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National Cheese Soufflé Day
I went out and bought all the ingredients for cheese soufflé… except the dish! Which presented a great way to find out whether or not you do in fact need a special dish for what is after all reputed to be a terrifyingly temperamental recipe. Turns out what’s special about the classic pot is the straight sides – gives the eggs better resistance as they rise, I guess.
So, while it is convenient to have a special soufflé dish, you can substitute with a casserole dish with straight sides. Soufflé dishes can be made of metal, porcelain, or glass, and generally range in size anywhere from one to eight cups. I borrowed a white ceramic dish with straight sides (though a little lower than the classic soufflé dish) from my friend and cook extraordinaire, Jocelyne Mange.
Separating out the egg yolks from the whites reminded me of my mum – it was she who taught me how to roll the yolk from one half of the shell to another, while the white cascades away into a bowl below. It seems a bit silly to me that this recipe calls for 4 yolks and 5 whites – I mean, I might do something I learned from my dad, and store the lone yolk in a small plastic container in the fridge, but then it would just sit there til I threw it out.
In this I am unlike my dad, who loves to eat leftovers, and can frequently be seen trying to interest guests in three cold Brussels sprouts, which if not accepted (as is usually the case) he will eat with gusto.
Alternatively, I could have done what I was taught to do in France at the impressionable age of 15 when there on an exchange with the same French family who introduced me to cheese fondue: suck eggs. It was not my grandmother that taught me, but a five year-old boy named Jean Brunot. You stick each end of the egg with a pin and suck out the fluid, and hey presto! Salmonella! Just kidding – no-one got sick (that time anyway) – it was considered quite a delicacy by the kids, and you know what? When it arrives as a very thin stream, raw egg ain’t that bad.
But anyhoo, this orphan yolk went in the bin.
For this post, rather than seek out the history of soufflé for your entertainment I hunted down people who have immortalized this delicate and puffy dish in poetry, with fairly amusing results…
Elizabeth Bishop (1911 – 1979) was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1949 to 1950, and a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1956. She is considered one of the most important and distinguished American poets of the 20th century. Here is a poem found inside a cookbook by one of her friends:
Lines Written in the Fannie Farmer Cookbook
You won’t become a gourmet cook
By studying out Fannie’s book—
Her thoughts on Food & Keeping House
Are scarcely those of Lévi-Strauss.
Nevertheless, you’ll find, Frank dear,
The basic elements are here.
And if a problem should arise:
The Soufflé fall before your eyes,
Or strange things happen to the Rice
—You know I love to give advice.
~ Elizabeth Bishop
Or there’s this piece of questionable doggerel:
Shall I compare thee to a cheese soufflé?
Thou art more fluffy and delectable:
The mouths of guests may drool upon the tray,
But a soufflé is not protectable:
Sometimes the heat of it may burn one’s cheek
And its gold complexion turn to brown;
And every one must sometime drop from peak,
Pierced with fork or by its weight brought down;
But your eternal puff will not collapse,
And from your face none beauty can dissever;
Nor shall your death result from a relapse,
For in this poem you will have life forever:
So long as eyes can see and men can eat,
So long as this — then you, no one can beat.
~A mysterious English teacher named John G. Stockmeyer
The soufflé is in better taste than either of course.
- 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Pinch of ground nutmeg
- 4 large egg yolks
- 5 large egg whites
- 1 cup (packed) coarsely grated Gruyère cheese (about 4 ounces)
Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 400F. Butter 6-cup (1 1/2-quart) soufflé dish. Add Parmesan cheese and tilt dish, coating bottom and sides. Warm milk in heavy small saucepan over medium-low heat until steaming.
Meanwhile, melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until mixture begins to foam and loses raw taste, about 3 minutes (do not allow mixture to brown). Remove saucepan from heat; let stand 1 minute. Pour in warm milk, whisking until smooth. Return to heat and cook, whisking constantly until very thick, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat; whisk in paprika, salt, and nutmeg. Add egg yolks 1 at a time, whisking to blend after each addition. Scrape soufflé base into large bowl. Cool to lukewarm. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover and let stand at room temperature.
Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in another large bowl until stiff but not dry. Fold 1/4 of whites into lukewarm or room temperature soufflé base to lighten. Fold in remaining whites in 2 additions while gradually sprinkling in Gruyère cheese. Transfer batter to prepared dish.
Place dish in oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 375F. Bake until soufflé is puffed and golden brown on top and center moves only slightly when dish is shaken gently, about 25 minutes (do not open oven door during first 20 minutes). Serve immediately.