recipes contains no less that 13 savory soufflés and 10 sweet, running from the beloved cheese soufflé to elaborate fish soufflés to the classic chocolate soufflé. Her secret? “The glory and lightness of French soufflés are largely a matter of how voluminously stiff the egg whites have been beaten and how nicely they have been incorporated into the soufflé base.” Beating the egg whites can prove to be quite a workout, but the reward is a deliciously puffed and airy dish that’s a sure crowdpleaser.
Visiting Paris and hoping to taste one of these very delicious French specialties? Here are three restaurants for you ranging from contemporary riffs to traditional favorites.
Coincidence would have it that a restaurant entirely dedicated to soufflésopened its doors the yearJulia Child published her cookbook in 1961. Le Soufflé is a teeny tiny restaurant that seems to be stuck in time, just around the corner from Place Vendôme in the heart of Paris. With a baby blue facade and hanging sign with a soufflé painted on it, the establishment is warm, welcoming and delightfully retro. The interior may feel dated but the food is delicious and soufflés are featured from start to finish. A classic cheese soufflé costs 14 euro and a rich, creamy soufflé Henri IV sauce volaille aux champignons (cheese soufflé with chicken and mushroom sauce) is satisfying at 17 euros. For the more adventurous they offer a pikefish soufflé with crayfish sauce (17 euros) and a soufflé with foie gras and fig jam (19 euros). An impressive selection of sweet soufflés rounds out the menu with a special favorite being the soufflé Grand Marnier (12 euros).
Nestled on a discreet little rue near Le Bon Marché department store and Saint-Sulpice on Paris’ Left Bank is the intimate restaurant Le Récamier. A dozen years ago, chef Gérard Idoux made it his mission to revive the French soufflé and today the address has becomea favorite for well-to-do French families and visiting diplomats; former French president Jacques Chirac and the Obama family are also patrons. Discreetly hidden behind the the lush greenery enfolding the terrace, high-profile diners enjoy a menu of more than fourteen savory and sweet soufflés and selections that change with the seasons. The range is impressive and prices slightly elevated to match the excellent quality of the cheese soufflé (19.50 euros), marinated lemony chicken soufflé (25.50 euros) or button mushroom soufflé (24.50 euros). There are ample vegetarian and gluten-free options including agreen pea and carrot soufflé (22.50 euros). To finish, Idoux serves up an original array of sweet soufflés ranging from toffee to gingerbread to roasted pineapple to a real killer chocolate soufflé made with Saint-Domingue dark chocolate, chocolate fondant and dark chocolate chips.
Craving something a little more modern? Step inside the wide industrial stretch of a restaurant at Alain Ducasse’s Champeaux, cradled under the arching green canopy of the recently renovated Forum des Halles shopping center. The neo-brasserie boasts revamped leather banquettes and a niftydisplay board that flips throughrotating menu items as if they were departing trains in a 50s era train station. Two savory soufflés and two sweet soufflés round out a menu composed of revisited French classics from eggs mimosa to veal blanquette. Soufflé-seekers can stick to the classic cheese soufflé (10 euros) and chocolate soufflé (12 euros), or bite into something a little more original like the velvety and luxurious lobster soufflé or the rum and raisin soufflé (12 euros).
Champeaux – Pierre Monetta
Le Soufflé – 36 rue Mont Thabor , 75001. 01 42 60 27 19. Open Monday – Saturday 12p-4pm and 7pm-10pm. Metro: Concorde (ligne 1, 8 & 12).
Le Récamier – 4 rue Récamier, 75007. 01 45 48 86 58. Open every day 12-11pm. Metro: Saint-Sulpice (lige 4), Sèvres-Babylone (ligne 10 & 12).
Champeaux – The Canopy, Forum des Halles, Porte Rambuteau, 75001. 01 53 45 84 50. Open Sunday – Wednesday 12pm-12am, Thursday – Saturday 12pm-1am. Metro: Les Halles (ligne 4).