As I sat turning the pages of the March/April issue of Eating Well Magazine in a salon, waiting for a haircut, I found a lovely photo spread about a young woman who raises chickens. I could feel my face smiling as I skimmed through the text. I have five chickens in my own backyard, and I am always relieved when I find evidence that the general public might consider this sort of behavior a good idea.
When I came to an arresting full-page closeup of two billowy pale yellow concoctions with green flecks and golden brown tops, rising like clouds from white ramekins on a linen tablecloth, I was mesmerized. The only text on the page was a recipe for a chive and goat cheese soufflé. As I sat there trying to bond with the soufflés, to taste them in my mind, I unexpectedly came to a blank spot. I had never once eaten a soufflé—much less created one in my own kitchen. I had never longed to taste one, had never seen one on a restaurant menu. What was wrong with me? Was a soufflé just one of those fad foods, like fondue, that had come and gone when I wasn’t paying attention? Or was it a simple, elegant classic I had overlooked? I glanced around to be sure everyone else in the room was occupied, then tore out the page, quickly folded it, and slipped it surreptitiously into my purse. I have a positive relationship with risk. On my refrigerator there is a magnet with the zen saying, “Leap, and the net will appear.” I would try the soufflé.
The next week, when a friend from my childhood called, I spontaneously invited her for lunch. “I have too many eggs,” I said casually. I’ll make us cheese soufflés and a salad.” Too late to turn back now, I thought.
“What do you think of this recipe?” I asked Ken the next time we were together. “I invited a friend for lunch and I was thinking of trying it.” He skimmed the page, and his brows furrowed.
“Do you mind if I write on this?” he asked, reaching for his black Pilot fine-point. He got that serious look on his face that I have when a student hands me a rough draft of a college essay. He started making asterisks and writing notes in the white space.
I was excited to follow the revised recipe as closely as I could. I cut some fresh chives from the garden, and cubed up some wonderful cow’s milk washed-rind cheese—similar to a tallegio—from the creamery of a local farm. As I was whisking the milk into the roux, I was surprised at how much the process reminded me of making macaroni and cheese. The girls had produced four large eggs that morning, and two of them were still warm when I cracked them. The whites billowed up impressively, and held their shape in stiff peaks. When I folded them in, the mixture seemed enormous, and light as air.
Twenty five minutes later, when I lifted the golden brown soufflés from the oven, my friend was impressed. “Looks like a fancy French restaurant,” she said. “Let’s take a picture.” As my fork floated through the steaming hot cloud of cheesy goodness, I was feeling pretty proud of myself.
“Did you change the cheese?” Ken said when he tasted the leftovers. “There’s not enough flavor here. And why is there lemon in it?”
The Chef’s Take
The chances of success with soufflés are much better if you follow some important details:
1) Butter the bottom and sides of the ramekins and coat with parmesan cheese by rotating and pouring out excess.
2) Chill ramekins in the refrigerator until just ready to fill with soufflé mixture. This will make it easier for the soufflés to rise in the oven.
3) Be sure to beat in egg yolks vigorously to avoid curdling.
4) Egg whites should be at room temperature. 70-degree whites beat much faster and lighter than chilled whites.
5) The bowl and whisk (or beaters) must be spotlessly clean for the whites to expand. The tiniest speck of oil or yolk will prevent the whites from expanding. I always wash both the bowl and whisk with soap and hot water, then dry with clean paper towel.
6) The consistency of the beaten whites is key. You want them to reach fairly stiff peaks (for an airy, high soufflé) but not so stiff that they can’t be folded in thoroughly. You want to gently whisk in one-third of the whites first to lighten the mixture, then fold in the remaining two-thirds with a rubber spatula, such that that there are no streaks running through it.
7) As for ingredients, my preference is to ditch the lemon zest and substitute authentic Gruyere for the goat cheese. Gruyere is classic and its nutty flavor complements the parmesan and chives really well!
THE CHEESE SOUFFLÉ RECIPE, with Ken’s revisions
1/2 cup packed, grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/3 cup minced fresh chives, divided
2 tablespoons butter, plus more to coat ramekins
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
4 large room-temperatures eggs, spearated
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Coat the bottom and sides of four 10-ounce ramekins with butter, then put a table of Parmesan into each ramekin tilt each to coat with parmesan on bottom and sides; pour out excess. Sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon chives onto the bottom of each dish. Refrigerate the dishes.
- Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour and cook for 30 seconds. Whisk in milk, pepper, and salt; cook, whisking, until thickened, 2 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in Gruyere and the remaining Parmesan and chives. Whisk in egg yolks, one at a time, very briskly to incorporate them without curdling.
- Beat egg whites , using a meticulously cleaned bowl and and electric mixer, just until stiff peaks begin to form. Gently whisk in about a third of the beaten egg whites, then use a rubber spatula to fold in the rest until just incorporated. Divide the mixture among the prepared ramekins. The mixture should come about a half inch from the top.
- Bake until the soufflés have risen, are browned in places, and do not appear wet or moist, 20-25 minutes. Serve immediately. (adapted from 2016 March/April Eating Well)
For a printable version of this recipe, click here.