Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Cheese Souffle by Ratio

I had a serious hankering for a cheese souffle yesterday (sorry no picture was taken), so I had to make one. Now, I know a lot about eating souffles, but I'd never actually baked one before. I knew they were easy to make, but not exactly how. So I read about 50 recipes and from them I worked out a ratio system, so you never have to worry about "oh, this recipe is for a 2-qt dish and I only have a 1-qt," or whatever. I really do like to put my cooking into math sometimes! This worked out really well for me, and the souffle turned into a beautiful cloud of egg and cheese happiness. We nearly died from ecstasy. I served it with a very simple salad: romaine, cucumber, celery, carrot and grape tomatoes, so we would have some crunchy food to eat with our cheese pillow. For the dressing was a heavily peppered lemon and vegetable oil dressing. So, although I made a four-egg souffle last night, I'm going to give you the "recipe" for a one-egg souffle, and you may scale it up as you see fit. Then it will always work for you. Hope you enjoy!

Recipe is for a one-egg souffle, or for a 1 cup souffle dish:

3/4 tablespoon butter
3/4 tablespoon flour (I used Wondra, but you could use anything)
butter for prepping dish
1 tablespoon or so finely grated parmesan
1/4 cup milk
1 egg, separated
1 - 1 1/2 ounces grated cheese (about 1/8 cup)
1/4 teaspoon ground, dry mustard, paprika, and/or other spices you wish to use
1/8 teaspoon each: salt, pepper
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar (optional)
1 tablespoon white vinegar

Heat oven to 425F. Prepare your souffle dish by rubbing it with butter, then evenly (and thinly) coating it with the parmesan cheese. Tap out any excess cheese. Melt your butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Once melted, add in flour and whisk continuously for 3 minutes. What you're looking for here is the "flour" flavor of the roux to disappear, but not for the roux to darken. This is an entirely blond roux. Heat your milk in another saucepan or in the microwave for 30 seconds, then add it to the roux. Whisk constantly over medium or medium-low heat until it thickens (like if you were starting to make gravy, but not quite so thick as gravy). Whisk the egg yolk with the spices in a bowl. Pour a small amount of the milk sauce into the egg yolk, whisking THE WHOLE TIME (this is very important or you will have scrambled eggs and not a souffle by the end). Once that part of the milk sauce is incorporated into the egg, put the whole egg mixture into the saucepan with the rest of the milk mixture and whisk up. Add in your cheese and whisk until the cheese is melted and well incorporated. If you're putting other stuff in there, add it in now and stir well (see notes below). Remove this from the heat and cool to room temperature. I move it to a big bowl and set it on a cooling rack so it cools faster.

While your sauce stuff cools, it's time to make the egg whites. Pour in up to a tablespoon of white vinegar into your beating bowl and rub it with a cloth or paper towels until it's completely dry. Don't wash the bowl, though (if you skip this vinegar step, that's okay - this is just a known technique to aid in whipping egg whites). Beat your egg whites (with cream of tartar if you're using it) until they form stiff peaks that are still but not with meringue-like dryness. So... medium stiffness?

Fold 1/3 of the whites into your bowl of cooled sauce stuff. Then fold the rest of the whites in (or, you may pour the sauce stuff into the rest of the whites and fold it that way. I think this really comes down to which bowl you're using is bigger, but perhaps some people are more precise in their cooking). Pour souffle batter into your prepared souffle dish(es) and put in the oven. Once you close the oven, turn the heat down to 375F. Bake for 30-35 minutes, but DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN DOOR FOR THE FIRST 20 MINUTES. Your souffle will fall if you do, and then you will be sad. Serve immediately.

Notes:

- You may add up to 1/4 cup per 1-cup ramekin to your mixture. Options like spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, shrimp, etc. are all good options. The important thing is that if you're using a "wet" ingredient (like spinach), you need to get out as much water as possible before adding it to the souffle sauce stuff. Make sure also that whatever you're including is finely chopped, as large chunks will siply settle to the bottom.
- If you are making a large souffle, you may add up to one egg white per 4-cup portion recipe. This will give you extra lift (I didn't do this, but I kind of wish I had). So, if you're making a 1-quart souffle (even if it's in 4 1-cup dishes), you can use 4 egg yolks and 5 egg whites. But you can't use a 6th white until you've gone up to a 2-quart number of eggs (so, an 8-egg souffle). And so on.
- You don't have to do the vinegar prep on your bowl before beating the egg whites, but for me it speeds the process along. DO make sure you have not even a hint of egg yolk in your whites, or it will not go well for you. The technique I use to ensure this is to break my egg over a bowl, separate it, then put the yolk in another bowl and to pour the white into YET another bowl. You wind up doing a lot more dishes this way, but you also ensure if you break a yolk mid-way through this process, you've only ruined one egg instead of all of them.
- Small souffles may only need 20-25 minutes to cook. However, the "don't open the door for 20 minutes" rule still applies. It always applies.
- If your souffle doesn't get quite the lift you were hoping for (this happened to me), it's okay. It still tastes good, and it will still be a little cloud of happiness for you. Your souffle dish was probably just a touch bigger than was needed. For example, mine did not make that massive puff that extended beyond the edge of the dish, but the massive puff WAS still there. It was just lower in the dish. So probably I just need to use more batter in that dish. The texture and taste were exactly as they should've been despite it not being as tall as I had hoped.
- If you own a copper bowl (how I wish I did!), the cream of tartar really isn't necessary. If you don't, you'll appreciate the help from the cream of tartar but it's STILL not mandatory.

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