A while back, I wrote about the need for some dishes that are a bit season and location independent. The kind of dish you can make with what’s around, without scurrying out to the store in search of, oh, fresh mustard greens or a nice piece of flank steak or some obscure liquor of which one will use a tablespoon or two a year. Just to name a few things I find myself wandering around town looking for when really, you know, I should be doing some work. Or, even better, getting some exercise.
In that spirit, I urge you to consider the cheese souffle. Its ingredients are mostly staples, it’s warming and delicious and makes you feel a little fancy on a weeknight, and (this is where you should really start paying attention) it’s really easy but will make you appear oh so accomplished. Just imagine the admiring glances you’ll draw at work when you casually mention “I think I’ll go whip up some souffle for dinner.”
You probably don’t believe me and won’t until you try it yourself. I have to admit it was not always a casual act for me to toss off souffle. There was an experiment in my early cooking days that came out something like a cheese pancake. And then there was an attempt about five years ago which was more like a cheese tire. A flat cheese tire. My family dutifully ate it and then John sent me to his mother’s first edition of Craig Clairborne’s New York Times Cookbook. That and the Kitchenaid stand mixer changed everything. Trust me and trust Craig. Try it.
A few caveats though. This is one recipe where it is particularly helpful to prep everything before you start. I’m a little sloppy about this usually, but you can get a bit harried trying to move smoothly from one step to another if you have to break away to separate eggs or grate cheese. Also, this recipe does generate more than a few dirty dishes. But those you cook for will be so grateful that they’ll be delighted to wash up.
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 lb. Cheddar cheese, finely grated
4 eggs, separated (you may want to consider John’s method of separating with bare hands; I was sort of grossed out at first, but it’s so darn efficient I’ve been won over. Hardly ever a speck of yolk in those whites)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
In a saucepan, melt the butter over low heat and add the flour; stir with a wire whisk until blended. Meanwhile, bring the milk to a boil and add all at once to the butter-flour mixture, stirring vigorously with the whisk. Season to taste with the salt, Worcestershire sauce and cayenne pepper.
Turn off the heat and let the mixture a cool a little. Add the cheese and stir until melted. Beat in the egg yolks one at time. This all takes just a minute or two.
Beat the egg whites until the stand in soft peaks. I know that you can do this with a hand mixer or even a whisk. I’ve done that. But with all due respect to slow cooking, there’s nothing quite like tossing the whites in the stand mixer, turning it on and walking away for three or four minutes. You come back, you’ve got nice soft peaks. Voila.
Cut and fold the egg whites into the cheese mixture. If you make the cheese sauce in a reasonably deep straight-sided skillet, you can do this right in the pan and eliminate one dish at least. Turn into an eight cup souffle dish (I spray mine with some cooking spray) and bake thirty to forty-five minutes.
Recipe says that it serves four to six. Not around here.
Coincidentally and without conferring, Shana produced her first souffle ever the very same day I made this one. I think hers beats mine for looks. I’m very impressed.
Despite my current cheese souffle hubris, I’ve yet to master the chocolate souffle, even after repeated attempts. I’ve produced a series of fairly tasty chocolate bricks. It keeps me humble. And gives me goals.