p1: Cheese Souffle

Part Two of my Soufflé adventures, this one taken place for a morning B-day Brunch.

The Dish

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.enhanced-buzz-6383-1389654115-2

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.

SAMSUNGWhen 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…SAMSUNG

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,SAMSUNG 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 iSAMSUNGdea 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?

Cheese Soufflé
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

Directions

  1. Turn oven to 400F.
  2. Melt Butter in a saucepan set over Medium heat.SAMSUNG
  3. Whisk in Flour to a paste-like Roux, cooking over heat for about a minute.SAMSUNG
  4. 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.SAMSUNG
  5. Heat the sauce, watching and stirring often so it doesn’t burn or curdle, until it thickens enough to coat a spoon (Nappé).SAMSUNG
  6. Season with Nutmeg, Salt, and Pepper before slowly pouring the hot mixture into the Egg Yolks to temper.SAMSUNG
  7. Let this rest and cool slightly on the side while you start whipping your Whites, combining them with Water and Tartar in a bowl.SAMSUNG
  8. Whip on High with a stand or hand mixer until reaching firm, stiff peaks.SAMSUNG
  9. Take this and alternatively fold 1/3 of it at a time into the still-warm Bechamel along with the finely grated Comte.SAMSUNG
  10. 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.
  11. Fill the dish with as much of the batter as you can get in, trying to get to the very top.SAMSUNG
  12. 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.SAMSUNG
  13. Spoon onto a plate to enjoy as-is, or served with a Poached Egg, Hollandaise, and Cheese Wedge for a delicious breakfast.SAMSUNG

The Verdict

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.

SAMSUNGOh, 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.SAMSUNG

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.

SAMSUNGMy Bottle: 2012 Chateau de la Roulerie, Coteaux du Layon

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.

Secondary Pairing – Fine or VS Calvados (apple brandy)calv

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.

p2: Souffle

Okay, how the heck is it that out of 44 different classic French desserts they could have chosen (3 of which are all some form of profiterole, 5 or more are different Tarts, and 2 of those tarts are some kinda plum), there’s not a single damn Soufflé!? Oh, well I guess they already have a souffle in the savory side… but wait, they also have a Savory Crepe paired with a Crepe Suzette, so that logic is thrown out the window! Well I say screw them, I’m changing it! This is now the “French 45,” and we shall have Soufflé!!imagesN8HN2EYL

The Sweet

The development of soufflé is likely long-lived but shortly-documented, its transition from fried egg to pastry most likely kicking off in Medieval Times, when Whisked Egg Whites started being incorporated into a variety of dishes. Though it wasn’t until the development of Meringue techniques in the 1600’s that the true potential in soufflé could be seen, but not yet realized.

Finally, new Ovens, heated by air drafts instead of coal, made their appearance in the early 1800’s, flagging in the first “true” soufflés (certain chefs such as Beauvilliers and Louis Ude had supposedly made very similar kinds of pastries less than 20-40 years prior, but they would be either unpublished or labeled), providing an even temperature for the pastry to cook properly. The first to make notable use and publication of the technique, and thus credited with its creation, is a certain Antoine Careme, the King of Chefs and the Chef of Kings, aka one of our personal Gods in the Kitchen. There’s much I could go into recounting about Careme, but that’s a post in and of itself.

untitledBesides perfecting the recipe, which he soon used to make hundreds more including the grand and famous Soufflé Rothschild (made with gold flecked liqueur-macerated-crystallized fruit), he also provided the inspiration for traditional Straight-sided cooking dish, using a similarly shaped Stiff Pastry Casing (as many oven-cooked things at the time were cooked in barely edible breads, pastries, and other handmade pots, it’s actually quite an interesting talking point, especially “chicken pot pie”).

And from there it’s history. Long years of refining old recipes and experimenting with new has lead to soufflés both precise and imaginative, along with a strong guidebook and understanding of the true “dos and don’ts,” and what we can get away with. There is of course much more to say about this and the soufflé’s history, of course, but I gotta save some material for the Cheese Soufflé whenever I get to it.

Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner

Here’s the thing about soufflé: it’s a lot easier than people think it is. It’s not this super-long, extensive recipe based off exact measurements, extremely delicate poofy little pastry that’ll break at the slightest vibration. In fact, this weird little cliché of soufflés deflating for who knows what unseen force is just plain weird and unfounded. Any simply, properly made soufflé is very durable and stuSAMSUNGbborn; it’ll of course “shrink” a bit after it’s taken out of the oven (as it’s the warm air that causes it to rise up, so it’ll of course shrink down as it cools). But unless you actually stab it while cooking, its stability is guaranteed.

And it’s all based off of only Two components: Whipped Egg Whites, and a Flavorful Base/Batter. That’s it.

Again, simple. Before cooking, whip your egg whites to a very firm “stiff peak” stage; when you pull the mixer from the whites, there will be little horns that stand straight up when turned upside down (and stay that way if you tap it). You can use this as-is, or sometimes I’ll add in a small amount of sugar around “soft peak” stage and re-whip it to stiff peaks, sorta making a “light meringue” for a bit of stability (and it can make a fun crusty bake). Fold this into the base until it looks like foamy mousse batter thing, you be the judge of what looks right, and that’s it.

Of course, that’s not where people usually have issue grasping the concept, is it? Probably most of the caution and uncertainty comes through making this actual base, how to get in that flavor you want. What recipe do I use, what proportions of individual ingredients do I need to make sure it rises properly?

Well STOP. None of that stuff matters. The only things you need to know for making your base is that A: it’s Intensely Flavorful, and B: getting the right thickness is important. That’s it, it should be strong and distinct enough to survive the “thinning” of all the egg whites we fold in, much like when you make a mousse (which is basically what soufflé is, a baked mousse). And I like to think it should be somewhere in the range of “pan/cake batter” consistency, so long as its thick enough to hold flavor and stability, but thin enough “flow” and ribbon easily when lifting a spoon. There’s of course a general range here, it doesn’t have to be exact; can have something a little loose or a little thick. We just don’t want a firm, thick, cement batter that you can’t even fold egg whites in or a barely watery one where the foam will dissolve.

Now all you have to do is pick your flavor and find a simple way to make it taste good. Vanilla Soufflés are basically just made with Pastry Cream or a thick Anglaise; a Chocolate often made by melting the delicious goodies with a bit of milk and adding it to some egg yolks, sugar, and flour (similar to lava cake batter). If you wanted a Citrus soufflé, just make a Curd (lemon, lime, blood orange, whatever); Fruits you can just puree whole, maybe mix it with something (very classic recipes have you adding sieved fruit to sugar cooked to the “hard crack” stage). I’ve even read an article about a chef who just ignores any fats (egg, milk, whatever) and just thickens Juices and Flavored Water with Corn Starch.

There’s no real rules so long as it’s, again, flavorful and has a good, foldable thickness. Of course many chefs try and dissuade from the use of Fats (as just stated); which I do agree with, and I usually try and use only a little of those, the idea being that the fat will slide between the delicate network of the long protein strands in the whipped whites, thus taking it apart. But I just love the richness it’s able to add, along with the ability to make an ideal “batter” simply (most of the things I mentioned earlier are basic custards or cake batters), and so far hasn’t actually affected the soufflés I’ve made to any noticeable degree. Besides, the very classic soufflés are basically egg whites folded with the yolks, only flavored.

Just don’t use Butter. For the love of god, NO BUTTER; you’ll have enough on the baking dish as is. You can stick with milk and yolks, they’re a little more of an indirect lipid source. You’ll have enough on the baking dish as is.

Now we just have to fold in the egg whites. You can do this with the batter at room temp, or some recipes do it soon after MAKING a Hot base; though I don’t like the idea of folding egg whites into something HOT (too much risk for destroying the delicate air bubbles), having it “warm” wouldn’t be an issue, and can help in the rising qualities. Just don’t use the batter while cold, it will weigh things down (in a sense).

As far as cooking vessel goes, any bakeproof ceramic/porcelain/whatever (NON-METAL) thing works. Little ramekins are classic, or you could use a casserole (I saw Jacques Pepin make one in a long rectangle one). All it has to be is WELL BUTTERED, very thoroughly; get the rim too. After which, you can choose whether or not you want to “dust it with sugar,” giving a fine coating on the bottom and sides. People say this “helps it climb,” but really it’s just to get a little crunchy coating around the sides.

Oh, and fill it to or very near the top; there’s no reason to leave room for overflow, we want to give our soufflés the best chance to grow Straight Up. Actually, one of the ways toSAMSUNG help this, so it doesn’t sort of mushroom out over the sides, is to wrap a chimney of parchment paper around the dish.

Final thing, concerning cooking temperatures and time. Usually sticking to 350-375 is a good bet, I’m liking this one thing I’ve found of starting the oven at 425 and turning it down to 375 as soon as the soufflé goes in. Of course smaller ramekins will cook faster than the large ones; about 12-15 minutes, with 25-30-ish for large casseroles. Feel free to open the oven and give the dish a little prod to see if it’s set or jiggles; again, they’re sturdier than what we’ve been told.

Quite a lot of recipes also have one cooking it in a hot water bath, like custards… which I just don’t like. There doesn’t seem to be a NEED for it, and it just prevents it from any chance of getting a nice little texture on the crust.

There we go, Soufflé. With all I wrote you’d think it was difficult (I know, I tend to ramble incoherently and ongoing at times, my apologies), but if you look at the individual points made I promise it’ll now look a lot more approachable than it did before. So let’s bake one shall we!?

Banana Soufflé
2-3 Egg Yolks
2 Tb Flour
1 Tb Salt
1 Tb AllspiceSAMSUNG
1 tsp Cinnamon
2-3 Tb Sugar, plus extra
½ cup Brown Sugar
1/3 cup Rum
1-2 Overripe Bananas (depending on size)
5-6 Egg Whites
Butter, as needed

Directions

  1. Thoroughly whisk egg Yolks, Salt, Flour, Spices, 2 Tb of Sugar and Half of the Brown Sugar until pale and fluffy.SAMSUNG
  2. Move rest of brown sugar into sauce pan with Rum, heating to a simmer until melted. Remove to let cool.SAMSUNG
  3. Mash Bananas, whisk into Yolk along with the cooled rum syrup. Taste and adjust alongside consistency with extra flour, sugar, rum, banana, or whatever desired/needed. Reserve until ready to bake.SAMSUNG
  4. Heat oven to 425F.SAMSUNG
  5. Take Ramekin/Casserole dish, thoroughly rub Butter into bottom, sides, corners, rim, etc (I suggest twice). Sprinkle with leftover Tb of sugar, shaking and turning around to evenly coat the bottom and sides.SAMSUNG
  6. In Stand or Hand mixer, whip egg whites to Stiff Peaks. If desired, sprinkle and mix in a couple Tb of sugar on low speed, turning back to high to re-whip towards stiff peak stage.
  7. Gently fold the beaten whites into your banana base, 1/3 of the eggs at a time.SAMSUNG
  8. Quickly transfer to your cooking dishes, filling to or as near to the top as possible.SAMSUNG
  9. Move to oven, immediately turning the temperature down to 375F. Cook until Browned, lightly Crispy, fully Risen and the center is Set, about 25-30 minutes for larger casseroles and 10-14 for small ramekins.SAMSUNG
  10. Serve immediately alongside Rum Sabayon and Banana Ice Cream.

My Thoughts

So easy, so delicious, I really love making these soufflés. I don’t think the one I made turned out perfect, but that’s fine, it’s an easy fix. Which is another great factor to making this classic dessert: when something goes wrong, you know exactly how to fix it (and in an easy way), which is more than what we can say for other baked goods.

If it’s dense and doesn’t rise, you need more egg whites/a thinner batter; if it’s too big and delicate, less; spongy and shrunk, overcooked; still batter-y inside, cook more next time; if it doesn’t rise straight and “tents” instead, more butter on the sides (I think I needed some on the rim); if it seems too moist and tender (hard to describe what I mean, but you’ll know), reduce the liquids in the base, and so on and so forth.

I still have yet to “know” what the proper and classic soufflé is supposed to be like structurally; is it supposed to be cake-like, really moist, egg-white-y… there’s been a lot of results from different recipes I’ve tried out. But as long as it tastes damn good, and hits that comfort spot in your soul, and looks pretty, that’s all that matters.

Which certainly happened with the Banana. It was like everything right with banana bread, and custard, and warm cake… all together. Actually, with the Sabayon and Banana Ice Cream (super easy and tasty, just blend frozen bananas), it sorta reminded me of reconstructed Bananas Foster. Just needed some sea-salt caramel and a crunchy topping to complete the idea.

Despite the various rambles and unclear conjectures, I do hope this post may help encourage a few people to try making their own soufflé. If you do, you’ll have to tell me the results!

Possible Pairings

It all depends on what kind of soufflé you’re making, but a good “general” choice is Moscato d’Asti, or a Sparkling Demi-sec. Moscato is great with different chocolate dishes, is light in body to not override, and of course why not have bubbly with this air-pocketed pastry?

untitledAs far as my Banana one, I’m sort of craving something with botrytis, but I don’t want that thick, heavy syrup that a Sauternes can get. One of the simpler, more affordable St. Croix-du-Mont or Loupiac would be great (two regions near the legendary Sancerre, same style but less concentration), maybe a Coteaux du Layon from Loire, so long as one of them has Botrytis.

Though I don’t consider them on a regular basis, if you can find a dessert wine made from Chardonnay, that would probably be a good drink with the banana. Again just avoid anything heavy. Oh, maybe a Vidal Ice Wine would be good.Amontillado-sherry-287x300

A tasty, lighter sweet Rum to pair with the tropical fruit, brown sugary-ness, and of course the Rum Sabayon. Ties into the idea of bananas foster better too.

And in the world of fortifieds, I could totally go for a sweetened Amontillado Cream Sherry, so long as it’s made well. I do love a good sherry, and rarely do the cheaper sweet stuff, but this could work. Port wouldn’t really work, except maybe a “White Port.”