Dave and Linda from Monkeyshines in the Kitchen chose Soufflés as our November 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge! Dave and Linda provided two of their own delicious recipes plus a sinfully decadent chocolate soufflé recipe adapted from Gordon Ramsay’s recipe found at the BBC Good Food website. Yes, souffle. That torment of culinary sphere that leaves chefs quivering with apprehension, hovering by the oven door that they long, yet fear to open. Oh the triumph of a towering puffed souffle, and the agony of defeat when you watch it collapse, slumping in the middle like a drunk at the end of a long night. There’s a rather inflated mythology around the souffle (which, by the way, is French for ‘to breathe’ or ‘puff up’ – an appropriate name, I’d say), but in all honesty, I’d say it doesn’t deserve it’s reputation as a futsy, challenging, delicate or impressive process. It doesn’t require a magic wand. You don’t need to move your kitchen into an anti-vibration chamber. It’s barely harder than making an omelet, actually (Of course, maybe that’s just because I’m horrible at making omelets.). And who was it that said, “the only thing that will make a souffle fall is if it knows you are afraid of it.”? I think it was James Beard. Genius. It’s totally true. You can make a souffle!!! You can even make a souffle without owning a souffle pan – I did. The real question is, do you want to? (Answer, yes. If you make the right kind. That kind being a cheesey one.)
Before being challenged to make a souffle this month I had made souffle twice before, both dessert souffles. In college the boy I was dating and I decided to make an orange souffle with Grand Marnier. We were pretentiously gourmet like that – everyone has their college phase . However, oh the irony, neither of us owned a metal mixing bowl for whipping up the egg whites in. So, we used a little aluminum cooking pot, and, well, it turned the egg whites an extremely unappealing shade of green. We made the souffles anyway, but it was pretty hard to enjoy eating moldy-green slightly metallic-tasting souffles. In spite of this, I tried again not too long afterward, whipping up some chocolate souffles for a dinner party. I successfully managed to keep the egg whites white, however, this time I discovered that I don’t like my chocolate to be spongey and airy. I like it to be dense and fudge-y or silky. In short, I decided I really didn’t like souffles.
Joel had never had a souffle at all before, but growing up in his family his mother kept a running joke about souffles. Whenever they bugged her about dinner she threatened to make a spinach souffle because in their world this was about the most horrendously unpalatable food-related idea they could come up with. So, he was not particularly predisposed to like souffles. Therefore, when I suddenly needed to make a souffle, I decided it would be hilarious to make a spinach souffle. It would be like getting the character in the Dr. Seuss book to finally eat green eggs and ham. It was going to be this amazing triumph, on par with making a souffle that rises and doesn’t collapse. Oh wait, it was going to be making a souffle that rises and doesn’t collapse! Er, well, except that my first attempt failed. But not for the usual reasons. You see, I had sauteed the spinach and garlic. I had prepared the eggs. I had the butter waiting in the pan to make a roux (because pretty much all savory souffles start with a roux, to which you add milk and egg yolks and whatever else you want in it). I was waiting for Joel to come home to continue because he had been charged with picking up milk and a few other random groceries on the way home from work. He came bursting in the door and presented me with the groceries while declaring, “I’m so hungry!” “Great!” I replied, “I just need the milk and then I can finish the dinner in about 25 minutes.” “The milk!” He exclaimed, a look of dismay spreading across his face. Of course. The one thing he had forgotten was the one thing necessary for dinner. We briefly considered giving up and going out for Thai food, but I had prepared everything else, so I wound up beating the eggs with a little splash of cream, pouring them over the spinach and making a frittata. So much for that souffle.
But, I wasn’t going to give up! Even though this left me with even less desire than ever to make a souffle, I felt that it was my duty to push through. I had low expectations, but a couple of days later – once the milk made it home – I tried again. This time, I decided to add in some cauliflower florets and cheddar cheese, partly because those were the two major flavoring options we had, and partly as another little homage to a particularly detested childhood food. (When I was little, my mom used to make this cheesy cauliflower dish, and I was capable of throwing up on the spot in order to avoid having to eat it). Wow! It was truly delicious! Not surprisingly, it tasted like an egg-y, cheesy cauliflower dish because that’s what it was. But, it was as if someone had taken a cheddar and cauliflower omelet and jet-puffed it! Each bite was ehtereal. Lighter than air, and laced with a richness from the cheese and a faint nutiness from the browned butter base that beautifully buoyed the unique, sweet flavor of the cauliflower. I never would have expected this (I actually started cooking that evening by heaving a sigh and saying, “I do not want to eat a freaking souffle!”), but I will most definitely be making this again. With a nice green salad and a little bit of crusty bread on the side, it makes for a satisfying and really quick weeknight supper!
- 3/4 cups cauliflower florets, very finely chopped
- a few Tbs. chopped Italian (flat leaf parsley)
- 2 1/2 Tbs. butter (plus more for buttering your dish)
- 2 generous Tbs. flour
- 3/4 cup milk (not non-fat, but 2% or whole will both work)
- 3-4 Tbs shredded sharp cheddar (or Parmesan or another flavorful cheese)
- 1/4 tsp. each of salt and pepper
- 3 eggs, the yolks separated from the whites
- a pie plate or a smallish (1 quart) souffle dish
- Preheat your oven to 400F and butter the pie plate or souffle dish really well (you can also flour it lightly as you would a cake pan, which will help even more to prevent sticking). Put the cauliflower and parsley together in a medium sized bowl. I
- n a saucepan, heat the butter over medium until it melts then continue to cook it, stirring it constantly, for another 4-5 minutes until it has turned brown and smells wonderfully nutty. Quickly stir in the flour and whisk it until it is smooth. Allow this to cook for a couple of minutes, otherwise you’ll wind up with a raw flour taste and that’s never good! Then, whisk in the milk bit by bit, stirring it constantly so that you wind up with a smooth sauce. Keep whisking until the sauce starts to bubble, then let it cook for about a minute until it gets nice and thick. Quickly take it off the heat and whisk in the cheese, the egg yolks, the salt and the pepper.
- Pour this sauce over the cauliflower and the parsley and stir until it is all mixed up. Next, in a medium sized cold metal bowl, beat the egg whites with a handheld mixer (or you can hand whip them, but be prepared for a tired arm) until they form stiff peaks but still look moist. Plop a large spoonful of the egg whites into the bowl with the cauliflower and stir it in (this lightens the mixture to begin with), then fold all of the rest of the egg whites into the cauliflower mix, using a spatula to gently turn it over until just combined.
- Scrape the souffle batter into the prepared pie or souffle dish and put it into the oven. Bake – leaving the oven door shut! Don’t peak too early or the souffle may indeed collapse! – for 25 minutes until the souffle is puffed up and a deep golden brown on top. Take out the souffle and serve immediately (to oohs and ahs) accompanied by salad and bread and a nice glass of white wine.