How Homemade Souffle Changed My Relationship With My Mom
Three tries later, we have dessert and, more importantly, memories.
My mom and I are a lot alike. We both adore chocolate cake, love going shopping, and binge-watch foreign television shows as if our lives depended on it. We even make the same facial expression whenever we’re annoyed — eyebrows raised into our hairlines, jaws jutted out — and while I was growing up, people knew I was her daughter just by looking at me.
My mom and I are also pretty stubborn — especially when we bake together. Despite all our similarities, when it comes to baking, my mother and I couldn’t be more different. Whether it’s something as simple as boxed brownies or as advanced as a unicorn cake, my mom and I are just like edible cookie dough — harmless in small batches; a complete disaster in large quantities.
As a kid, I walked out on more than a few baking projects, while my mom’s ample years of cooking and baking gave her the advantage of just knowing things. While I fumbled around with my printouts, she held all her recipes in her head, eyeballing ingredients and swiftly moving through her batters, custards and icings at a speed I just couldn’t keep up with. This made me nervous, because unlike my mom — who feels very comfortable winging a dish or substituting ingredients with whatever she has on hand — I need the details of a recipe to keep me calm.
So, when I told my mom I wanted to make a souffle from scratch, I was beyond nervous. Having been in quarantine together for six weeks up until that moment, we had already made confetti cookies, crownies, Easter bread and beignets together without getting into any heated arguments. But I worried a souffle would be different. To me, souffles are the creme de la creme of baking, and I personally held making one perfectly as the standard by which I would finally know I had proven myself as a “true baker.” (I am nothing, if not, ambitious.) Now with nothing but time on my hands, I couldn’t think of a better baking project to tackle.
Naturally, my mom and I had completely different ideas when it came to how we would approach our souffle. Though we both wanted to make an orange-vanilla-flavored one, that was the only thing we could agree on. Whereas I wanted to follow the recipe I had found to a T, my mom didn’t see what difference it would make if we used a spatula instead of a whisk. But I had heard so much about the precise discipline needed to bake a souffle successfully that I was positive my approach was the right one.
A souffle is made up of two components — a base and whipped egg whites, which brings me to our first attempt. I say attempt, because as you might have already guessed, it didn’t actually result in anything baked. On the contrary, my mom and I didn’t get much further than the base. After some bickering, I was able to convince my mom that we should make our base exactly as the recipe said. What hadn’t been included in the recipe, however, was a warning about what would happen if you whisked cold egg yolks into heated milk, without adjusting your heat. Spoiler alert: You scramble your eggs. Suffice to say, it went straight into the garbage.
Our second souffle attempt happened the following weekend. With my ego bruised slightly, I agreed to let my mom call the shots this time. We subbed whole milk with 1% milk in our base because that was what we had in the house, and we used a hand mixer to whip our egg whites, even though the recipe specifically called for a stand mixer, which we don't own. You probably know where this is going; when we pulled our souffle out of the oven, it hadn’t risen at all — and even more disappointing, when we dug our spoons inside, we found it was raw. We would later find out this was all due to a lack of air in our egg whites, but I digress.
By this point, I was over making a souffle, but my mom was on a mission to keep trying until we got it right. She wouldn’t do it without my help, though, and after some encouraging words, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. And what would you know — the third time truly was the charm! The secret? We decided to make two miniature souffles instead of a large one. We couldn’t have been happier with the end result — or more impressed with one another.
While I'm not sure I'll make souffle again anytime soon (or ever, really), I know I've learned something more valuable from this whole experience. What had originally started as an attempt to make a few hours go by on a weekend turned into a bonding experience with my mom. Though we lived in the same house, there were times pre-quarantine where my mom and I would go several weekends without spending more than a few hours together. Now with nowhere to go and no one to see, my mom and I could finally just be together. Sure, we had bickered a bit when baking our souffles, but we also joked around, took photos, laughed and got to try something neither one of us had ever experienced before as a team.
I learned more than just how to make a souffle those three weekends. I learned that baking isn’t always about following rules; sometimes it’s about trying something new with someone you care about and the memories that result.
I can’t wait to do just that when mom and I tackle cinnamon rolls next.