Puff daddy

One word strikes fear into the heart of cooks and chefs everywhere. And that word is… soufflé.  When made correctly, it’s sublime, but there is perhaps no other recipe so fraught with potential for disaster.

Souffle can be a finicky little bugger. If you don’t give it the love, attention and respect it deserves, it can pout and refuse to rise to the occasion, so to speak. It will show you who’s boss by emerging from the oven sad, flat and floppy instead of heavenly light and pillowy — a mere baked omelet instead of the puffy, fluffy masterpiece it was intended to be.

Hubby just got home last night from another work trip. When we got up this morning and saw the snow blanketing down (AGAIN. Ugh.), we decided to skip our planned yoga class and hole up inside for the day instead. Our thoughts turned to food, and hubby mentioned a “soufflé omelet” one of his colleagues enjoyed during a breakfast meeting the other day. Then he said, “Why don’t you ever make stuff like that?” I immediately bristled at this passive-aggressive comment and took offense. You want a soufflé, buddy? You got it.

I’ve made soufflés a couple of times before, but haven’t banged one out for a long time. And I have made them for hubby in the past, which he’s conveniently forgotten. No matter. I was up for the challenge.

The only soufflé recipe I’ve ever used is a Julia Child cheese version. Now, those of you who’ve ever prepared a Julia recipe know right away that her directions are going to make everything sound ten times more complicated than it needs to be, and you’re going to dirty every pot and pan in your kitchen before it’s all said and done. On the upside, your finished product is going to be delicious.

Souffles are one of those dishes that go a long way on just a few ingredients. Basically, all you need are eggs, milk, butter, a little flour and any ingredients you want to use as flavoring — cheese, sugar, melted chocolate, Grand Marnier, what have you. Since our soufflé was intended to serve as a late breakfast, we included shredded sharp cheddar cheese, slivered ham and a little diced red pepper. (Some sautéed onion would have made a nice addition, but you all know my audience…)

You start by greasing up an oven-safe casserole dish with butter and dusting it with grated parmesan cheese. This gives the eggs something to grab onto as they rise so impossibly high up the sides of the dish.

Next, you make a thick béchamel sauce on your stovetop by melting butter into flour to make a roux and adding milk, salt, pepper and a little nutmeg. Take it off the heat and stir in your egg yolks (just the yolks, mind you), shredded cheese and other flavoring ingredients.

Meanwhile, the egg whites come into play in a separate bowl (told you this was labor-intensive). Whip the heck out of them with an electric hand-mixer until they reach the stiff peak stage. As I’ve learned the hard way, you have to be painstakingly careful when separating your eggs. If there’s even the tiniest hint of egg yolk in the mix, they won’t whip up.

Once that’s done, fold the whipped whites into the béchamel, ever so gently so as to avoid deflating the whole concoction, and pour the whole mess into your casserole dish. Transfer it into the oven, set your timer for 30 minutes, cross your fingers and hope for the best. If all is well, you’ll see your soufflé slowly making its way up the dish as it bakes, but you’ll have to content yourself with watching it through the window. Don’t open the oven door, no matter how tempting it is. You’ll let in a rush of air that can disrupt the steady temperature and screw it all up.

When the timer goes off, if your culinary prayers have been answered, you should open the door to find a lovely, browned dome of feather-light eggs.

cheese souffle just out of the oven

Serve immediately to achieve maximum oohs and aahs; the soufflé immediately starts to sink back down the second it comes out of the heat. Tap into the crusty top and scoop out a big steaming serving. Don’t be shy. The consistency is so light and airy, you can eat a ton of this without stuffing yourself.

just look at that eggy lusciousness!

If you want to cut corners or you just don’t have the patience, stick to making an omelet or a frittata. But if you really want to impress your guests at brunch or turn out something truly romantic for a special-occasion breakfast, a soufflé is a great way to go.

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