Monday, March 19, 2012

Hooray for Cheese Souffle!

Next month, I am embarking on an adventure to Paris with a group of students and some faculty from Wayne State University. This will be my first visit to the “City of Lights,” and friends and family who have traveled there have all shared stories of their own experiences. As someone who considers food an essential element to one’s quality of life, going to France has set my mind to thinking of the culinary opportunities that will await me. It helps that one of my travel companions is another foodie, and she has been to Paris many times before, so I’m looking forward to sharing some wonderful food with her.

I don’t prepare a lot of French cuisine, per se, but like a lot of other cooks much of what I find myself doing in the kitchen has roots in classic French cooking. Sauces are something that I prepare frequently, and I will turn to one of the French “mother” sauces from time to time. But a cheese soufflé has long held a lot of appeal – and why not? I don’t think it is that complicated to make and it sure sounds impressive! It’s very light – perfect for a late dinner, brunch or even as a side dish with a heavier main course. For being so light, it also has richness - and it just melts in your mouth. Plus, it’s just a fun dish. When you take that soufflé out of the oven in all of its puffed up glory, your eyes widen and that smile just comes on.

We have been featuring a lot of meatless dishes during Lent and the cheese soufflé would certainly make for great Friday dinner. I used a cheddar cheese, but if you want to be more traditional you could use a Gruyere cheese, or a Swiss, or a combination of cheeses. You could leave out the cayenne pepper, put in a little nutmeg, or add some finely chopped scallions – whatever suits your taste. But, whether you are looking for something quintessentially French or just wanting to change things up with something really different, in less than an hour you can make this spectacular soufflé for you and your guests.  Bon appetite!

Cheese Soufflé
1-2 TBSP unsalted butter
3 TBSP Parmesan cheese (grated)
¼ cup unsalted butter (this is ½ stick)
¼ cup flour
1 ¼ cup milk, room temperature (use whole milk or 2% - not skim)
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. dry mustard
1 ½ - 2 cups shredded cheese (sharp cheddar, Gruyere, Swiss, etc.)
6 large eggs, separated
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Using a 3 quart soufflé dish or round casserole, generously butter bottom and sides of dish. Sprinkle grated Parmesan cheese and rotate dish to coat butter with the cheese. Set aside. Separate eggs in two bowls. Gently beat egg yolks with a fork.  Set aside.

In a medium sauce pan melt half stick of butter. Add flour and stir well until flour is completely dissolved and bubbling. Over medium heat, add milk, cayenne, salt and mustard and stir constantly until mixture begins to thicken. Once thick, remove pan from heat and stir in cheese. Continue to stir until cheese is completely melted. Take a bit of the cheese mixture and put it in the bowl with the egg yolks.  Now add the egg yolks gradually into the cheese mixture and stir until yolks are completely incorporated. Set sauce aside.

In a large bowl, add cream of tartar to the egg whites. Using an electric mixer at high speed, beat the egg whites until soft, moist, peaks are formed when the beaters are pulled out. This will take a few minutes depending on the speed and strength of your mixer. Put a small amount of the cheese mixture into your egg whites and FOLD it in (do not stir). Repeat this process two more times until all the cheese mixture has been folded into the beaten egg whites.

Now that everything is together, pour batter into prepared soufflé dish or casserole. It should not fill it more than two-thirds of the way. Put dish in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. DO NOT open the oven door while baking! Soufflé should rise above pan and have a nice brown top. Remove from oven and serve immediately – soufflé will begin to fall as it cools, so get it to the table quickly and enjoy!

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