Tuesday Techniques: Cheese Soufflé

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We all remember those episodes of bad sitcoms where a character would be making a soufflé and insist that everyone stay quiet in the kitchen lest their precious prize collapse. Then, of course, an Urkel or a Punky would knock over a tray of pots and pans, the soufflé-maker would cry out and hilarity would ensue. This is how most Americans perceived soufflé, as a disaster waiting to happen. And most people, I’d wager, still think of it that way–which is why, perhaps, so many of you requested soufflé as the next technique I tackle in my Tuesday Techniques.

But, as Michael Ruhlman writes in his “Elements of Cooking”, “Soufflés are less fragile and difficult than their reputation suggests.”

Banking on this, I decided that I’d make a soufflé for lunch after going to the gym this morning (instead of dangling a carrot in front of my treadmill, I dangled an imaginary cheese soufflé).

The recipe I chose wasn’t from Jacques Pepin’s book (though he has a recipe for lobster soufflé I may try in the near future) but from my favorite, Ina Garten, and her “Barefoot in Paris” cookbook. I trust Ina–her recipes almost always come out–so I figured that for a dish as daunting and intimidating as soufflé, hers would be the recipe to use.

And boy, am I glad I did. Was it difficult? Not at all: it just involves lots of dirty dishes, broken eggs and self-control (especially in the not peeking in the oven department). I bought a large soufflé dish on Monday in preparation for making this; I think having a large soufflé dish is smart because instead of figuring out how many portions you can eat, you just make a big giant portion and dish yourself out however much you want. [For this recipe, the dish should hold 8 cups and it should be 7 1/2 inches in diameter X 3 1/4 inches deep.]

Here’s what you need to make it…

Ingredients

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the dish

1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling

3 Tbs all-purpose flour

1 cup scalded milk

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pinch of cayenne pepper

Pinch of nutmeg

4 extra-large egg yolks at room temperature

3 ounces good Roquefort cheese, chopped

5 extra-large egg whites at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

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And here are Ina’s instructions…

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter the inside of an 8-cup soufflé dish and sprinkle evenly with Parmesan.

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Melt the butter in a small saucepan on low heat.

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With a wooden spoon, stir in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.

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Off the heat, whisk in the hot milk, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, the cayenne, and nutmeg.

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Cook over low heat, whisking constantly, for 1 minute, until smooth and thick.

Off the heat, while still hot, whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time.

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Stir in the Roquefort and the 1/4 cup of Parmesan and transfer to a large mixing bowl.

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Put the egg whites, cream of tartar, and a pinch of salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on low speed for 1 minute, on medium speed for 1 minute, then finally on high speed until they form firm, glossy peaks.

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Whisk one quarter of the egg whites into the cheese sauce to lighten and then fold in the rest.

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Pour into the soufflé dish, then smooth the top. Draw a large circle on top with the spatula to help the soufflé rise evenly, and place in the middle of the oven.

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Turn the temperature down to 375 degrees. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes (don’t peek!) until puffed and brown. Serve immediately.

Here’s what I saw when I finally opened the oven…

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What a feeling to see that your soufflé has risen! It’s one of the great kitchen highs. I removed it from the oven and called Craig in to behold my accomplishment.

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“Wow,” said Craig giving it a once-over. “Smells good too.”

But it was when he dug his fork into the portion I put on his plate (along with some salad) that his eyes really lit up.

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“Mmmmmmm,” he sang out. “This is so good! This is one of the best things you’ve ever cooked!”

Isn’t it fascinating that a dish with such a long, dusty history can still dazzle when it comes out of the oven? This is like a cross between a cheese puff, a pancake, and an omelet. The Roquefort really gives it complex flavor and the Parmesan rounds it out. Along with a salad (dressed simply with olive oil and vinegar), a better lunch can’t be had.

And that, my friends, is this week’s Tuesday Technique. What would you like to see next?

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