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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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)
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Stir egg yolks into hot milk mixture quickly until smooth. Stir in cheese. Cover and let cool while you move to the egg whites.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Serve immediately, and… congratulations 😉
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.