Sunday, July 19, 2020

Cheese Soufflé

I really like making soufflé, but I don’t do it very often because every time I start, an imaginary soufflé expert materializes in my kitchen to critique my every move and offer very little by way of helpful suggestions. The conversation usually goes something like this. But, if I can keep the illusory prima donna distracted long enough, I actually very much enjoy the process of making soufflé, and I always find the results tasty, however imperfect they may be. So here follows a non-expert’s guide to making soufflé. If it doesn’t turn out the way you expect, then just tell everyone that you created a new dish pronounced “SOO-full,” and pretend nothing is amiss.

"Did someone say soufflé?"

I first made this dish in an elective cooking class in college (the only pre-9am class I was ever willing to attend). The recipe was complete with instructions to show off the soufflé to the rest of the class as soon as it came out of the oven. So that’s Principle #1 of making soufflé: no matter how fluffy and gorgeous it is when it comes out of the oven, it will collapse rapidly, so don’t feel bad when that happens to you.

Principle #2: separating eggs is way easier with 3 bowls – one to separate the egg over, one to collect separated yolks, and one to collect separated whites. Egg whites are fussy in that they won’t whip up properly if they have any grease or fat in them, which includes bits of yolk. So, by having three separate bowls, it’s much less of a big deal if you accidentally break a yolk while separating. You will have only contaminated that one white instead of having to dump out the whole bowl of successfully separated whites too.

Principle #3: egg whites increase in stiffness the longer you whip them, until they eventually dry out and get clumpy. Most recipes call for egg whites whipped to either soft peaks or stiff peaks. This recipe uses stiff peaks, which means that if you scoop up some of the egg whites on the beater, they will keep their shape (as opposed to drooping for soft peaks). Or, if they don’t cling to the beater (maybe I over-whipped them slightly? Not sure…), you can tell you have achieved stiff peaks if you turn the bowl upside-down and nothing falls out. Just be sure to try that over another bowl to be safe… If you did over-whip your eggs, don’t fear; they can be fixed.

Principle #4: egg whites supposedly whip up better at room temperature, but I’ve always done them cold in my ignorance, and it has always been fine. Maybe someday I will actually listen to that soufflé expert, and I will let you know how it goes.

Principle #5: I might have packed more cheese into this than the original recipe writers intended. This would weigh my soufflé down and make it less fluffy but soooo tasty.

Cheese Soufflé

adapted from SFL 110 and

4 large eggs
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons flour
¼ teaspoon salt
a pinch of ground black pepper, to taste
a few dashes Tabasco sauce or a pinch of cayenne pepper, optional
a generous splash of Worcestershire sauce (approx. ¼ – ½ teaspoon)
1¼ cups milk, presumably any fat percentage
3 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (approx. 1 cup well packed)
1 ounce parmesan cheese, shredded (approx. ¼ cup well packed)
paprika for sprinkling the top, optional

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease the bottom (but not sides) of a 1½-quart soufflé dish. (This will help it “climb” the sides of the soufflé dish.) Though, I believe my soufflé dish is actually 2-quart, which makes the appearance less dramatic, but it works just fine.

Separate the eggs, and set the yolks aside. Using a clean bowl and the whisk attachment of a mixer, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks (see above for explanation), and set aside. Alternatively, you can let the egg whites sit and whip them after making the custardy part below.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then whisk in the flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne (if using). Continue whisking until bubbly. Then, while continuing to whisk, slowly pour in the milk, Worcestershire, and Tabasco (if using). Continue heating and whisking until the mixture thickens and boils. Remove from heat, and stir in the cheese. If the cheese doesn’t entirely melt, return the saucepan to low heat, and stir until it does. Let the mixture cool slightly, and then beat a small amount of the melted cheese sauce into the reserved egg yolks to raise their temperature gradually. Then, whisk the egg yolks into the cheese sauce.

Whisk about one quarter of the egg whites into the cheesy custard to lighten the mixture, and then gently fold the remaining egg whites in. You’re looking to incorporate them so that you don’t have big chunks of unmixed egg white, but you want to reserve as much air as possible. Don’t fret too much because it will be tasty even if imperfect. (See below for how mine looked at this stage, if it helps.)

Gently pour the soufflé mixture into your prepared dish, sprinkle with paprika if desired, and bake for 40-50 minutes until deeply golden brown.

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