You know how when you watch “Next Food Network Star” or “Master Chef,” they throw some crazy task at the contestants, like, “Make a souffle: your time starts NOW!”? Well, to kick off the new year, I’ve decided to learn how to make all the elusive dishes that I know I’ll be faced with when I make it onto one of those shows. That’s right: I’m going to apply. On my list of “never made this:” fried chicken, lobster (kill & cook), duck, meringue, ribs, a fancy potato dish, a roast. And souffle.
So yesterday, I dropped $20 on a pound of fancy cave-aged Gruyere. Yep, a pound. And I came home and promptly turned to page 151 of Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table – hands-down my favorite cookbook for all things French. Yes, I read the recipe TWICE before I dove in. But somehow I had programmed “a pound of cheese” into my brain – when it is really a half pound. Sigh. So – my first attempt was just that – a first attempt. It wasn’t a disaster, per se. But it wasn’t a howling success either. So now I know – and you can bet I won’t make that mistake again (I’ll make some other mistake, probably!)
I’m going to share some pictures with you – notably of the finished thing – so we can all compare it with my next attempt, alright? Here she is:
It’s maybe is a little too brown, and it didn’t really rise enough – because of the weight of all that damn cheese. And here was my other mistake: I set the timer for 40 minutes … and then FORGOT TO PRESS START! Argh! So I had to guess when 25 – 30 minutes had elapsed because Dorie says, “do not even think of opening that oven door for at least 25 minutes!” Jeez. Really? Yes, really. So when I took it out – at what I thought was 40 minutes — it wasn’t cooked through. All that stupid cheese had really mucked up the works. So I popped her back into the oven for another 10 minutes, with a sheet of foil on her head to keep her from getting even more brown, and she cooked through. She was just too cheesy, though. I ate some of it. And it was … good. But not great.
Alright, if you want to try this yourself, let me know how yours comes out. And by all means, go to Amazon and get Dorie’s book if you love to cook French food. Her recipes and directions (when you pay attention to them!) are the best. Here’s what you need:
fine dry bread crumbs
2 1/2 cups whole milk
3 Tbl unsalted butter
6 Tbl all-purpose flour
salt and freshly ground white pepper (couldn’t find mine; used black pepper; same flavor, but more visible)
freshly grated nutmeg (I’m not a nutmeg fan; I used a pinch of Turkish Alleppo pepper)
6 large eggs, separated
8 ounces of grated cheese (I used Gruyere, but Dorie says you can use Swiss or Emmenthal, too)
1) Position a rack in the lower 1/3 of your oven and preheat to 400 degrees F. Get a 6-7 cup souffle dish and coat it thickly with butter, and then dump in some bread crumbs and shake / roll the pan to get the crumbs to stick to the butter all over, like this:
2) Time to make the bechamel sauce! Get two medium sauce pans out. In one, boil the milk, and set that aside. In the other, melt the 3 Tbls of butter and add the flour and cook, stirring, for at least two minutes, over medium heat, to make a roux (a thickening thing). Slowly pour the hot milk into your roux and whisk, whisk, whisk over medium heat, for about 8 or 10 minutes, until it’s really thick (as Dorie says, “the whisk should leave tracks”). It might be a little lumpy (mine was) – and that’s okay. Because then Dorie has you pour the thick bechamel through a fine-mesh sieve, into a big bowl, to get rid of the lumps – brilliant! Before you sieve it, season it with salt, pepper and nutmeg (or Alleppo pepper). Taste it to make sure it tastes like something besides just plain cream sauce.
3) Egg time! Okay – let that bechamel cool off a bit (10 minutes) while you separate your eggs. Put yolks in one bowl; whites in another (clean, dry glass bowls are best here).
You can also grate your cheese now – the 8 ounces. I used the Cuisinart, for this (so easy). When the bechamel’s cooled off a bit, whisk the egg yolks into it, one at a time. Then stir in the grated cheese. Let that sit while you attend to your egg whites.
4) Put the egg whites into a clean mixing bowl (I used my Kitchenaid stand mixer, with the whisk attachment). Beat those suckers at pretty high speed for maybe 3-4 minutes til they hold beautiful, shiny peaks, like this:
5) The Home Stretch! Take 1/4th of the egg whites and gently fold, using a rubber spatula, into your cheesy bechamel. Then gently fold in the rest — do not manhandle your batter here — be gentle. Dorie says it’s better to have a few streaks of unincorporated egg white than to over-stir here. You want this whole situation to be light and airy.
6) Now – gently pour the batter into your prepared souffle dish. Put the dish on a parchment- or silicone mat-covered baking sheet and slide ‘er into the oven. SET A TIMER AND PRESS START! 40 to 50 minutes. You can peak in the oven window, but don’t you dare open that oven door for at least 25 minutes. If it’s browning too quickly, you can open the door at 25 minutes or later, and slide a sheet of foil onto the top.
7) Remove when it’s golden brown, and still a little jiggly in the center. Ooh and ahh over it a bit. Soak up the praise from your guests. Take photos. And then serve immediately! If mine had turned out better, I would’ve eaten it for dinner, with a side salad of arugula, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice – and a nice glass of crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Next time!
Bon chance, and merci to Dorie for the constant inspiration!
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