Basic Cheese Soufflé

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    4 to 6

Appears in

Cooking One on One

Cooking One on One

By John Ash

Published 2004

  • About

This is the one to get started with because it incorporates all of the individual techniques for putting a soufflé together. Traditionally, the soufflé is baked in a straight-sided dish that the French call a charlotte. They are nifty looking, usually white with fluted sides, and are widely available in cookware stores (and there’s a good chance you already own one even if you’ve never thought of making a soufflé). You can, however, use any round ovenproof dish that is straight-sided, at least 4 inches deep, with a capacity of 6 cups or so.

Ingredients

  • 6 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons finely and freshly grated Parmesan or Asiago cheese
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk or light cream, warmed (a perfect use for the microwave)
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly grated pepper, preferably white
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
  • 1 cup finely grated Gruyère, cheddar, or other melting cheese of your choice

Method

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Separating the Eggs

Put all the egg whites in a perfectly clean, grease-free large bowl. Put 4 of the egg yolks into a smaller bowl. You will have 2 egg yolks left over. (If you are new to separating eggs, the easiest way is to crack the shell firmly, then pull the halves apart over the egg whites bowl, catching the yolk in one half and letting the white run out. Rock the yolk back and forth between the two shell halves, letting as much of the white run out as possible. Drop the yolk into the yolk bowl. It is very important not to get any yolk into the egg whites—they won’t beat up if you do. But it doesn’t matter if there’s white in with the yolks—there always is.) Set the 2 bowls of beautifully separated eggs aside.

Preparing the Baking Dish

With your fingers, lightly rub a tablespoon or so of the butter all around the inside of the dish. Sprinkle the Parmesan inside the dish and roll the dish around in your hands to lightly coat the entire inside—the bottom and all the way up the sides. Set the dish aside in the refrigerator to chill a bit. A chilled dish seems to keep the butter in suspension better as the soufflé bakes.

Preparing the Sauce Base

Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes without letting it brown (this step cooks the flour so that it doesn’t have a raw “floury” taste). Slowly whisk in the warm milk, a little at a time. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring constantly, and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. The sauce will be very thick. Stir in the nutmeg, salt, and pepper and remove the pan from the heat. What you’ve made here is a white sauce, or béchamel. Beat a little of this warm base slowly into the egg yolks. This “tempers” or gradually warms them so that they are less likely to scramble. Whisk this mixture back into the rest of the base and set aside.

Beating the Egg Whites

In a clean bowl, with a hand or stand mixer beat the egg whites just until stiff but still shiny and moist-looking as they are in the photograph at lower left. This means that the fluffy egg whites should stay in standing peaks when you lift out the beaters. (If the whites are no longer shiny and start to “clump,” they have been overbeaten, as in the photograph at right.) See Improving the Stability of Whipped Egg Whites.

Folding the Egg Whites and Finishing the Soufflé

Sprinkle the chives over the sauce base and with a rubber or silicone spatula, stir a quarter of the whipped egg whites into the base. Do this quickly. This lightens the mixture so that you can fold in the remaining whites. Here’s a little lesson in folding: Scoop the rest of the whites onto the top of the sauce base. With the edge of the spatula, cut down into the whites, drag the spatula along the bottom of the bowl toward you, and bring the sauce mixture over the top of the whites. Turn the bowl a quarter of a turn, and sprinkle on some of the grated Gruyère. Cut down through the whites, drag the spatula along the bottom, and bring the sauce mixture over the top. Repeat until the whites, cheese, and sauce are just combined (see photograph). This is one of those techniques that’s harder to describe than to demonstrate, but it’s worth trying to do it right. What should be going through your mind is that you are doing everything you can to thoroughly and evenly mix the egg whites, sauce base, and cheese without deflating the egg whites. Stirring will deflate them.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared dish, gently smoothing the top and bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until the soufflé is puffed and golden brown (see Note). Keep the door closed for at least the first 20 minutes so that the soufflé can set. If your oven doesn’t have a glass window and you’re tempted to peek, don’t! When done, serve immediately. To maintain as much of the puff as possible when serving, plunge an upright serving spoon and fork straight down into the center of the soufflé and then pull the crust apart and scoop out a serving.

Congratulations.