We’re egg eaters. We eat a lot of them. Lucky for us, we also love a good sauce béchamel. Béchamel is one of the “mother sauces” in French cooking (Hollandaise is another). It is the base white sauce from which many other sauces are created. Adding cheese to béchamel creates sauce Mornay, another classic sauce. Béchamel, Mornay, or Hollandaise can be served over asparagus in the spring, over poached eggs for Eggs Benny (or Benedict), on top of bread with vegetables or ham ala croque monsieur and can also be used as the basis for a gratin in the cooler months. And at anytime of year, we love it folded with fluffy egg whites and shredded cheese then baked into a toasted cloud. Poof, it’s a soufflé.
It took us years to take the soufflé plunge. We didn’t talk about it, but soufflé recipes seemed overly complex. But once we figured out just how quickly béchamel comes together – 10 minutes max – and how easy it is to hand whip egg whites, the rest of the work of a soufflé seemed a snap.
While simple enough, a soufflé requires that we all pay attention to a few little details to ensure that a lofty puff of pillowy custard comes out of the oven. The right sized cooking dish, properly beaten egg whites, a tasty base sauce and a hot oven are all that is required for soufflé success. If there is one soufflé rule etched in stone, however, it is that a soufflé waits for no one. It must be eaten piping hot and straight from the oven, served at the table in its baking dish.
Cheese Soufflé Recipe:
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 onion, skin and roots removed
1 bay leaf
5 black pepper corns
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp flour
Pinch fresh grated nutmeg
For the soufflé:
5 eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 cup grated cheese (Gruyere, cheddar, Parmesan)
Salt and pepper to taste
To make the béchamel sauce:
In a small saucepan over low heat, warm the milk with the onion, bay leaf, clove and peppercorns.
While milk is warming, melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When the butter is completely melted, and before it browns, add flour and whisk thoroughly making sure no lumps form. Cook, whisking constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes, or until lightly browned in color.
Strain warmed milk and pour into roux while whisking, again being careful not to let lumps form. Grate a tiny amount of nutmeg into the sauce and salt to taste. Cook, whisking regularly, until sauce thickens, approximately 2 – 4 minutes. Remove from heat and set-aside until ready to use. At this point the sauce bechamel is complete and can be used many different ways.
To complete the soufflé:
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Position the oven rack to the lowest setting.
Using a 2 quart soufflé dish and butter and coat the interior with two tablespoons of shredded cheese, fit the soufflé dish with a buttered baking collar made of parchment paper. Set aside.
Beat egg whites in a large bowl with a hand-held wire whisk (OK, or in your KitchenAid stand mixer or with a hand-held blender) until they just begin to foam. Add a pinch of cream of tarter and a pinch of salt. Continue beating until whites form glossy peaks being careful not to overbeat.
Whisk the egg yolks into prepared béchamel sauce.
Fold one cup of the egg whites into the béchamel and egg sauce until just mixed. Pour the sauce into the bowl of whipped egg whites and gently fold until just mixed. While folding, sprinkle remaining grated cheese into the batter.
Pour soufflé batter into prepared dish. Set dish on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake until the top is a deep brown, 30 – 40 minutes, depending on the shape of your dish. Test the soufflé with a skewer, it should be clean.
Serve the moment it comes out of the oven by digging into the top at the center using two serving spoons. After all, Soufflé waits for no one.