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Soufflé to Victory

Soufflé. They have a reputation of being tricky, but I’ve always wanted to make one. So when Eaten Magazine issued the Cooking for Victory Challenge, and I decided there was no time like lockdown time to tackle the beast. That, and we have a HUGE patch of silverbeet and spinach in the garden that needed eating. Cooking for Victory and its WWII predecessor Dig for Victory just collided in my kitchen.

Spinach Souffle, from the Victory Cook Book, 1943.

The resultof my first attempt was undoubtedly a soufflop.

Lessons I learned:

  • Two egg whites doesn’t beat up enough to fill my pie dish
  • Don’t bang your stick blender against a pot on the stovetop while your souffle is in the oven
  • The dish was actually rocking and rolling around in the water bath’d boiling water, which would have destroyed the air bubbles in the soufflé
  • Mise-en-place is essential

Not one to give up, I made soufflé the next day for lunch, in a smaller dish, and with some wooden cutlery underneath the bowl in the waterbath to reduce rocking while cooking. I got an airy soufflé that still didn’t rise above the dishes lip, but was a very tasty lunch:

Spinach Soufflé, round two

As my faithful little electric beater was whisking up the eggs for my second attempt, I couldn’t help but think that this would have been hell without an electric beater. Hand-powered beaters and mixers were invented and patented in the 1850s by several individuals, and the first powered mixer was invented in 1885, with Sunbeam and KitchenAid coming to the party in the 1910s. Appliances in domestic households were not common until the 1920s in America, and as late as 1935 in Britain 1/3 of new homes were wired for lighting only, leading to “octopus wiring” in the kitchen as people sought to power their new appliances (‘Dawn of the Electronic Age’, pages 230 on). Given that the Victory Cook Book was published in 1943, it’s probable that some American housewives had an electric mixer, but for those without, making a souffle would have been plain awful, if not completely off the menu.

Savoury soufflé’s are made with richer and heavier ingredients, so don’t rise as high as their sweet counterparts. And while I avoided dusting my buttered dishes with parmesan or breadcrumbs for my first two tries (not included in the recipe…), apparently a bit of grit on the sides helps the soufflé to climb. And so, on to attempt three with ramekins, lemon juice in the egg white to further trap air, dusted edges, and lower expectations of a sky-scraping lift:

And guys, I exceeded my expectations completely. They might not have that classic smooth soufflé top but I like how rustic and muffin-like they look. I also added a hefty pinch of chilli flakes as well, because cheese = good, spinach = good, egg = good, and chilli = better. The serving portion for 3 is probably more reflective of the smaller serving sizes people used to eat, and of stretching what you had to feed as many as possible during the war. It fed us both very well as a light lunch, or as an entrée to a small dinner. It’s a great way to add to your meal with only a few ingredients, and it really is a very tasty meal too. And I’ll call that a souf-cess.

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