Soufflés have a reputation for being difficult to make at the last minute. I think this recipe represents something of a breakthrough. You can prepare part of the dessert well in advance and another part half an hour before baking. And it’s well worth the effort, as this is a heavenly dish — light, not too sweet and very special.
1⁄4 pound dried California apricots (see notes)
11⁄4 cups cold water
7 tablespoons sugar
11⁄2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, for greasing the ramekins
3 large egg whites (see notes)
Boiling water, as needed
Place the apricots and water in a medium enamel saucepan. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook covered, for 15 minutes or until the apricots are soft. Cool a bit.
Purée the mixture in a blender until very smooth. Add 4 tablespoons of the sugar and 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and blend. Pour the mixture into a container and refrigerate for at least one hour. (You can also do this the day before you will be baking the soufflés.)
Grease eight 1⁄2-cup ramekins with the margarine, and sprinkle them with 2 tablespoons of the sugar (see notes). Invert the ramekins and tap to remove the excess sugar. Place them in a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Place the egg whites in a bowl of an electric-stand mixer. Using the balloon whisk attachment, beat at high speed until foamy and gradually add the remaining tablespoon of sugar and the remaining 1⁄2 tablespoon of lemon juice. Continue beating until the egg whites form stiff, shiny peaks.
With a rubber spatula, fold half of the whites into the apricot purée. Reverse the process, pouring the apricot purée into the bowl with the egg whites. Gently fold the 2 mixtures together, making a motion like a figure 8 with the spatula, until most of the whites have disappeared. Take care not to over-blend.
Spoon the batter into the prepared ramekins. If you are not baking the soufflés immediately, they will keep for half an hour in the refrigerator. When ready to bake, pour enough boiling water into the baking pan to reach one-third of the way up the sides of the ramekins. Bake the soufflés on the middle shelf of the oven for 15 minutes. If you are not serving them right away, you can leave them in the turned-off oven for about 10 minutes. Makes eight servings.
Notes: I always use California apricots when I make this dish because they are less sweet than other varieties. It easier to separate the eggs straight from the refrigerator, when they are cold. Make sure the whites have come to room temperature before beating. You can also bake the soufflé in a 1-quart soufflé dish. Grease the dish, sprinkle it with sugar, and place in a baking pan. After filling it with the batter and pouring the boiling water as described above, bake for 22 minutes.
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