“The only thing that will make a soufflé fall is if it knows you're afraid of it.” James Beard
Today it is raining and thundering on the farm and it’s a huge bonus for me because it cuts my work and worry load – not in half, but enough to give me time to head into my farmhouse kitchen and cook to my heart's content. Rain is a Chef-farmer’s best friend.
I bought an excess of organic eggs at the market and was wondering what to do with all of them. While I spend most of my time on the farm, I do love to travel. I will admit that I have a soft spot for France, and it is the one country that I have visited often. In my heart there is France. There are lots of farmhouses in Southern France, and it is a gorgeous drive through Provence. If you ever get the chance to go, make sure to visit the many marché or markets in the small towns. Make sure to check in advance the days the markets are open because they vary.
When I look at eggs – the chef in me believes that no one does them quite like the French, they have so many dishes based on this gift from nature. I felt like indulging myself this morning, hence a soufflé came to mind. Soufflés originated in France as a way to use up leftovers and pantry items … sounds like farmhouse cuisine to me.
I know it may sound pretentious or too difficult to tackle a soufflé … trust me it isn’t. Many farms have chickens and an abundance of eggs. So why not try out a new egg dish? Once in your repertoire you will be glad you did. Soufflés are very versatile, and you can combine all sorts of ingredients.
The word soufflé is the past participle of the French verb souffler, which means, "to blow up" or more loosely "puff up" – an apt description of what happens to this combination of custard and egg whites. The trapped air in the egg whites causes the mixture to rise.
This is one of the most delicious transformations of eggs that I know. Most cooks are terrified at the thought of making this dish. How many people can recall the last time that they ate a soufflé? Sweet or savory? You can’t find them on restaurant menus so let’s make them at home.
I used to make soufflés for my parents each time I visited – which was often. As they aged, I needed to find ways to make them want to eat … to tempt their taste buds. Soufflés were a hit every time. For them I used blue cheese crumbled. If you like blue cheese, I highly recommend Maytag Blue made in Newton, Iowa.
Growing up, our family of 10 always ate deeply flavored cheeses from all over the world. My mother introduced us to a wide variety, some of them like Esrom and Tilsit just plain stunk – but I grew to love Oka made by Quebecois monks and the deeply flavored Roquefort, with jam. Sounds like an odd combination, but it works – fruit and cheese, a classic combination. So with thrift-store soufflé dish in hand – I found my old Cordon Bleu recipe and grabbed the goat’s cheese cheddar and grana padano and my leeks that I harvested last year.
The Soufflé process begins:
This is a basic technique that once you are comfortable with it, you can make any flavor you would like. Another great thing about soufflés is that all the ingredients are in your pantry. Who does not have eggs, cheese, milk or flour?
I must admit it does take some experience to execute this perfectly, but the real trick is to leave fear behind and just go for it. If you check out on-line recipes, they are far more complicated than they need to be. If you break the process into individual components, it is not nearly as challenging. You are making a white sauce or béchamel base and then adding flavor through cheese and seasonings (hence a Mornay sauce) just like Mac and Cheese – then adding separated eggs – you whip the eggs just as if you are making a meringue – like the topping of pies, and the method is much like making of the cakes. Now doesn’t that seem easier?
Some Chef Secrets
It helps if you have the right dish – 6-cup capacity with straight sides so the mixture can rise evenly.
Use the best cheese – the more intense the flavor will be – so choose cheese with flavor.
If you coarsely grate the cheese it will ooze and taste delicious.
Add Dijon – you will be glad you did!
Always use one additional egg white than yolk for light texture.
Add leeks or some type of onion to heighten flavor.
I use panko to coat the soufflé dish; it adds texture.
Do not over whip your whites.
Blend the final mixture softly but thoroughly.
Use a large stainless spoon to blend – it makes the job easier.
Have your table set, your guests with forks in hand – a soufflé waits for no one.
Classic Cheese Soufflé
This serves 2 generously for a main meal or 4 as an appetizer
Prepare the dish – Butter 6-cup (1 1/2-quart) soufflé dish. Add grated Parmesan cheese or panko and tilt dish, coating bottom and sides. Place on a baking sheet.
1 cup whole milk – it should be whole milk or even half and half
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely sliced leeks or onions
3 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne or to taste
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper – white pepper if you have it on hand
1 cup (packed) coarsely grated Gruyère or Parmesan cheese (about 4 ounces)
4 large egg yolks, room temperature is best
5 large egg whites
Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 400 F.
Melt butter in heavy, medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and sauté gently. Add flour and whisk until mixture begins to foam, about 3 minutes (do not allow mixture to brown). Pour in milk, whisking until smooth. Cook the mixture, whisking constantly until very thick, 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove from heat; whisk in paprika, salt, pepper and cayenne. Let cool for a few minutes, then add the egg yolks 1 at a time, blending thoroughly after each addition. Add the Dijon mustard and the grated cheese and blend well.
Scrape the soufflé base into large bowl. Cool to lukewarm.
At this stage you can leave the base to use a few hours later, if desired. Cover and let stand at room temperature.
Using an electric mixer, beat egg whites in another large bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold 1/4 of whites into lukewarm or room temperature soufflé base to lighten the batter. Fold in remaining whites until thoroughly mixed and transfer batter to prepared dish.
Use a small sharp knife and run a ring around the center – this encourages the classic “hat” to form.
Place soufflé dish on a baking tray in oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 375 F. Bake until soufflé is puffed and golden brown on top and center moves only slightly when dish is shaken gently, about 25 minutes (do not open oven door during first 20 minutes). Serve immediately.
The center should be slightly runny, or as the French say “baveuse,” which means drooling – it makes the sauce. Cook it a few minutes longer if you prefer a firmer texture, but be careful not to overcook it.
The rich intense cheese flavor contrasts well with something bright and acidic.
I like to serve it with tomatoes and leeks, or scallions served in classic French vinaigrette.
Chardonnay or Chablis are a perfect match.
For more recipes and reviews of my travels and a chef’s life on the farm, visit my blog, Bucky's View.