Soufflé. It’s the word that strikes terror into aspiring cooks. Actually, it can strike terror into the most experienced cook. The idea of any dish that must be treated with such care and delicacy, that a loud noise or simple sneeze might ruin all your hard work. Something thought so difficult that even the tiniest of misteps can turn it into soup or a leaden, burned brick. We’ve seen the TV episodes of the Fifities housewife desperate to impress the in-laws reduced to tears by a fallen soufflé. Soufflé the dread, soufflé the feared! Like the greatest sinners among us, we fear becoming The Fallen.
I have been instructed by experienced chefs, I have experimented in my own kitchen, and yes, I have had a fallen soufflés. But practice makes perfect, and mistakes sometimes take you where you meant to go. I worked on a soufflé recipe for months, making notes, crossing things out, writing in the margins, spilling milk on the ink and somehow I got here. I may not of reinvented the wheel, but I sure made it simple. This is the soufflé for the culinarily challenged. I won’t say it is foolproof; it does take a little patience. But from the first time I accidently stumbled upon the formula to the many times I have made it since, I have never had a dud. My nieces and I used to create “restaurants” at my house. We’d design a menu, plan the cooking, make the signs, take the orders (from indulgent parents and grandparents) and cook and serve the meal. On the first menu of our first restaurant, we offered this Cheese Soufflé, and it was a best seller. So trust me, you can do it.
Cheese soufflé makes an elegant first course, a lovely light luncheon with a salad, or a sophisticated breakfast or brunch treat. Jazz these up with herbs added in, or the addition of a surprise at the bottom of the dish. I always argue for using the best ingredients possible, but in a simple dish like this it is really important that they shine. Farm fresh eggs, quality butter and really good cheese. I use a natural white cheddar.
It is important that the eggs are at room temperature, and that the cheese mixture has cooled before folding in the egg whites to get the puffy soufflé effect.
5 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon salt
4 eggs, separated, room temperature
Preheat the oven to 400. Have a sheet pan ready. Butter and flour 6 ramekins, about seven ounces each.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, then whisk in the flour until it starts to bubble and turns white, about 3 minutes. Take off the heat and gradually whisk in the milk. Return to heat and whisk until bubbling and thick. Switch to a spatula or sturdy wooden spoon and add the mustard, cheese, nutmeg and salt. Pull off the heat and add the egg yolks. Stir vigorously until everything is smooth and fully incorporated. Cool.
In an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Stir a large dollop of the egg whites into the cheese mixture to loosen it up, then gently fold in the rest of the whites.
Divide the mixture evenly among the ramekins. Place a baking sheet in the oven to heat for about 5 minutes. Carefully place the ramekins on the heated baking sheet and bake until puffed and golden, about 15 minutes.
Serve immediately. These will deflate as they cool – deflate, not fall or collapse. They are still lovely, light and airy.
You can chill the pre-baked ramekins for up to 4 hours in you prefer. When ready to serve, cook as directed above, though they may take a minute longer.
*For a little flair, spoon an extra into the ramekins such as crumbled blue cheese, chunky salsa or chutney.