Friday, April 10, 2009

Fear not the Souffle

Souffles aren't that hard to make. Stop laughing. I promise you, if you can bake muffins, scramble an egg, or make macaroni and cheese, you can bake a souffle. It's even easier when you're baking that souffle as part of a casual dinner for you and your sweetie and not trying to impress dinner guests company. (You can impress dinner guests after you've practiced a few times.)

When preparing a classic dish like this, I feel it's best to turn to a trusted guide. Who's more trusted than Julia Child when it comes to classic French dishes? Julia's voice is so comforting and she's also realistic. In her book From Julia Child's Kitchen she outlines, in great detail (four full pages!), how to make a cheese souffle. In addition to Gruyere She mentions several other great cheese options including cheddar (which she says "... makes a fine souffle with excellent flavor, but it is a strictly American taste.")

I had extra filling from making spinach pie so I thought I'd make a spinach souffle for supper. With some toast and a little salad it was a delicious and comforting dinner. A nice thing about souffles: you don't need to buy a lot of expensive ingredients. Eggs, butter and cheese are pretty much all you need.

One note about beating egg whites: Many recipes that call for beating egg whites terrify the reader with cautions to not let a drop of fat or yolk touch the whites. They warn that that will result in whites that will not beat up to a full fluffiness. While I'm not saying you shouldn't be careful to keep your white clean, don't freak out about it. See these whites? I dropped some yolk in there while I was separating the eggs and decided to press on. Beautiful fluffy whites!

If you don't know how to separate eggs, I refer you to this video on How2Heroes.

This recipe looks long, but it really should only take you about 10 minutes to put into the oven. The more you do it, the faster you get.

Spinach Souffle
Serves 4-6
A note on baking dish sizes: Julia recommends a traditional souffle dish: 6" across and 4" high. You'll need to put a parchment paper or aluminum foil collar on that dish to ensure that the souffle doesn't overflow. I use a dish that's just large enough to hold the batter. By not using a collar and using a large-enough dish, I get a good rise on the souffle without having the build a collar. For safety's sake - I always bake on a baking sheet in case it rises higher than I expected.
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pinch of nutmeg, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 1/2 cups finely chopped cooked spinach, squeezed as dry as possible
  • 2 ounces parmesan cheese (Use 4 ounces if you're making a cheese souffle. I like cheddar, or a cheddar/parmesan mix - just keep the flavors on the stronger side)
  • butter for greasing baking dish
  • extra grated cheese for sprinkling over the top
Preheat the oven to 375 and set the oven rack to the lower middle rung. Grease a baking dish and set it on a baking sheet.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add flour and stir well with a whisk until smooth. Whisk in the milk gradually until it is all added in. You're making a thick white sauce, the whisking is essential as you don't want any lumps in the sauce. By adding the milk gradually you keep the sauce smooth. Check the seasoning on the sauce and add salt and pepper as needed.

Whisk the egg yolks into the sauce you've just made. Stir in the chopped spinach.

In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Using a rubber spatula fold 1/4 of the whites into the sauce. Fold the now lightened sauce into the rest of the whites. As you're folding the sauce and whites together, sprinkle the cheese over the bowl, and fold the cheese in as well.

When everything is folded gently together pour it into the baking dish and sprinkle some additional cheese over the top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes until the souffle is well puffed and browned. If you're baking in a very thick dish (like I did this time - the dish's sides are easily 3/4" thick), this will slow down the baking and you may want to go longer: about 40-50 minutes.

Pull the puffed, lovely souffle from the oven and serve. If when you're served up you realize that the souffle isn't cooked through (might look raw) - don't despair. Spoon off the cooked layer and serve that. Just put the souffle back into the oven and cook for another 10 minutes or so, then just serve up a second course of souffle!

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