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#ThatTranslatorCanCook week 29: Cheese soufflé

I’d been meaning to try my hand at soufflé for a while. It’s a French classic. It’s also notoriously tricky. So I was a little intimidated. But I decided this week was the week. Previously I’d put it off, citing the need for the right size ramekins. I knew I needed deeper ones than what I had, but saw conflicting advice about which ones were best.

In the end, I decided to plough on and just give it a shot with those in my cupboard.

The source recipe I chose used comté – one of my favourite cheeses – and was named ‘Cheese soufflé which doesn’t sink’, so it seemed like an ideal choice.

What could possibly go wrong…


The bottom of the pan’s side?

Maybe this is just me getting a little muddled here, but I was – in fact, I still am – confused by the following instruction:

Bien mélanger au fouet et chauffer jusqu’à ce que la béchamel se détache du fond de la paroi lorsqu’on penche la casserole

It's the ‘du fond de la paroi’ which I find tricky. The word-for-word translation is, unless I’m mistaken, is ‘the bottom of the side’. If I’ve understood this correctly, this is incredibly specific. You’re instructed to cook the sauce until it comes away from… not the bottom of the saucepan, not the entire side – but the bottom bit of the side – when you tilt it.

Maybe this should have read simply ‘the bottom’ or the ‘the side’ – or perhaps it’s both? If anyone can shed any light on this, please do!

I did consult some other recipes to see if they could provide a clue, but most referred to cooking the sauce until it thickened, with some referring to a specific cooking time. Others simply say ‘make a béchamel/white sauce.’

Separated eggs

This is an example of English being much vaguer than French. In English, it’s common for recipes to instruct you to ‘separate the eggs’, or to just list in the ingredients, ‘2 eggs, separated.’ In contrast, my source recipe says to separate the whites from the yolks.

When you think about it, ‘separate the eggs’ is a particularly vague instruction. And it can be easily misinterpreted. Seeing reference to ‘egg whites’ in a recipe, a Colombian friend relatively new to the world of baking stalked the supermarket aisles for white-shelled eggs – eventually settling for blue-shelled ones. Later, he realised his mistake, and tried to separate the whites from the yolks, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. I’m not sure exactly what happened, but he’d made small holes in the top of each shell and held them upside down to allow the white to pass through, but not the yolk.

Then again, it’s so commonplace in English recipes that to describe it any other way would seem superfluous – unless of course we’re writing for beginner bakers.

Folding or mixing?

After beating the egg whites to stiff peaks, the instructions read to Incorporer délicatement.

Incorporer is another versatile French word. In the cooking world alone, it could mean: mix (in), blend, incorporate, and fold (in). To me, the first three of these are more or less synonymous. However, ‘fold’ refers to a specific baking technique, as explained on Crafty Baking:

'You use the folding technique to gently combine light and airy mixtures, such as beaten egg whites or whipped cream with a heavier mixture, such as a batter, flour or fruit purees, or when folding in melted chocolate or butter into a batter. For example, when beaten egg whites are folded into a batter, it is done so they will retain as much of their volume as possible.'

So how do we know whether we should be ‘folding’ or ‘mixing’? Well, for a start, there’s the fact that we’re talking about mixing in beaten egg whites into a heavier batter. Then, if we’re making a soufflé, we probably know that one of the main soufflé disasters is that it sinks, and logically, retaining as much volume as possible is probably going to help avoid this. And finally, we consider the use of the adverb délicatement (‘delicately’ – though in this context we’d be more likely to use ‘gently’). Taking all of this into account, I decided to use ‘fold.’

The importance of cooking and baking knowledge in recipe translation

I hope the above helps to demonstrate that to produce good recipe translations, you need to not only have extensive linguistic and cultural knowledge of your source and target languages and cultures, but that you also need to have a certain level of cooking and baking knowledge. And for the cherry on the cake, you need to act as a bit of a sleuth – hunting down obscure terms or ingredients, comparing recipes and turns of phrase.


Right, let’s talk about the cooking.

I didn’t make soufflés. I made soufflé volcanos. Or maybe I could call them souff-canos?

Just look at those molten explosions of deliciousness though!

Picture of overflowing cooked soufflés

No, let’s be fair. I did also make a couple of soufflés which turned out looking pretty much as they ought to. To be honest, one of the most challenging things was snapping a decent photo before they sunk!

Photo of soufflé straight out of the oven
Picture of a soufflé part-eaten

My souff-canos resulted from not having the right size dishes, or indeed knowing what the right size was. If only my source recipe had given some sort indication. In fact, on the website, there is even a ‘utensils’ section where it helpfully lists those you might need: a saucepan, a whisk, an oven… (I think I could have guessed at least some of that). No mention however of what size ramekins or dishes to use.

Fortunately, despite making a bit of a mess, they tasted utterly delicious.

Next week

No ideas just yet. Maybe a main dish of some sort.

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