Monday, January 21, 2008

'Twas Brillig

That’s the only word I could think of...really!

As I walked through the second sun-drenched day that followed rainstorms and temps that required mittens, I decided that “brillig” was just this kind of day. A day that takes a step past brilliant and needs new words...or twists on the old words of my childhood. And that particular word suddenly fit for me.

This day shimmered. 'Twas brillig!

Fountains wrapped themselves in dappled light...and wore it well...

...bare trees in the plazas stretched toward the light like a yoga class in a silent choreography of sun salutes...

...the good folk of the town gathered at the sunniest cafes, shielded with sunglasses against the unfamiliar brilliance of this welcomed guest. In the sea of black coats, a few brave souls even peeled layers back to show a little skin for the first time in months... glasses paired up and danced in the light on their outdoor tables...

...and some found themselves in solo performances...

...baskets and boxes of produce in the market were all the more enticing splashed with sunshine...

...hints of the gentle days ahead were apparent in Cezanne’s garden...

...shutters, closed against the wind and cold for the better part of the season...

...were thrown open, as if to say, "Bring it on!"...

Having spent the better part of the second such day at the park with Bodhi, I became aware of how thoughtfully many of the benches are placed to make the most of a shot at natural heating in the middle of winter. These same benches are well shaded as temperatures rise. (My goodness, the people who live with seasons are clever ones!)

What better way to celebrate the sun on a rare and lovely mid-winter day than to use this year’s harvest of the two Meyer lemons (from my own little lemon tree) in a soufflé!

I had been inspired by a lemon soufflé (soufflé-cake, actually) at a dinner party I had attended the other evening. A light mouthful at first bite, the richness made itself known as I continued. Almost the consistency and taste of a lovely cheesecake at the start, as I dug (errrrr...I mean “daintily dipped my spoon”) into the bottom of the little pot, there was something closer to a pudding waiting for me there. (Honestly, I think I even saw that pudding smiling at me to welcome my arrival!) The consistency of a lovely lemon curd, it certainly wakes up the whole affair.

All of the guests made the well-deserved "oohs and aaahs" in response to the first...and then the second mouthful...and then we hit that pudding and sauce at the bottom.

We had been talking about food for the better part of the wonderful meal but this...this called for our full attention and the only subject on everyone's lips was sitting in the little pots in front of each one of us.

We savored.

We praised.

We asked for the recipe.

We envisioned the next soufflé as we were scraping the last of the sauce from our little pots. Yup! It was that good. (Note to self: Do not apply for that position of "stealth photographer" for anonymous food writer...never gonna happen...the portable phone was not subtle.)

My inspiration for a lemon soufflé had become a "soufflé-off"!

In the first corner we have: a lemon soufflé-cake that was chosen as the wedding cake by my friends N & W when they were married, back in the day. I had my work cut out for me. It was a keeper!

In the second corner we have: a recipe I had recently seen as I ate lunch and practiced my French by listening to the afternoon news. Another chef, Christian Plumail of l'Univers de Christian Plumail in Nice, was strutting his stuff in a 5 minute “filler” between new casts. I bit. (Actually, he had me in the introduction and a close up of those little soufflé cups! I'm easy.) As luck would have it, his recipe calls for two lemons and I had...well, exactly two lemons!

This lovely little soufflé holds its own in this playful competition! Bravo, Chef! Lighter than the pudding style of the dinner party, but full of the sunshine-y zip of zesty lemon. It also has a thicker sauce at the bottom of its pot - not quite the same "curd" quality, but a nice contrast to the airy first bite.

Each makes a lovely presentation...each will win you sincere compliments at the end of your meal...and each will squeeze just a little more sunshine into a winter day.

Bon appétit!

p.s. I am sooo going to Chef Plumail's digs in Nice! I may only be able to afford the soufflé...but I'm going...and you'll be the first to know when I do!

p.p.s. A "thank you" to Nathalie for sharing her "soufflé-cake" recipe.

Soufflé au Citron (gently adapted from Chef Christian Plumail)

2 lemons, organic and non-treated
3 eggs
1/4 cup of granulated sugar
A few tablespoons of powdered sugar (this is for the final dusting)
A pinch of fine sea salt
A bit of extra butter and granulated sugar for the lining preparation of the ramequins.

Preheat the oven to 350°F

1) Butter lightly and and give a dusting of granulated sugar to the inside of 4 ramequins 8 cm in diameter, taking care not to leave any fingerprints on the surface. Turn over and tap each ramequin to eliminate any surplus sugar. (A note: if you store the ramequins a few minutes in the refrigerator before buttering them, the butter will solidify more easily on the cold walls.)

2) Take the zest of 2 lemons, then chop finely. (Or use one of those lovely zesting tools that does it all for you!)

3) Set aside the juice one of the lemons.

4) Separate the yolks from the whites of 3 eggs. Vigorously whip the 3 yolks with 3/8 cup granulated sugar until the it becomes light in color and in texture. Incorporate the lemon zest.

5) Whip the 3 egg whites (with a pinch of fine sea salt added). Finish whipping the whites with the remaining 1/8 cup of sugar and gradually incorporate the lemon juice.

6) Add a bit of the whipped egg whites to the whipped yolk mixture then slowly add the whipped yolks to the whites, gently (very gently!) adding it and incorporating it with a spatula, until the whipped yolks are entirely blended into the whites.

7) Fill the prepared ramequins carefully, taking care not to allow the mixture to run on the edges. Smooth the surface delicately to perfect their presentation. Place the ramequins on a baking sheet and slip it into the preheated oven at about middle height.

8) Bake the soufflés for 7 minutes at 350°F. (Do not open the door of the oven during the cooking time!)

9)Dust each of the soufflés with powdered sugar and serve warm.

Serves 4

Nathalie's Lemon "Soufflé Cake" (Adapted from George Funke's 1976 version)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Choose a 1 1/2 quart casserole (or 6 to 8 custard cups) and another larger baking pan. Put the casserole or custard cups in the larger pan and add water to come well up the sides. Remove the casserole/custard cups, cover the larger pan and heat the water in it, either on teh stove top or in the oven.

Butter the interior of the casserole or custard cups. (Or put dabs or butter in the baking dishes and set in a warm place so the butter melts while you prepare the following batter.)

2 large lemons Grate the rind, squeeze the juice, and set aside.

3 large eggs, separated Yolks in one medium-size bowl, whites in another.

1 cup milk

1 cup granulated sugar Set aside 1/4 cup.

2 tablespoons flour)-- Stir flour and salt into remaining sugar
Pinch salt )--

2 tablespoons butter Cut into several fingertip size pieces

In their medium size bowl, beat the egg yolks with a fork or small whisk. Stir the mild into the egg yolks. Next stir in the sugar-flour mixture, followed by the lemon rind and juice. Blend well. Add the morsels of butter.

In the other medium bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, gradually adding the 1/4 cup sugar reserved above. Gently fold the egg whites into the sugar-lemon mixture.

Pour the mixture into the buttered casserole or custard cups. Place in the pan of hot water and bake 20-25 minutes for a casserole, 15 minutes for custard cups. Be Accurate (!) as to baking time, so the bottom remains a thick liquid that serves as a sauce for the soufflé-cake. Serve promptly.

Makes 6 to 8 servings (May also be served at room temperature or cold.)

Option: substitute the grated rind and juice of 1 orange for the lemons. (1 orange is about 6 tablespoons of juice.)


Throbsicle said...

oh, how lovely indeed! when our 200 lemon trees burst forth with this season's fruit, i'll be sure to revisit your post here!

we're always in need of more and creative ways to consume those babies. hope the fires didn't stun too many of them...

but, can i wait that long?!! your images and my strict diet do not a marriage make!

Flanboyant Eats said...

OOH!! I have a pic like your first one I took not too long ago in Lye! I'll post on my site and hopefully you'll see it. I'm making plans to visit Paris again in the next few months. I'll visit your site again for some good local information!

Glad I came across you!

la fourchette said...

This sounds like a "when life gives you lemons..." kind of thing! Let me know how the soufflé turns out...and anything else you might turn your stash of lemons into!
Thanks for stopping in!
(Great rainbow shot, by the way.)

flanboyant eats,
Welcome - and thanks for stopping in. Haven't seen your shot show up yet, but it looks like you really get around! Enjoy Paris!


Gretchen and Mark said...

Leslie- I'm delighted to have come across your blog. We miss you here in California. I hadn't realized that you had ended up in Aix - I used to live out the Route de Tholonet when I was a student. Mark and I are well- we added parenting twins to our life not long after you left. I'm glad to see your life is so rich. A bientot.

la fourchette said...

oh my goodness! what a delightful surprise to see you show up...of all! Yes, I knew about the twins...that may have been the last time we connected...just after! Felicitations!
I suspect your lives are also one of my other favorite places on the planet. That would be my hope/wish for you! (En plus, you know my 'hood! Tant mieux!) Stay in touch as time allows.
Sending you my very best.

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