I picked up Soufflé by Asli Perker from a nearby Barnes & Noble months ago on a cold winter day. Equal parts funny and moving, it appeared to be the perfect cure for the blues that are an inevitable part of the dreary Chicago winters. And what a delicious cure it was in every sense.
Soufflé is the first book by Turkish author Asli Perker to be published in English. It follows three main characters in different cities around the world — New York, Paris, and Istanbul — who seek to escape from the various heartbreaks in their lives. First we meet Lilia, who wakes up one morning to discover that her marriage is not what it seemed when her husband suffers a stroke. Next we meet Marc, the Parisian widower who must find a way to face his future after the loss of his beloved. And, in Istanbul, Ferda struggles to meet both the demands of family life and to follow her passion for cooking when her elderly mother becomes bedridden.
As the three characters seek solace in cooking, each happens upon the same soufflé cookbook and sets off to master the perfect dish. In their attempts to do so, these three individuals learn to cope with the trials and tribulations in their lives and the reader is invited along for the ride. We follow Lilia as she takes in tenants to make ends meet and finds comfort in cooking for them and we cheer on Marc as he learns to cook from scratch and to look out for himself. We experience guilt as Ferda struggles with the responsibilities of a child of an ailing parent.
Despite the occasional clichéd moments, Soufflé is a moving reflection on dealing with major life changes, disappointment, and the aging process. Perker is an adept storyteller, one who uses the soufflé — known to deflate just seconds after coming out of the oven — as a motif for the disappointments in life while also using cooking to capture the comfort and solace that can be found in the kitchen.
Perhaps the greatest strength of Soufflé lies in its ability to inspire readers to get into the kitchen and try their hand at a new recipe, which led me to attempt the perfect chocolate soufflé. This recipe is a perfect entrée into the world of soufflés for even the most inexperienced cook.
MINI CHOCOLATE SOUFFLÉS
- 2 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
- 3 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 eggs, yolks and whites divided
- 2 tablespoons sugar (plus more for sprinkling on inside of ramekins)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 375ºF.
Use ½ tablespoon butter to thoroughly coat the insides of three 7-oz. ramekins. Fill the ramekins with sugar and dump out, tapping out the excess, so that the insides of the ramekins are completely coated with sugar.
Over medium-high heat, bring a medium saucepan halfway filled with water to a simmer. Place a bowl or small saucepan inside the water bath, being careful not to let it touch the bottom of the medium saucepan. Fill the smaller vessel with the chocolate chips and remaining butter and melt the mixture completely.
Remove from heat and stir in the ½ teaspoon vanilla extract and egg yolks, one at a time. Reserve the egg whites. Set mixture aside.
In a clean bowl, combine egg whites, sugar, salt and cream of tartar and whisk the egg white mixture until stiff peaks form.
Fold the egg white mixture into the chocolate mixture. Spoon the mixture into the ramekins, filling them ¾ of the way full.
Bake soufflés for 15 minutes or until puffed and set. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired. Serve immediately.
Adapted from Tablespoon