Cheese Soufflé

Make a cheese souffle in honor of Julia Child

Oh, those jiggly, towering triumphs. French-accented, impress-your-date confections.

Why are soufflés so intimidating? Many home cooks fear them as the unattainable. The thing that could ruin them. This is so untrue.

In my house, when friends were over for lunch on the day of Julia Child's 100th birthday, I made them a classic cheese soufflé from meager provisions in my forsaken fridge. It was sublime.

All you need are 5 eggs, ¼ pound of cheese, a cup of milk and pat of butter. If you have a box of spinach in your freezer, or CSA zucchini that just won’t quit, cook it up in a quick sauté and add just before folding in the fluffy whites. Voilà spinach or zucchini soufflé.

The trick to soufflé is the fluff. Those whites need to be whipped up to a glistening tower. Fold them in with great love and respect. Don’t lose the fluffiness. It’s OK to have streaks of white in the “batter.” Keep the volume. And once out of the oven, serve it immediately. That’s it.

Try it now. Make yourself proud and bake a soufflé in Julia’s honor. What’s the worst that can happen? You end up with a baked egg dish – completely edible.

For more Julia, this sweet memory from her beloved friend Jacques Pepin is worth a read. As is Alex Prud'homme's fabulous book, My Life in France.

If the summer heat is making you feel like a collapsed soufflé, put off this recipe until nightfall. It takes about 30 minutes to throw together and needs only a simple salad to make it a meal. A perfect summer supper Julia would have loved to share with you.

Cheese Soufflé

Slightly adapted from Julia Child, Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Serves 4

1 tablespoon grated Parmesan (or other hard) cheese
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons white flour
1 cup boiling milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, a few twists
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
4 egg yolks
5 egg whites
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup (3 ounces) coarsely grated Swiss, Gruyère, Goat and/or Parmesan Cheese

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Measure out all your ingredients. Generously butter a 6-cup soufflé mold and sprinkle the insides with grated Parmesan cheese.

Melt the butter in a 3-quart, heavy saucepan. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon and cook over a moderate heat until butter and flour foam together for 2 minutes without browning. Remove from heat. Pour in all the boiling milk at once (I heat milk in the microwave). Beat vigorously with a whisk until blended. Beat in the seasonings. Return over moderately high heat and boil, stirring with the whisk, for one minute. This sauce – the béchamel – will be very thick.

Remove from heat. Separate the eggs, discarding one egg yolk (or saving it in your fridge to pump up a sauce, or yellow up an omelet the next day). Place the whites in a clean, dry non-reactive bowl (stainless steel, porcelain or glass for most of us, copper for Julia). If there’s a trace of yolk in the whites, they won’t rise sufficiently! The trick is to separate the whites individually into a small bowl. Dump each white into the larger bowl only after ensuring there’s no errant yolk. This way you can easily throw one away without polluting the whole bowl. Add the 4 yolks to the béchamel and whisk them in.

Beat whites with a pinch of salt by hand, with a whisk, or with an electric beater. Start slow, watching the eggs begin to foam. Gradually increase speed and beat until stiff. The whites should be about 8 times their original volume. They’ll stand in stiff peaks.

Stir a big spoonful of the beaten egg whites into the béchamel to lighten the sauce. Don’t worry about the egg whites maintaining their volume here. Add all but 1 tablespoon of the grated cheese. Stir to combine into a creamy yellow sauce.

Fold in the remaining egg whites very gently, with a delicate hand. Use a rubber spatula to cut into the middle of the bowl and carefully turn the ingredients over. Keep the fluff. Don’t worry if there are streaks of white in the mixture.

Turn the soufflé mixture into the prepared mold, which should be about 3/4 full. Tap bottom of the mold on the counter and smooth the top with the spatula. Sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.

Place in the oven, immediately turning the heat down to 375°F. Do not open the oven door for at least 20 minutes. In 25 minutes, the soufflé will have puffed 1-2 inches from the rim of the mold and the top will be nicely browned. Bake 5 minutes longer and serve at once.