Cheese Soufflé- oh yes you can!

gruyere soufflé

To be completely honest, I’ve never attempted a soufflé before. And I did yesterday only because I had to. They look so sophisticated rising over the top of a dish- a huge puff of cheesy, airy, eggy goodness. But they’re so finicky, right? One wrong look at the oven and you’re left with a flat egg disk in the bottom of a ramekin.

dish prepped with butter and cheese

Our instructor probably sensed fear as we walked in the door because the first thing out of his mouth was something along the lines of soufflés being one of the simplest things we’ll make. Perhaps that just speaks to all the other things we’re going to make. But I don’t think so.

thick cheese mixture

Believe it or not, there were no soufflé mishaps yesterday. And we’ve all had our share of total disasters in the kitchen. So I’m going to interpret yesterday’s soufflé success as the following: a solid recipe, a little understanding of why ingredients work as they do in the kitchen, and a little trust in your own culinary genius… and yes, you can create a perfect soufflé. Go ahead… you’ve got this.

Tips before we begin:

  • A roux is simply equal parts by weight of fat and flour. It’s purpose is to thicken. It can be cooked just a few minutes to lose most of its starchy flour flavor (white roux), cooked for a little longer to turn tan and develop a deeper flavor (blonde roux), or cooked until darker developing a toasty, nutty flavor (brown roux).
  • When separating eggs as we do here, you must be careful to remove ALL of the yolks from the whites. Some white in the yolks is fine, but not the other way around. For egg whites to be whipped into peaks, they must be completely free of fat. Yolks contain fat and will prevent the whites from whipping properly. Along the same line, your bowl and whisk must also be grease-free.

    beat egg whites to stiff peaks

  • While cream whips more quickly when cold, egg whites whip more easily at room temperature. This is due to the albumin protein structure of the egg white.
  • Egg whites also whip more easily in a copper bowl. This is a chemical reaction that I cannot fully explain so I won’t even try. And I’ve never owned a copper bowl. Maybe one day. Didn’t have one yesterday either, so not to worry. Any metal or glass bowl is just fine. Plastic loves to hold onto grease so avoid plastic.
  • gently fold whites into cheese mixture

    Egg whites can be whipped to soft peaks (tip will bend over and point down to 6 o’clock), medium peaks (tip will point sideways to 3 or 9 o’clock), or stiff peaks (tip points straight up to noon). Here, we want stiff peaks. Over beating will cause curdling and separation.

  • Protein in the whipped egg whites will coagulate and solidify when heated trapping air in your soufflé. When folding the whipped whites into the cheese mixture, fold gently to keep as much air in the whites as possible.
  • oven ready

    If you must peek in the oven to check the browning of your soufflé, just open and close the door gently. And try not to do jumping jacks in the kitchen. Physical disturbance can cause the dreaded deflation of your cheesy creation.

Ready, set, go….

Cheese Soufflé, yields 24 oz (about 6 small ramekins or one larger casserole)

Ingredients

  • butter, as needed for coating inside of dish(es)
  • grated parmesan, as needed for coating inside of dish(es)
  • 2 Tbs (1 1/4 oz) butter
  • 1/4 cup (1 1/4 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups (12 fluid oz) cold milk
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp white or black ground pepper
  • small pinch cayenne pepper
  • small pinch nutmeg
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 5 oz (about 1 cup) grated cheese (gruyere, swiss, sharp cheddar, or combo)
  • 7 egg whites
  • small pinch salt

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 375F. If using a convection oven, turn the convection fan off so the circulating air won’t disturb your soufflé. Select six small ramekins or one ~2-qt casserole dish. Butter the bottom and sides and then coat with grated parmesan. This will give the mixture leverage to climb as it cooks and a darn tasty edge.
  2. In a medium pot over low-medium heat, melt the 2Tbs butter and stir in flour with a whisk. Cook for a few minutes, stirring, without letting the roux become dark brown. A little color is fine.
  3. Beat in the cold milk and bring to a boil while stirring. Remove from heat, and stir until thick and smooth. Add the salt, pepper, cayenne and nutmeg.
  4. Stir egg yolks into hot milk mixture quickly until smooth. Stir in cheese. Cover and let cool while you move to the egg whites.
  5. In a clean bowl with a wire whip (mixer is quicker but by hand also works), beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks.
  6. Gently- as you would treat your lover (our chef’s favorite expression)- fold the whites into the cheese mixture. Some dime-sized and smaller lumps of whites are ok. Mixture will be thick.
  7. Pour or ladle into prepared dish(es) filling to a quarter inch from the top for small ramekins or one and a half inches for a larger casserole dish. Place dish(es) on a sheet pan to catch overflow.
  8. For small soufflés, bake for about 20 minutes or until tops are browned and center has lost most of its jiggle. Don’t even try to jiggle until the top has browned. For a larger soufflé, the time will likely be 40 minutes to an hour.
  9. Serve immediately, and… congratulations 😉

Variations:

Spinach or Mushroom soufflé– decrease cheese by half and add 2 1/2 oz of well-drained, chopped cooked spinach or chopped cooked mushrooms.

Ham and Spinach soufflé– add 2 oz of finely chopped cooked ham to the spinach soufflé recipe.

Simple scone, any way you like it

dark chocolate cherry scones

We’re only one day in to a week of breakfast cookery, and I’m already contemplating renaming it death by breakfast. Not a bad way to go all in all. It’s surely preferable to death by caul fat or chicken paste in my book.

And I don’t think there is a strict rule in school that we have to taste everything we make, but it’s definitely a personal rule. It just makes sense from an educational perspective. And if I applied the rule to raw oysters, veal glands and duck fat, you better believe I’m going to apply it to breakfast foods.

basic scone with a hint of lemon zest

We’ll begin the week of postings with a ridiculously easy and versatile recipe for a basic scone. And the dough can be shaped and frozen for later- this sounds like a winner to me. And it tasted like a winner yesterday. Enjoy…

cranberry apple scones

Basic Scone, yields about 16 scones

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/4 cups (10 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (3.5 oz) sugar
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder (for elevations less than 35oo ft increase to 2 tsp)* see note
  • 6 oz butter, chilled and cut into ~1/4 inch cubes
  • 3 fl oz milk
  • 1 egg
  • optional add-in flavors**see note

Method:

  1. In a large bowl use your hands to combine the flour, sugar, and baking powder and any optional dry ingredients you’d like. Add in the butter pieces and pinch to form small butter disks. See Recipe: Basic Pie Dough for discussion and photos of butter and dough consistency.
  2. In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs and milk and any optional liquid flavorings you may want (i.e., vanilla or almond extract). Be aware that if you add much extra liquid, you may have to increase the amount of flour.
  3. Add the wet ingredients into the dry and gently combine until dough sticks together when squeezed.
  4. Turn dough onto a floured work surface and pat just until dough holds together and is about 3/4 inch thick. Cut into pie-like triangles, rounds, or any shape your heart desires. At this point dough can be frozen for later use and baked at 350F for 15-20 minutes from frozen.
  5. Scones can be brushed with egg wash (one egg stirred with a little water) and dusted with coarse sugar. Another option is creating a light, sweet glaze by simmering equal parts milk and sugar and brushing on top in place of the egg wash.
  6. Bake at 350F for 10-15 minutes or until lightly golden on top. Serve warm or room temperature.
* At higher altitudes, there is less atmospheric pressure. Baked goods will rise more quickly and will need less leavening than at sea level. In this recipe, baking powder is our leavening agent. If full leavening is used at high altitudes, the product will rise too quickly and then fall to become flat. Many people only see the flattened end-result and assume more leavening agent is needed. As you now understand, less leavening is used instead of more :).
**Truly, this dough is your blank canvas for adding in whatever you’d like. Some common suggestions:
  • cranberry and orange zest
  • blueberries and a hint of nutmeg
  • dark chocolate chips and dried cherries
  • white chocolate chips and currants
  • lemon zest and poppy seeds
  • cinnamon and nuts
  • sautéed chopped apples and cranberries

A week of breakfasts

Breakfast for me typically consists of a good cup of coffee, or several, and either a bowl of Oatmeal Squares cereal when time permits or one of my ridiculously large hoard of protein bars if I’m in a hurry.

Sure, there are the rare occasions when I have some homemade granola stashed in the pantry or I just feel like an egg white omelet… but generally breakfast has been a meal of convenience.

Until this week. Our focus in class will be breakfast cookery. I actually love to say the word ‘cookery.’ For some reason it sounds archaic- in a charming Julia Childs kind of way. Or a 1950’s housewife baking biscuits and homemade jam. But nostalgic phonetics aside, breakfast cookery it is!

Buckwheat pancakes with whipped egg whites folded into the batter- I’m anticipating the sure demise of Bisquick there. Crepes, various muffins and scones- I’ve been fascinated by scones ever since Starbucks lured me in with their Maple Oat Nut version years ago- biscuits, soufflés, english muffins… are all players in this week’s culinary game. And the opposition’s lineup taunts the favorites bacon, ham, sausage, variations on potatoes… and eggs any way you can imagine, and then some.

Should be a match worth following I think. So, if any particular players have caught your eye, let me know. I’ll try to provide the scoop on their secrets. And I’ve never poached an egg, and frankly don’t really feel comfortable with eggs at all. So rest assured an Egg Cookery 101 will be on the way soon. Just had to say it one more time. Cookery.

Finish your next cup of joe, or tea, and let the breakfast games begin 🙂

Homemade bologna and other odd eats

It wasn’t homemade bologna exactly. But it must been at least an upscale French first cousin. I suppose the term is technically mousseline forcemeat, but either way I was silently dreading it. Forcemeat. It just has an odd ring to it. As do caul fat and sweet breads.

chicken- mousseline forcemeat

Caul fat ended up not actually happening. But my utter disappointment was offset by learning to skin a whole chicken into one large, pale yellow, chicken-skin balloon: complete with dangling arm and leg holes. It seemed a bit like an as-seen-on-tv snuggie… only made of poultry instead of fleece. And instead of stuffing a toasty warm human inside, we had the pleasure of stuffing it with forcemeat.

The process itself was slightly labor intensive, but it demonstrated a classical French technique that every culinary student really needs to master. And, believe it or not, I thought it was quite fun! Most of my classmates would not choose the word ‘fun.’ But I’ll let them write their own versions if they’d like to convince you otherwise.

The whole purpose of the caul fat originally was to become a casing, or tube of sorts, to give shape to our chicken bologna. Caul fat is a spiderweb-like fat found in the abdomen area of cows. We have it too, but we call it mesentery. Ok, so we don’t really call it much at all.

But back to the chicken tube. Since we had chickens anyway, it made more sense to skin them whole and use the chicken balloon instead of caul fat for shaping. After skinning the bird, I removed the breasts and flattened them into thin cutlets. The remaining meat, primarily dark, was puréed with cream, egg whites and various other flavorings into a smooth, creamy poultry paste.

veal sweet breads: pan-seared and braised

I know your mouth is watering already. At this point I made a comment to my partner that we should make this chicken paste truly classy by adding pimento stuffed olives turning it into a perfect loaf fit for two slices of wonder bread and an unfortunate kiddo’s lunchbox. At first he thought I was serious. After all, I was raised in the south. My former father-in-law swears fried bologna is one of the best things on the planet. But, alas. No olives or pimentos for us.

After coaxing the breast cutlets into a large rectangle atop the chicken skin balloon, I spread a long tube of chicken paste down the center and dotted it with fresh chives. We rolled it up into a huge sausage shape, covered it in plastic and foil, and twisted the foil ends like a huge piece of puréed poultry candy. But it gets better.

We boiled the thing until it reached the magical 165F chicken safety zone. Boiled chicken bologna. A little redemption followed, however, when were were allowed to remove the foil and plastic and crisp the outside skin in a hot pan. The crispy chicken tube was sliced into rounds- much like a cinnamon roll- and served warm with sauce. Traditionally, it should be served cold with soggy skin. Not really a winner. Classical, yes. Good eats, not so much.

amuse bouche- wonderful bite made entirely of vegetables... no chicken paste or cow glands

But mission was accomplished and the technique was executed successfully. And honestly, it had incredible flavor and a rich, moist texture. And the same can be said for the accompanying veal sweet breads.

Sweet breads are the glands of young cows, usually glands in the neck and in the abdomen. I think this would include thymus and possibly adrenals and pancreas. And if you can get past the idea of glands- and the fact that they look like tiny brains resting comfortably on your plate- they weren’t bad eats either. Odd eats… but not bad.

Green beans, frizzy hair and a darn good chocolate chip cookie

Thirty-four years of chocolate chip cookies and I’m not even close to growing tired of those little rounds of chocolatey-studded comfortable heaven.

Well, thirty-four years might be slightly inaccurate. I’m not entirely sure I was fed a chocolate chip cookie in my first year of life. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it made the First Five Solid Foods list. At all.

Chocolate chip cookies have been my Maman’s go-to dessert as long as I can remember. And for good reason. Hers are completely perfect. I say ‘dessert’ but they have certainly counted as countless breakfasts, lunches, dinners and any time of the day or night snacks over the years. Not for lack of real food. Just my lack of discipline with her cookies.

Vivid memories of a certain day, about three years ago, go on record indisputably as my worst food day ever. And I use ‘worst’ strictly on principle. I decided to bake cookies. Not unusual. But for whatever reason on this day- between raw dough, warm out-of-the-oven cookies, and cooled ones still waiting on wire racks for their rightful resting places- I ate between sixteen and eighteen cookies. As close as I could figure. And I’d probably already eaten my usual Oatmeal Squares breakfast.

Quick mental math kicked on in my head: adding the ridiculous number of calories I’d just consumed, plus breakfast I’d already eaten, subtracting for the (thank goodness) about three hours of exercise I was doing daily at the time… and the sum equalled my eating only a can- yes, a southern seasoned can– of green beans for the entire rest of the day. Worth it? Every last mushy, olive-color bean… yes.

And I’m fairly certain these same chocolate chip cookies scored me friends all through middle and high school. My Maman was subtly brilliant- she brought them to every football game, every band competition… everyone knew- and loved- her cookies. But she would argue to this day that I had incredible friends- which I did- solely because I was a perfectly lovely teenage girl.

I’m compelled to disagree here. I was the quintessential nerd in every sense of the word. If I did bloom, it was most assuredly late. I played saxophone in the band, wore glasses and braces, was plagued with worse-than-average teenage acne, and had utterly untamable frizzy hair in the Alabama humidity. I probably reached my adult height of 5’10” by the age of fifteen. And I was smart. Really smart. Generally, a socially deadly combination for any teenage kid. But somehow, I had friends. And my friends had cookies.

As strange as it sounds, I don’t remember ever actually making cookies with my Maman when I lived at home. But I do remember having her recipe, neatly copied on a 3×5 card and taped to the inside of my kitchen cabinet door. The door closest to the mixer, of course. And every time I’ve moved, that little card, now yellowed with transparent spots of butter stain, has followed me.

And I may have tweaked this or that over the years, but essentially, here is Maman’s Chocolate Chip Cookie.

Yeilds 5-6 dozen cookies. I guarantee it won’t be too many, but you can halve the recipe easily if you really don’t like to share. Or you’re afraid of a can of green beans.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup butter-flavored solid vegetable shortening
  • 1 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1 1/3 cups dark brown sugar, packed
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs, room temperature is best
  • 5 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups chocolate chips (milk, dark, mini, chunks… or combo of whichever you have)

Method:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. With a mixer, cream the butter, shortening, sugars and vanilla until light. Add eggs until mixed well.
  3. Add the rest of the dry ingredients, except chips, and mix until evenly combined.
  4. Stir in chips, and scoop or portion into balls. Dough can be chilled at this step for a few days. Chilled dough will also yield a taller cookie.
  5. Bake at 350F until edges just begin to brown but centers still look not quite done. Carry-over cooking from the hot pan will finish the center for a few minutes after removal from the oven.

For a comprehensive description of the science of the chocolate chip cookie- how to make a thin crispy one or a taller cake like one or various other tweaks to create YOUR perfect cookie- check out this brilliantly written blog, complete with incredible cookie photos: The Science of the Chocolate Chip Cookie. I don’t know Baker Bettie, but this article is a winner.