Jasmine Tea Soufflé with Lemongrass Ice Cream
And before you know it summer is quietly exhaling its last long breaths and the July edition of Is My Blog Burning? is upon us. Our hardworking host, Clement of the awe-inspiring A La Cuisine! has chosen tea as our unifying gastronomic principle this month. What can one do with tea? Although tea is consumed in copious quantities across Europe and North America, it rarely finds its way into anything besides a drinking vessel. Iced tea, hot tea, green tea, black tea, chai tea, tea with milk, tea with lemon, tea that is not really tea at all but peppermint leaves or chamomile flowers... Tea is ubiquitous, but it rarely shows up in anything solid. At least not in Western cuisine, which perhaps explains why tea-flavored food instantly conjures up the Orient, where tea is used not just as the basis of a drink but as a flavoring in itself. The recipe I finally chose to highlight tea, however, is a kind of fusion, or rather a friendly handshake between two very traditional Western preparations (soufflé and ice cream) and two sophisticated Eastern flavors (jasmine tea and lemongrass). I actually stumbled across this recipe quite by accident when I was planning to make something else with tea, yet the seductive harmony of tastes this dish was promising had me instantly converted.
If you've ever had jasmine tea, you've probably never forgotten its haunting perfume. Unlike jasmine rice, which is a rice with a natural jasmine-like scent, jasmine tea is made by actually layering tea leaves with freshly-picked jasmine blossoms, and leaving them to dry until the tea is completely infused with the flower's scent. The flowers are normally removed before packaging, but the tea I bought for this dish (from a local bulk-tea merchant) still contained them, small and wrinkled and oh-so-jasminey. The effect of this on the soufflé was quite powerful, the fragrance of the flowers deeply permeating the airy batter. It also married perfectly with the ice cream, which is subtle enough to not mask the tea but rich with its own herby, citrusy complexity. The two components create really quite an amazing partnership of taste and texture, enhanced even further by the contrast between the blistering-hot soufflé and the frosty ice cream. The only problem is the timing - like any soufflé these must be served immediately upon coming out of the oven, and especially topped with the ice cream you have a race against time to serve your guests anything but a gloppy puddle of mush. Not that it would be the end of the world - after taking the above photograph I had only a gloppy puddle of mush left, but that didn't stop me from licking the dish clean!
Jasmine Tea Soufflés with Lemongrass Ice Cream
Source: adapted slightly from Ming Tsai (original recipe available here)
Serves: 6 to 8
For the soufflés:
1/2 cup loose jasmine tea leaves
1 cup milk
3 cups heavy cream
2 Tahitian vanilla beans, split lengthwise and scraped
1/2 cup honey
10 eggs, separated
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar (1/4 cup for yolks, 1/4 cup for whites)
6 to 8 buttered and sugared 6 ounce ramekins
In a non-reactive saucepan on low heat, mix tea, cream, milk and vanilla pods and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes then take off stove and let steep an additional 30 minutes. Strain infused liquid and re-heat with the honey to a simmer. In a stainless steel bowl whisk together the 10 yolks, cornstarch, salt and 1/4 cup of sugar. Temper the yolks by adding only a ladle of hot infused cream to the yolks. Mix well then add tempered mixture back to the saucepan. On medium heat, whisk constantly until it thickens then cook an additional 3 to 5 minutes. A pastry cream texture should be achieved. Transfer base to a baking dish, seal with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator. Base can be made 24 hours in advance.
Pre-heat a sheet tray in a 375F oven. Whisk the egg whites with 1-tablespoon of sugar in an upright mixer equipped with a whip attachment on slow. In about 8 to10 minutes soft peaks will be achieved. Add the rest of the sugar and whip at high speed for two 5 second bursts. In a large stainless bowl, hand whisk the chilled infused cream base until smooth. Using a spatula, gently fold in the egg whites. Work quickly, but do not over mix. The base needs to be one homogenous color. Fill ramekins to the top. Drop each one from a height of 3 inches onto the counter to disperse any unwanted bubbles. Place on heated sheet tray and bake for 12 minutes. After 6 minutes the soufflés will start rising. Check the rising soufflés to see if any edges are getting caught on the rims of the ramekins; if necessary open the oven door and carefully slice the sticking part with a paring knife (you won't ruin the soufflés if you work fast). The soufflés will straighten themselves out. When the sides of the soufflés are golden brown (the key to a soufflé not falling is the crusty, golden brown sides), pull out of the oven and dust the tops with confectioners' sugar. Serve immediately with a scoop of the lemongrass ice cream.
For the ice cream:
3 cups milk
2 cups heavy cream
4 large stalks lemongrass, chopped
8oz (225g) sugar
6 large egg yolks
In a non-reactive saucepan, simmer the milk and cream with the lemon grass and until it has reduced by one-quarter. Cover, set aside and let the lemon grass steep for several hours, or even overnight. Strain out lemon grass and heat the milk and cream with sugar and salt. Bring to a simmer. Hand whisk the yolks in a bowl until frothy. Temper the yolks by adding a cup of hot milk to the yolks and stirring quickly to combine. Carefully add the tempered yolks to the sauce pan, whisking constantly. Whisk constantly on medium heat until lightly thickened (do not let boil!). Strain the mixture, then cool completely in the refrigerator or an ice bath. Follow manufacturer's instructions for your particular ice cream maker. Soften slightly before serving.