When was the last time you made a soufflé? That long? Let’s fix that!
Soufflés are one of those basic recipes that every chef is expected to master. It’s based on technique. Once you understand the basic bechamel sauce and how to properly whip egg whites, the world is your oyster. The recipe I am sharing today showcases a simple cheese soufflé with herbs. I love to delve into my collection of reference cook books when researching a recipe. In Larousse Gastronomique, one of the authorities on classic French cuisine, I counted 36 different variations on the soufflé including the addition of puréed brains. Really!
Soufflés are a delicate matter. To achieve a light and airy product, concentration and timing are essential. I consider this a form of meditation as your mind cannot wander and must stay focused on the tasks on hand. The key is mis en place or having all the ingredients prepped and ready to go.
My mom, the cooking adventuress, made us soufflés after she discovered Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. I’m sure she also referred to the copy I now have of Gastronomique, given to her by my babysitter Claudia, in 1966. The two of them loved experimenting and I was an eager guinea pig. The soufflé soon turned into a family favorite, my mom adding spinach or ham or whatever leftovers she had in the refrigerator. She called it “Sunday night surprise.”
In France, I learned the technique rather than the recipe of the soufflé. It begins with a basic bechamel sauce of just butter, flour and milk plus the seasonings. I use this foundational sauce as a springboard for many dishes including gratins, lasagna, mac and cheese and chicken pot pie. Once you master this simple technique, you can venture into all sorts of recipes you might have thought were too difficult to attempt.
So, why don’t we eat soufflé any more? I think most people are afraid of them! I am here to calm your fears. All it takes is confidence!
This menu was designed as a Mother’s Day Brunch, with the cheese soufflé as the super star. I paired it with watercress and parsley for the greens, papaya and raspberries, a rhubarb tea bread and a glass of Rosé wine. A little bit of everything good and healthy too.
I celebrate you Mom for giving me the gift of cooking, now for you!
Happy Mother’s Day!
French Cheese Soufflé
Butter and dust with bread crumbs a 1 1/2 quart soufflé dish. Or, butter and crumb 6-8 (depending on the size) small souffle dishes. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
This recipe makes one large 1 1/2 quart soufflé or approximately eight 6 or 8 ounce soufflé dishes.
1 cup whole milk
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon ground dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons flour
pinch of ground nutmeg
4 egg yolks
2/3 cup grated Gruyère cheese
2 Tablespoons minced parsley
1 Teaspoon minced chives
1/2 Teaspoon minced chervil or marjoram
6 egg whites at room temperature
Combine the milk, bay leaf, mustard, pepper and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer and then turn the heat off to let the flavors infuse into the milk. While still hot, strain the milk into a measuring cup to make it easier to add to the bechamel base.
Melt the butter in a saucepan until frothy then stir in the flour. Stir quickly with a whisk to create a smooth roux with no lumps. Cook for a few minutes to cook out the flour taste. Slowly whisk in the hot milk, stirring constantly so no lumps will form. Continue to cook on medium low until thick and smooth. Stir in the nutmeg. Taste for salt and add more if you like. Remove from the heat and stir in the egg yolks. Gently stir in the cheese. Cover with plastic wrap or waxed paper until ready to use. Remember to season the bechamel well as the egg whites will dilute the flavor.
Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. In France, I was taught to hold the bowl of whipped egg whites over your head. If they didn’t spill out, they were ready.
Pour half of the bechamel into the egg whites and fold together the two mixtures. Add the rest of the egg whites and all of the minced herbs. Fold with care to keep the mixture light and fluffy. Do not over mix. All of the egg whites do not have to be completely incorporated.
Immediately pour into the prepared dishes and place in the hot oven. The small ramekins took about 12 minutes and the medium size, about 15 minutes. The 1 1/2 quart soufflé dish will take about 20-25 minutes. I look for a brown top. You want a creamy center so try not to over cook.