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Mountain conquered without leaving kitchen

November 24th, 2008 · 4 Comments · Food preparation, recipes

Some cooking tasks seem so scary that some of us (me) scrupulously avoid them, but when you finally attack them and succeed, well, you feel like you’ve really accomplished something. With this year’s conquests including canning and carmelizing sugar, I was ready for one more: soufflé.

It’s funny how these processes grow big in your mind. I imagined any soufflé I made would fail to rise or wind up as warm, runny eggs or turn my dish into a solid mass of impenetrable, cooked-on egg. I was surprised, therefore, when my friend who helped me eat it commented blithely, “what’s the big deal?” (or something to that effect). It’s soufflé, for heaven’s sake! Famously difficult! Given to collapse! Given to creating humiliation for the host who dares to serve it!

Getting a nudge

Angela’s casual attitude about the individual soufflés started me to thinking that maybe I could do it. And I found myself with an unusual surplus of eggs and some nice greens, so I decided what the heck and invited Sue, a friend who I thought would forgive my cooking failure. She arrived just before I was to put the dish in the oven.

“I used to make them all the time,” she said. This, from a woman who steadfastly insists she’s a lousy cook. She told me to put a collar on the soufflé dish, even if it didn’t look as though it would rise much above it. The collar, she said, would assure more even cooking. Who was I to argue? So, with her help, we tied a collar of waxed paper around the dish and put it in the oven. We sipped wine while I waited nervously. At last, the timer sounded, and there was my beautiful soufflé! Risen! Browned! Beautiful!

If you think you’re ready to try a soufflé, I say go for it. Here’s the recipe I used, a pretty close adaptation of the version in Mastering The Art of French Cooking, Volume One. I won’t repeat all the helpful general information that’s also included in the book, but I think this recipe should work if you want to give it a shot.

Cheese soufflé with spinach

1. Get ready

Coat bottom and sides of a 6-cup souffle mold (see note) with 1 tablespoon butter. Add 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese and shake dish to distribute cheese. Set aside. Cut length of waxed paper long enough to encircle the souffle dish. Also, cut a length of cotton string long enough to encircle the dish and tie. Put your baking rack on the middle shelf in your oven.

2. Prepare the savory bits

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots or green onion (I used shallots)
  • 3/4 cup blanched, chopped spinach (I used tatsoi), squeezed of moisture
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Melt butter in nonreactive sauce pan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook 1 minute. Add spinach and salt, and stir over medium-high heat for several minutes to evaporate as much moisture as you can from the spinach. Remove from heat, and start preheating oven to 400 degrees.

3. Make the sauce

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk at boiling point
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teapoon pepper
  • Pinch ground cayenne pepper
  • Pinch ground nutmeg
  • 4 egg yolks
  1. Melt the butter in sauce pan over medium heat. Add flour. Stir and cook 2 minutes after mixture gets bubbly, but don’t brown mixture. Set off heat.
  2. Pour in milk all at once, and beat with wire whisk until smooth. Add seasonings.
  3. Put over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring with whisk. Boil 1 minute. Mixture will be quite thick. Set off heat.
  4. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well with whisk with each addition.

4. Beat and add the egg whites

  • 5 egg whites (yes, one more white than yolk)
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/3 cup grated Swiss cheese, reserving 1 tablespoon for on top
  1. Beat the egg whites with salt until stiff. Stir a quarter of the beaten egg whites and all the cheese (except the reserved tablespoon) into sauce. Then fold in the rest of the egg whites, and transfer mixture into the prepared mold. Sprinkle remaining tablespoon of cheese on top.
  2. Attach collar to dish (see notes), and set on rack in the oven. Immediately reset temperature to 375 degrees. Bake 25-30 minutes, or until puffed and nicely browned. Insert a thin knife or cake tester into center by way of the side of the puff. If the tester comes out clean, remove from oven (unless you like yours a little runny), remove collar and serve. If mixture clings to tester, bake 4-5 minutes more before removing and serving. Makes 4 modest servings.

Notes: A dish 3 1/2 inches high and 5 1/2 inches across will hold 6 cups. Look for one with straight or very slightly flared sides. Ceramic is good, but metal works, too. To attach the collar (which also can be buttered foil or brown paper), wrap the paper around the dish, and fasten it by wrapping the string around the dish and tying it. You also can use a straight pin. Meanwhile, Julia Child says no collar is necessary. You choose.

The next conquest

I will remember that soufflé next time I’m afraid to try something in the kitchen. Few other accomplishments yield such great satisfaction in such a short amount of time. And, I finally realized, if the soufflé flopped, we could salvage it somehow, or eat something else.

Do you have any cooking fears?

An aside

I’ve been absent here for a little while. That’s because I’ve decided to develop a web site that promotes home cooking and that will be more commercial (I hope!) than this blog. I’ll keep you posted on that site’s progress and let you know when I’m ready to really announce and promote it. In the meantime, I’ll try not to be such a stranger here. Now, what was that again about your cooking fears?

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Jennifer (Baklava Queen)

    Brava, Janet! A most impressive first effort! And it even looks good enough to eat. ;-) Seriously, you’ve done very well, and I congratulate you!

    Now, if you can make a good Swiss cheese fondue, you will totally top me. I can make a good goat cheese fondue, but my last Swiss cheese fondue bombed spectacularly, and I have not found the courage to try again…

  • Joanne

    For the most part I dive in and relish cooking explorations. That said, I really didn’t know how to cook meat when I got married, 10 years ago. It’s been a long journey, and I live in dread fear of getting someone sick by having done something wrong. I’ve gotten over how icky raw meat is (this from a life long meat eater) but gosh, sometimes meat makes me nervous.

    My other fear is feeding someone something by mistake that they will dislike intensely or get sick from. (allergies, whatever.) That sort of defeats why I would cook for anyone!

    Glad to hear your souffle was a success. They taste fabulous even after they collapse. My favorite is a chocolate one, of course. :) Happy Thanksgiving, friend!

  • Diane

    I have missed your food news. This souffle looks SO good. My husband used to make souffle for the family every weekend, and I have not made one since I moved to Lawrence. You inspire me to try again. Thanks!

  • Janet Majure

    Jennifer– Since I’m indifferent to fondue, I’ve never tried it. I think you should try again, though. Have you tried Gruyere?

    I hear you, Joanne. I regularly worry about making somebody sick, although I really have no reason to worry. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, get one and quit worrying. You can’t worry about whether people will hate something or be allergic to it. You can be thoughtful in that respect but, ultimately, it’s the guest’s responsibility to let you know if there’s a dreaded allergy…and I’m sure you wouldn’t make a whole meal that someone would despise!

    Diane, let us know how it turns out!