A cheese soufflé can be to any chef what the Sistine Chapel was to Michelangelo; it can be either agony or ecstasy, or both.
Any time I attempt to make a soufflé, I am well aware of the possibilities. It might end up being a total flop (agony). But there’s a greater likelihood that it will end up a spectacular dish. It will appear all puffed-up high, a light and fluffy concoction, browned on top and flavorful on the inside (ecstasy).
It’s helpful to understand the magic that occurs when making a soufflé. Harold McGee, in his book On Food and Cooking writes, “If you manage to get any air into the mix, an inexorable law of nature will raise it in the oven. All else being equal, the volume occupied by a given weight of gas is proportional to its temperature.” In other words, as the air heats it will expand, puffing up the mixture, and it will ascend. And voila, a voluminously beautiful soufflé.
If this is your first attempt, you probably won’t have all of the proper tools and equipment. To master the technique, or at least better your chances of success, it will help if you have a 4-cup soufflé mold (ramekin), a 4-quart copper mixing bowl (this can be expensive), and a large whisk.
You can whip the egg whites using a stand mixer, but you will get better results doing manual whisking in a copper bowl. And yes, the copper bowl does make a difference. You can use glass or stainless steel, but some strange chemistry happens between the protein in the eggs and the copper ions of the bowl. The result is a yellowish creamy foam. Whisk the egg whites to their full volume until stiff peaks form, and then stop. Be careful not to overbeat, but this is actually hard to do when using a copper bowl.
To Lessen The Agony, Have A Whisking Buddy
It’s also a good idea to have a partner to trade off with when whipping the eggs whites. If not, your arms and shoulders will ache for days (more agony). Another good idea is to purchase a stand for the copper bowl. It will lend a firm surface during the long minutes of whisking.
When it comes to serving your soufflé, timing is everything. Don’t start the cooking until you know your guests will be present and seated when the soufflé is taken out of the oven. It will fall fairly quickly, so take it directly to your table. In front of each guest a lightly dressed salad and some French bread should be waiting. Have each of your guests pass their plates to you, and with a spoon gingerly cut into the soufflé and place a portion on each plate.
The Agony And The Ecstasy
“A dinnertime tragedy – the fallen soufflé. Oh, the embarrassment. The shame.”
Back to the agony again. If your soufflé fails to rise, just call it a gruyere cheese bake, and no one will ever know. That is why I never announce ahead of time a soufflé will be on the menu. This way we are all in for a surprise.
4-cup souffle’ mold
4-quart (preferably copper) mixing bowl
Several dabsButter (for greasing ramekin)
3 TbspButter (for soufflé)
Small amountAll-purpose flour (for ramekin)
3 TbspAll-purpose flour (for soufflé)
5 largeEggs (room temperature)
1 tspDijon mustard
1/4 tspWhite pepper
4 0z.Gruyere cheese grated (save some for top)
1/8 tspCream of tarter
Time ______________ (60 minutes before target time)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
- 4 yolks in a 4-cup aluminum mixing bowl
- 5 egg whites in a very clean 4-quart (preferably copper) mixing bowl
Time: 40 minutes
Liberally butter a 4-cup souffle’ mold. Dust with flour, turn upside down and knock on table to dislodge extra. Set aside.
In the small saucepan, bring the milk and butter almost to a boil over medium heat.
Meanwhile, whisk the egg yolks with 1 Tbsp of water in the bowl with the yolks. Add 3 Tbsp flour to the yolks and blend until smooth.
Before the milk boils, stir ¼ cup into the egg yolk mixture. When the milk boils, add it to the egg yolk mixture and stir well.
Return this mixture to the saucepan and whisk rapidly over med-high heat, getting the bottom and the sides of the pan, until the mixture thickens and boils (about 30 seconds). Continue whisking for 1 minute while the base gently boils. Remove from heat and cover. Reduce heat to medium and allow the base to simmer.
Season with mustard, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Stir in the cheese (reserve some for top). Mix well until the cheese melts completely and the mixture comes to a boil. Remove from the heat and cover.
Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar in copper bowl with 12” whisk until stiff peaks form.
Pour the base into a large aluminum mixing bowl and whisk in 1/3 of the egg whites (some will be visible). Put the rest of the egg whites on top. With a large rubber spatula, cut down vertically to the bottom at the center of the bowl. Scrape along the bottom to the nearest side. Then lift out, folding over as much as the spatula will take. Rotate the bowl an eighth of a turn and repeat until most of the white disappears, about 2 complete turns (no more).
Pour into the prepared souffle’ mold (should be ¾ full), tap bottom of mold lightly on table, and level with a spatula. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Bake on the middle rack of the oven. Lower the temperature to 375 degrees and bake 25-30 minutes. DO NOT OPEN OVEN DOOR FOR 20 MINUTES. Cover with PAMed aluminum foil if starting to over-brown, and then bake 5-10 minutes more to firm up sides (so soufflé doesn’t collapse as quickly when it is taken out of the oven). The souffle’ should rise 1 ½ to 3 inches above the mold, with a light brown top.
Serve immediately right from the oven to the table.
Pouilly Fuisse’ or another chardonnay serves as a nice paring. Prosciutto-wrapped asparagus, herb-roasted tomatoes, French bread, and a salad make a great light meal.