A bout de Soufflé
Updated: Nov 10, 2022
I have posted a couple of French recipes, but this blog really should feature more French cooking, since at one time I fancied myself a professional French expert. I have a graduate degree in French Studies. I had believed that by enrolling myself in this program I was educating myself for something glamorously French, maybe selling the New York Herald Tribune on the Rue de Rivoli, like Jean Seberg in Breathless, when I was actually acquiring credentials to be a roadkill collector in Rimouski, Quebec.
While in school, I'd had a taste of the work world via a number of temp jobs as an alleged French speaker, notably as the receptionist at the Canadian consulate in New York, where I spent the day taking calls from people who had been on hold for at least 40 minutes. BTW, I answered the same question over and over, all day long. The question, which I believe has been in the hold queue since 1993, is from a gentleman in Dhaka with severe short term memory loss who needs to know whether he has to get a visa to visit Niagara Falls.
The temp world was not working out, so I went to an employment agency where they ask you to fill out a form with your skills (PowerPoint, Excel, do you have your Series 7, etc). My form was completely blank. I wrote at the bottom of the form under "Other" that I spoke, read, and wrote French. I got a job in corporate lending at Société Générale as a secrétaire bilingue. It was incredibly boring. I remember casting around for something to do, and saw that the office intern was clipping articles out of the financial papers. I asked if I could clip articles, and was told that clipping articles was too important a task to be entrusted to just anyone. I was however allowed to make photocopies of the articles he clipped. I realized then that building my career in finance would take a little longer than I had expected.
I have posted only a few French recipes so far. But there is more work to do to demystify French cooking. A lot of dishes that we think are fancy are not at all fancy to French people. These foods are easy to cook and serve on a weeknight. Soufflé is one such dish, and I have to thank American chef Naomi Pomeroy for making me unafraid of soufflés. Naomi's book Taste and Technique is not a cookbook for regular people, or for easy weeknight meals (she's got a lacquered duck confit that takes three days to make which I will never cook in this life) but she does sell the simplicity of making soufflé, and assures us that even an imperfect soufflé is still delicious (see above photo for proof). When Naomi was growing up, her family's food budget was augmented by public assistance, and soufflés were a way to stretch other ingredients with eggs. I know this sounds like some serious bs, but it's true that a soufflé is just eggs, butter, and milk, along with any other ingredients on hand. And a soufflé and a salad is a perfect meal any time of year.
Here is Naomi's base recipe, to which you can add cheese, herbs, spinach, corn, mushrooms, artichokes, whatever you think could work. Naomi tells you to whisk everything, but I use a granny mixer for the egg whites and it turns out fine.
2 tablespoons butter, at room temperature, plus 5 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup fine bread crumbs (I like Panko for this)
3 tablespoons very finely minced shallot (I used onion once and it was okay)
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1-1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/16 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I skip this)
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup of shredded gruyère cheese (you can experiment with different cheeses)
7 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and place the rack in the middle position.
Brush a 2-quart soufflé mold (I don't have a soufflé mold, so I use my Dutch oven) with the 2 tablespoons room-temperature butter.
Add the bread crumbs, shaking and turning the mold so the sides and bottom are evenly coated. Pour out any excess crumbs and set the mold aside. This is an essential step, as the soufflé uses the bread crumbs sticking to the sides to climp up the mold.
In a small saucepan, melt the 5 tablespoons butter
over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until translucent, 1 to 2 minutes.
Add the flour and whisk to combine, allowing the mixture to take on a blond color, 2 to 3 minutes.
Gradually whisk in the milk and cream. When they have both been added, whisk until smooth, then immediately turn down the heat to simmer, whisking to prevent scorching.
When the mixture is slightly thickened, after 5 to 6 minutes, remove the pan from the heat and scrape the mixture into a metal mixing bowl.
Add the salt, pepper, and nutmeg and whisk briefly; let the mixture cool for ~15 minutes.
When the mixture is just slightly warm to the touch, whisk in egg yolks one at a time, whisking rapidly after each addition. Fold in cheese and/or herbs.
Next, beat the egg whites. When the egg whites are foamy, after about 30 seconds, add a pinch of cream of tartar, which helps keep the whites from deflating.
Continue whisking until soft peaks form. Carefully continue whisking just a few more seconds until stiff, almost shiny peaks have formed.
Scoop 1/3 of the whipped egg whites into the egg yolk mixture. Using a rubber spatula, gently mix everything together until fully incorporated. This lightens the thick base before you add the remaining whites.
Carefully fold in the remaining egg whites.
Pour the batter into the prepared soufflé mold.
Bake undisturbed (do not open the oven door!) ~50 minutes. If you have a thermometer that allows you to monitor temperature from outside the oven, the souffle is ready when the center reads 180 degrees. I did not have this kind of thermometer when I started making this recipe, so I just made sure my oven temperature was accurate and left it in for 45 minutes (after the first couple of tries you will know what is the exact time to take it out, but even the recipe is pretty forgiving if you leave it in a few minutes too long or take it out a few minutes too soon).
I used these pretty eggs from Cabbage Hill Farm in Mt. Kisco, NY. You don't need farm eggs to make a good soufflé, but if you find some, the results are especially delicious.