Sunday, November 4, 2012

Ham and Cheese Soufflé

My first soufflé. I wanted to make this, just to know I could. I've never discussed soufflés with my friends, but pop culture tells me tales of woe related to the dish, the cause of many tears splashing down on kitchen tile from fallen soufflés and more finicky than a toddler a couple hours past bedtime.  Just the fact that it has an accent mark in the name is enough to make some turn the cookbook page and make a quiche instead.

But I'm here to tell you that there's nothing to be afraid of.  I didn't do the Julia Child aluminum foil wrap thing that I've seen on other blogs.  I just made sure that I did my mise en place and prepped ingredients beforehand (grating the cheese, separating the eggs) and brought the ingredients to room temperature.  Much like making scones, the real trick is minimal mixing - be gentle, and do not be thorough, as you want to keep those air bubbles in the whipped egg whites. Just a few folds should do it. Pop the whole thing in a preheated oven, and voilá!  Soufflé.

Soufflé is like a really light, airy, a little bit eggy spoon bread. Next time I'll use a more impressive baking dish so it puffs up over the edges like an edible version of The Swedish Chef's hat, but considering it was my first time out of the gate, I was quite satisfied with my soufflé's modest lift. It's only as good as the cheese put into it, so if you have an extra chunk of a great aged Cheddar, this is the place to use it.

While the soufflé was baking for our Sunday lunch, Ben and I had a pillow fight (he won), then took a break on the couch to watch the tiny little snowflakes fly outside the window, falling on the big evergreen trees in our new backyard. Our little winter wonderland.

Ham and Cheese Soufflé
If I could have any cookbook author by my side to make my first soufflé, I'd pick Mark Bittman over Julia Child. Julia can make a mean soufflé, but Bittman heralds simplicity over authenticity, which I appreciate. He strips recipes down to exactly what you need, and then will often give ideas on how to build it back up and make it your own. I love Julia, but Mark's my wingman on this one. Adapted from How to Cook Everything.

4 Tbls. (1/2 stick) butter, plus 1 teaspoon to grease the dish
1/4 cup flour
1 and 1/2 cup milk, warmed
6 eggs, separated and at room temperature (make sure there is no yolk in the whites, or the whites won't whip properly)
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated or crumbled Cheddar, Jack, Roquefort, Emmenthal and/or other cheese
3/4 cup cooked minced ham (optional; if you just want a cheese soufflé, leave it out)
Pinch of cream of tartar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 2-quart soufflé dish or other deep baking dish with 1 tsp. butter.

In a medium saucepan, melt remaining butter over medium heat. When it foams, add flour and turn heat down to medium-low. Cook, stirring, until mixture darkens a bit, about 3 mins. Whisk in milk slowly to avoid lumps, then cook until mixture is thick, 1-2 more mins.

Turn off heat, stir in yolks, salt (you won't need much salt if you are using ham), pepper, mustard, cheeses and ham. Beat eggs whites separately w/ a pinch of cream of tartar just until they hold soft peaks. Stir a couple spoonfuls of beaten egg whites into batter, then very gently - and not overly thoroughly - fold in remaining whites. Be as gentle as possible.

Turn batter into dish and bake until soufflé has risen and browned on top, about 30-40 mins. Use a thin skewer to check the interior; if it is still quite wet, bake another 5 mins. If it is just a bit moist, the soufflé is done. Serve immediately.


Mrs. Prior said...

Stumbled on your this post (looking for something else on the internet) - and I am not really into cooking - but this nicely written post has inspired me to try a soufflé! Thanks for cookbook reference as well!

Rhubarb and Venison said...

Your comment completely made my day, Mrs. Prior. Thanks for stopping by - and good luck with your souffle! I'd be happy to hear how it turns out for you.