Souffles," said the general, "are simply a problem in physics; it takes a certain amount of expanding air to lift a given amount of weight."
In the role of schoolmaster for the moment was General Bradley Gaylord, distinguished soldier in two world wars, currently chairman of the board of the Madison Fund, cutthroat practitioner of a racy version of English croquet (pronounced "croaky") to which he has drawn numerous addicts among neighbors on Cape Cod and the winter resort island of Antigua, B.W.I., and—not least among a variegation of accomplishments in a world of large affairs—amateur chef extraordinary.
Long interested in culinary matters, Gaylord a few years ago got acquainted with Andr� Surmain, owner of Epicure Kitchens and president of a gourmet society called Ambassadeurs du Bien Mangers, who at that time ran a cooking school in New York. The two men became friends and the general took lessons from the Epicurean. It is to this teacher that Gaylord today credits his secrets for making successful souffl�s.
In the munificently equipped kitchen of his charming house in Chatham, Mass., the general expounded to me on the subject while demonstrating the approved Surmain procedure step by step as he prepared the lordly concoction shown on the facing page. Shock troops in support of the operation—a tricky one requiring instant decisions and firm commands—were Mrs. Gaylord and their pretty daughter Barbara.
Every souffl� begins with a base, explained the general, usually no more than a white sauce of butter, flour and either milk or broth, to which is added the beaten yolks of eggs and whatever material may be chosen to give the souffl� its character, sweet or savory (such as chocolate, fruit pur�e, spinach, mushrooms, etc.). Then the whites of eggs, an elastic substance that forms thousands of tiny air bubbles when beaten, are whipped to just the right stiffness and folded into the mixture. Now when the whole thing is put in the oven and baked the air bubbles that are trapped in those beaten egg whites, expanding with the heat, will lift the souffl� to form the shape and consistency desired.
Here are the general's special tips:
To get the proper "lift," use more egg whites than yolks. As a rule, the proportion should be five whites to four yolks. In separating one from the other, remember that some egg white in the yolks will do no damage, but the least speck of yolk in the whites can be disastrous.
Yolks of eggs can be beaten in any bowl with a rotary beater, but whites of eggs should be beaten with a whisk in a glass, china or copper bowl. (Silver, aluminum or other metal bowls cannot substitute.) Too often souffl�s are ruined by overheating the whites; they should be beaten only until a glob taken up on the whisk stands in a peak that just topples over (see photograph above).
Most recipes advise the cook, after preparing the white sauce base and adding egg yolks, to let this mixture cool before adding the beaten egg whites. That direction is absolutely wrong, according to Gaylord. The mixture should be still warm when the beaten egg whites are folded in.
Special equipment recommended by Gaylord includes—for beating the egg whites—the French wire whisk he is shown manipulating above and the 12-inch hemisphere-shaped copper bowl called, with functional exactitude, a bol � blancs, both of which can be bought at the Bazar Fran�ais, 666 Sixth Avenue, New York City. Also, for a cloudlike folding-together of materials, a wooden spatula. And here let the general take over in his own words: