Part Two of my Soufflé adventures, this one taken place for a morning B-day Brunch.
It’s sometimes said that, in truth, the very first soufflés were a variation of an omelet. There is in fact a recipe of “Omelette Soufflé,” involving a VERY well beaten mixture of eggs and milk which is cooked mostly in the oven. Some accounts have it that after this followed an even more intensive recipe whereby the yolks and whites were separated, the latter being whipped to a voluminous nature, and folded back in to make what has to be the simplest and most basic soufflé ever. Cooked in a heavy skillet pan of course.
Whether there’s truth to this or not, I find the recipe idea fascinating; the term “soufflé” itself translating purely as “to blow/puff up.” As a descriptor, there are probably many kinds of recipes it could have applied to before being known as what it is today; heck, I doubt that original omelet really rose that much (not the one that was separated, that woulda been huge, I’ve seen videos…) and yet there it is. Was there an evolution to it, a slowly winding path of eggs and pastry finally culminating in Careme’s use of newly ventilated ovens? Or was it just a random stumbling and popping up of various clumsy dishes until one finally made something epic?
Whatever the case, soufflé has been discovered and is here to stay, in all its wonderful forms. And though our initial thoughts always land on the rich chocolate or velvety vanilla dessert, there is always that other intriguingly delicious side of the coin, the “savory soufflé.” Basing the main flavors out of things like Ham, Fish, Seafood, Spinach, and so many others, the discovery of this whole aspect of soufflé cookery truly shows the immense versatility of the dish.
And the absolute King of all these is the Cheese Souffle. I have no clue exactly when or who first made it, probably Careme he’s made everything, but the results have spoken for itself. That amongst all the savory soufflés that can be made, it is one focusing purely on regional Gruyere that has implemented itself as THE Classic and Traditional savory version of this dish that Represents the rest.
Which is all I really have to say on the matter, let’s start getting into this food!
A Word On…
Soufflé: I’ve already talked a lot about soufflé construction in my Dessert article, and I’m too lazy to write it again, so read some more stuff there.
Cheese: Though I could definitely see a not-too-untasty version of this with Cheddar, the true king of this French classic has and always shall be Gruyere. It melts very well, super flavorful, and goes good with eggs.
When trying to stay classic, one thus has to ensure they get FRENCH gruyere, as most of what we see regularly is from Switzerland. Swiss style makes an almost perfect substitute of course, and I do not fault the use of it for any reason, but for my purposes the French is best. And for those also trying to follow suit, that means you want to look for “Comte” Gruyere, one of the main two regions to actually make the cheese (I forgot the other one, but I couldn’t find it myself anyway so let’s just focus on comte). You may, as I did, find a couple kinds, regular and “doux,” a double aged version. Just stick with the younger, simpler one, which thus melts easier and carries a little more straightforward flavors.
Cheese Integration: A very interesting thing I found. After expecting practically every recipe to call for melting the cheese into the Bechamel (a white, milk-based gravy which most savory soufflé bases are made from), it was a shock to see quite a few did something different. Instead of adding it to the hot sauce, the shredded gruyere was folded into the cooled down mixture at the same time as the whipped egg whites. This actually seems to be somewhat more of the classic method, especially since Julia Child did it as well, so I thought I would try my hand at it. If you want to too, I would just suggest that you make sure the cheese is shred FINE; don’t want big pieces around when also handling the delicate egg whites.
“Encrusting” Cheese: Something quite peculiar I’ve found in most recipes for this is that, instead of dusting the heavily buttered pan in flour (or sugar like what’s done with dessert soufflés), other cooks sprinkle the sides with Parmesan. It was an odd substitute for flour, but I guess if it works then it boosts the whole cheesy aspect even more, even Julia Child did it. So I thought I’d look into it a bit more…
Two Problems. First, though I am of course willing to honor and try this technique, there is no way in HELL I’m using PARMESAN for a FRENCH meal. I don’t care if it’s used even in classic recipes, it is not a French cheese, so no go. Thus I set myself to find the hardest French cheese I could in search of a reasonable substitute, and even had a pretty good idea in mind…
Only to find out that some a-holes decided to ban the shipment Mimolette, which would have been THE perfect cheese. It has the EXACT same texture as parmesan, and now of all times I need it for something. But of course, they just happen to decide that the termites are too much or something or other… so I ended up with the OTHER comte, comte doux, which I guess ironically is the firmest French cheese we can now get in our market. Funny how that worked out.
Second issue. I tried it. The damn thing screwed up my soufflé. Weeelll, not really screwed up… but as you’ll see in pictures later, my little baked baby never got the chance to rise up the sides of the pan and above the lip (the center did, burst right out, but not the actual sides) like it was supposed to. And I buttered EVERYTHING damn good. It was the cheese and I know it; I love the crust it gave it, but it held my soufflé hostage from itself. The bastard.
It’s an easy fix though. Next time, I’ll just rub the cheese (which reminds me, best way to grate this is on the rougher side of the box grater; you know the section that looks like a bunch of little metal tents?) on the bottom and lower half of the pan, that way the top is completely unrestrained. Cuz I still like the flavor and texture it gave, but it needs a lot of controlling.
Wrapping: With my dessert, I wrapped the whole thing with parchment paper, but for this one I decided to try using aluminum foil instead, a technique that Julia Child and others tend to feature. I’d like to give results on which one I prefer, but as I just mentioned my soufflé was never able to raise high enough where I could tell. Either way, both are options, and the foil is MUCH easier to actually wrap around the dish.
Cooking Time/Temp: Instead of the idea to start at 425F and immediately turn down to 375F, most recipes for this call for an even 400F. Which makes sense, as it took a noticeable amount of time to actually cook… in fact, much longer than the recipes called for. A lot will say around 25-35 minutes, but even at 30 mine was painfully undercooked, as I found out after trying to serve it.
Unless you’re using a different kind of dish, or the batter turns out differently somehow, then it’ll take more like 45 minutes to cook all the way through. Really need to make sure it doesn’t move at all when shaking it.
Maybe if I tried the melted cheese method it would have worked?
4 Tb Butter
3 Tb Flour
1 ½ cup Milk
Tsp Fresh Grated Nutmeg
Salt and Pepper
4 Egg Yolks
5 Egg Whites
1 Tb Water
½ tsp Cream of Tartar
6 oz Comte Gruyere, finely grated
½ – 1oz Comte Doux Gruyere, roughly grated
- Turn oven to 400F.
- Melt Butter in a saucepan set over Medium heat.
- Whisk in Flour to a paste-like Roux, cooking over heat for about a minute.
- Once the roux has lightened slightly (Blanc stage, right before it starts darkening again), carefully add the warm or room-temperature Milk, whisking in to fully incorporate the two.
- Heat the sauce, watching and stirring often so it doesn’t burn or curdle, until it thickens enough to coat a spoon (Nappé).
- Season with Nutmeg, Salt, and Pepper before slowly pouring the hot mixture into the Egg Yolks to temper.
- Let this rest and cool slightly on the side while you start whipping your Whites, combining them with Water and Tartar in a bowl.
- Whip on High with a stand or hand mixer until reaching firm, stiff peaks.
- Take this and alternatively fold 1/3 of it at a time into the still-warm Bechamel along with the finely grated Comte.
- Quickly prepare a large, straight-sided casserole or soufflé dish if you haven’t already. Heavily and thoroughly butter the bottom, sides, and rim before sprinkling and coating the bottom and lower ½-1/3 of the sides with grated Comte Doux. Enwrap the container with a long, folded piece of aluminum foil so it sticks straight up from the rim.
- Fill the dish with as much of the batter as you can get in, trying to get to the very top.
- Move to oven and bake 35-45 minutes, minimum, until it has risen noticeably, developed a dark brown complexion, and set all the way through.
- Spoon onto a plate to enjoy as-is, or served with a Poached Egg, Hollandaise, and Cheese Wedge for a delicious breakfast.
A lot different than I thought it’d be, but ohhhhh so good. I’m not sure if I actually got it to what it’s supposed to be (in fact I think there may have been a chance of slight overcooking), but boy did I not care.
It was like that perfect expression of airy, fluffy eggbake, or omelet, or scrambled egg texture, but different; it wasn’t heavy, but it wasn’t light either, just a warm juicy mouthfull. One which, soon as you bite into it, you get that flavor and feeling of CHEESE, heavenly heavenly gruyere cheese, that practically melts into your mouth, but you know nothing is actually melting. It’s like ideal form of a cheese omelet. Overall that’s just the best way I could describe it in my mind’s eye; I suggest you make it for yourself to fully experience.
Oh, a really fun surprise too; after taking it out of the oven (-cough- for a second time), my immediate worries were that there had been some burning; I mean you can see the picture. Actually that was one of my favorite parts of the whole thing. The older gruyere on the outside had fully melted and caramelized into a rich, heavy, sorta crusty strip of cheesy goodness reminiscent of the “burnt” bits of grilled cheese, or the last bits of congealed stuff at the bottom of a fondue pot (which any Frenchman will tell you is THE best part). Not only was it just plain awesome, it added a nice dimension next to the richly singular juicy-soft insides.
Something tells me my sister may be demanding I make this again soon…
Primary Pairing – Loire Whites
Whether it’s a sharply acidic Sancerre, lightly sweet and Riesling-esque Vouvray (or many of the other Chenin Blanc wines of the whole region), or the mildly yeasty and subtle body of a Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine, the whites in this northern area of France are all amazing to pair with food, and each shine qualities to match this interestingly light to medium bodied, fluffy cheese-centered dish. Don’t get me started on what their famous Cremants and some of the lighter dessert wines of the region could do for this… or a Savennieres! Oh, such an oddly unique, vibrantly strong character that Chenin Blanc region wine has; almost like the oxidation qualities in the previously discussed Jura.
What you choose all depends on what you’re craving to drink with the souffle. The sauvignon blanc-based whites of the Central Valley/Eastern Touraine will cut right through everything; many of the Chenin Blanc based Vouvrays and Anjou-Saumur wines provide a fullness to lift up those rich flavors; and the Muscadet-based wines actually MATCH the salty qualities, not to mention the body. Cremants and Desserts (Coteaux du Layon, special Vouvrays, etc) are great for special occasions.
A little fat in the mouth, just a bare amount of sweetness, and a solid acidity from this all Chenin Blanc wine make for a svelt, yummy pairing alongside the hot, cheesy dish. Normally I might not have a Layon as my first choice, the particular region in the Anjou area known for its almost total devotion to refreshing Dessert wines. This basic Table Wine version, however, holds those sickly qualities back with simple, not-so-ripe grapes, while still maintaining just a bit of the area’s characteristic sweetness to counterbalance the salty cheese.
The body matches, the acid is enough to stand up to the fatty egg and cheese, and it just has that perfectly simple table wine nature that just makes you want to gulp it down with the area foods, much like I did that morning.
Who doesn’t love Apples and Cheese? Cider would be great too, but I do enough of that, why not get into some good hard liquor every once in a while? The region that makes it is close by, it still has a bit of that fruity sweetness (though hard to find through the alcohol, I know), not to mention those barrel-aged and distilled(heated) flavors of baking and caramelization that match with the crispy dark soufflé cooked cheese on the outside. Who cares if I’m drinking in the morning, I think it would go really well with the big, fatty breakfast version I made as well, as the high alcohol would be able to just cut through all that butter, yolk, cheese, etc.
Which is one of the things I learned in class about the stronger alcoholic beverages; they pair with foods a lot better than some may think they do, so don’t be too afraid about using them. Many brandies and whiskies have a bit of tannin to them; maybe some sweetness; they often carry a strength in certain flavors that one just can’t find anywhere else (just look at liqueurs); and the high alcohol can actually be used to contrast and cut high fats, acids, sweetness, etc. Even if one has a light bodied dish, so long as at least one component is noticeably strong, we can consider Hard Alcohol as a potential, proper drinking partner. Just have to find the right one, and for here I would just love a younger Calvados.