I've had cheese souffle weighing on me of late, and, since it's light as a feather, that obviously hasn't been too much of an ordeal.
I was reminded how much I love it when, earlier this summer, Strother made some divine individual ones for Evie's birthday. I mean, what can be more festive, more delicious, or make more of a dramatic appearance than a souffle bursting forth from its ramekin? The entry of the frowzy beauty straight from the oven is thrilling. Knowing that her bouffant will quickly flop adds to the excitement. The necessity of leaping in before the fall means that a certain informality, and spirit of fun, suffuses any meal where souffle makes her all too rare, as far as I'm concerned, appearance.
A couple of days ago, while Felix and I were working on provisioning for his upcoming departure for college, it came to me again. Was it strolling through Target, looking for extra-long memory foam mattress toppers? I don't think so, though "memory foam" seems to me to be the perfect alternate moniker for souffle.
I think it was talking about college and the not too-far-off-day when Felix will be cooking for himself, but, perhaps more importantly--for friends. I was telling him that every young man (well, young woman too) should have a few dishes up his sleeve that are both sinfully easy and dazzling. As I told Felix, souffle is probably the quintessential dish that fills that particular bill.
I don't really know why people think souffle is difficult, because it emphatically is not. It's easy, versatile, and can be pulled together very quickly with a minimum of ingredients. Furthermore, pair it with a green salad and some Prosecco after, say, a night at the theatre, and you'll have your dinner companion swooning over you. Not relevant for me, but potentially so for the young person making his or her way in the world. And talk about memory foam....I can still remember a specific cheese souffle of my youth, and my heart beating faster for the cook with each successive bite. Ah, the miracle of eggs and cheese!
The thing is, that unlike say, scrambled eggs, or an omlet, or even a poached egg, all of which are lovely in their own right, a souffle--by merely separating the eggs--becomes a magic ethereal cloud,and so much more than merely the sum of its parts.
All souffles follow the same basic idea. First you separate the whites from the yolks, make a white sauce enriched with the yolks and whatever things you're flavoring it with (in this case blue cheese)and then lighten it by folding in whipped egg whites. Pop it in the oven and you're on your way to sheer bliss.
Alice Waters provides this great rule of thumb for savory souffles: 1 1/2 cups white sauce to 1 1/4 cups cheese or vegetable puree to 4 eggs, which is handy to have around as you experiment. I like to make all sorts of fine herb souffles too, which are extremely easy at this time of year if your garden, like mine, is bursting at the seams.
Anyway, some of Bob and Evelyn's wonderful eggs and a wedge of gorgonzola inspired me after the shopping spree. While my souffle dish was slightly too large for the souffle I made, it matered not one whit....her head didn't burst over the top admittedly, but it was stilla marvel, and perhaps even a triumph, and nicely ended a happy day on a festive note. And who knows, perhaps it even created a bit of "memory foam" for Felix.
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing the dish
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
salt and pepper--not too much salt as the cheese is quite salty
pinch of cayenne pepper
pinch of nutmeg
1 spring of thyme, leaves removed
4 extra-large eggs at room temperature, separated
3 ounces gorgonzola cheese, chopped
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter an 8-cup souffle dish and sprinkle evenly with parmesan.
To make the bechamel, melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Stir in the flour and cook for about a minute. Stir in the milk, salt and pepper to taste, cayenne, thyme and nutmeg and continue cooking over low heatstirring constantly until smooth and thick. Remove from the heat and cool slightly before whisking in the egg yolks one by one, and then stir in the gorgonzola and parmesan. This base can be made ahead andrefrigerated at this stage, however the base and egg whites must be allowed to return to room temperature for at least an hour before proceeding further.
Beat the egg whites until they form glossy peaks. Stir about a third of the egg whites into the base to lighten it not worrying too much about it, but then gently fold the remaining egg whites into the mixture with a spatula taking care not to deflate the egg whites, which, after all, will give your souffle its height and drama!
Pour the mixture into the souffle dish and place it in the center of your oven. Close the door and turn the temperature down to 375 and leave it alone. Do not open the oven door to look at it as this will cause it to deflate! Peer through the dirty oven window and remove it when it seems to be puffy and brown which should occur after about 30 to 35 minutes. Serve immediately to cheers, awe and acclamation.