Part XIV: I Laugh in the Face of Gravity
Souffles are hard. That’s what you and I have read in every cookbook, watched in every shitty, syndicated sitcom, and heard from every fly-by-night armchair chef who thinks canned Kraft parmesan counts as “seasoning”. The story’s usually the same: budding young baker spends hours making souffle, pulls it out of the oven, and watches it slowly and painfully deflate. And then kills herself or something like that.
I fully expected this scenario to roughly play out the same way for me. It didn’t. In fact, the exact opposite happened, leading me to believe one of two things:
A: Souffles aren’t actually that hard. This seems reasonable largely because I’m kind of an awful cook.
B: I’m secretly really awesome at baking. This seems reasonable largely because I’m awesome.
If you’re not an idiot, you can see that those two premises up there fly in each others’ damn faces. So I’m gonna go ahead and pick B. Makes me look better. Plus, I get to brag my way through this entire post, which is kind of the whole point of blogging anyway. I press the publish button, you shower praise upon me, and I laugh and dance around throwing confetti in the air. Repeat ad nauseum. Anyway, because I’ve just decided I’m a culinary genius, I’m gonna teach you to make my Gruyere and Parmesan Souffle. That someone at Epicurious actually made. Ignore that part.
Here’s what you need:
-1/4 cup (1/2 a stick) of butter
-5 tablespoons AP flour
-Pinch of cayenne pepper
-Pinch of ground nutmeg
-1 1/4 cups whole milk
-1/4 white wine (try and get something dry like a sauvignon or a muscadet. Or just dump whatever you have in there like I did.)
-6 egg yolks
-8 egg whites
-1 teaspoon salt
-1/4 teaspoon black pepper
-1 1/4 cups (6 oz) grated Gruyere
-2 extra tablespoons grated Gruyere
-1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Here’s what you do:
Just know this, faithful reader(s). Souffles are a pain. Whether or not the whole coming out non-deflated thing is just a myth or a legend or whatever, you’re gonna be stirring and whisking and grating a whole hell of a lot. You don’t just make this because you woke up one Sunday morning and thought “gee, I have 8000 eggs, lets see what I can make here”. No. You mentally prepare yourself. You get yourself ready. That’s why I’m throwing in a little bonus tune to play while you’re making this. It’s the Smashing Pumpkins with Zero:
Now you’re ready.
I’m gonna save you some time: do the hard stuff first. Separate your eggs and grate the cheese. You’ll thank me later.
Put a rack in the center of your oven and preheat it to 400.
Spray whatever souffle dish thing you have with non-stick, then coat it with a 1/4 cup of your Parmesan. You can use 6 1-1/4 cup dishes or one 10 cup dish. Go with the 10 cup, bigger = better.
Next, melt your butter in a big saucepan on medium heat, then add the flour, nutmeg and cayenne. Whisk it until it starts to bubble, should be about a minute.
Slowly whisk in the whole milk, followed by your wine. And no, I’m not gonna put in some quip about “make sure you drink some on the side HURR HURR”. I’m not even gonna show the wine. If you’re gonna do that on a Sunday morning, you can deal with your own alcoholism. Hell, you’re probably knee-deep in your third finger of scotch at this point, wondering if you can “Emeril” the pan by throwing brandy at it.
Whisk it for a couple more minutes until its nice and smooth. Make sure it’s thick too, it should coat the back of a spoon. In other words, stick a spoon in there, take it out, run your finger over the back. If it leaves a trail, you’re golden.
Take your pan off the burner, then mix your yolks (which you already separated, right? Right?) with the salt and pepper. Dump the whole thing in the pan and whisk it fast. Remember, air’s your friend here, you want to get some in there so your souffle comes out nice and fluffy. Don’t be afraid to get a little rough, it’ll be worth the effort, and it’s not gonna screw up your precious eggs.
Fold in all that cheese EXCEPT for the extra two tablespoons of Gruyere. Trust me on that. Remember, fold it, don’t just stir it in. Get air in there. And don’t worry about the cheese melting, that’s what that big metal box you preheated earlier is for.
Get out your electric mixer and mix the crap out of those egg whites until the peaks are nice and stiff (meaning they don’t fall over, not that you can bang a freaking hammer against them. Remember, I have to plan for the eventual appearance of blithering idiots on here, this is the internet.) Fold (AIR. AIR. AIR. I think you get it.) a 1/4 of the whites in first, then fold in the rest.
Pour the whole thing into your souffle dish (or dishes) and sprinkle the bonus Gruyere on top. Then, turn down your oven to 375 (no clue why you’re supposed to do this. Science-y people? Help?) and bake for 40 minutes for the big dish, 25 for the little guys.
Ready for the important part? The really important part? DON’T OPEN THE OVEN. At all. From the moment you slide your souffle in the oven to the exact second that timer goes off, don’t even breathe next to your oven. Remember all that blathering on about failed souffles, laughter, shame, and hackneyed sitcom plots Tuesdays at 9 on NBC? This is how you avoid being in the weird, unfunnier deja vu of a Friends episode. Your souffle WILL deflate if you open the oven, and then you’ll have a big pile of goop, followed quickly by tears. Keep the oven door closed. That’s what that handy window in the front is for.
Now, if you whisked to the point of madness, read the instructions, and didn’t gloss over that last part with all the nice big capital letters, you should be looking at a beautiful, puffy, cheesy souffle. If not, you know exactly what you’re looking at. Or, again, maybe I’m just the prodigy here. Feel free to prove me wrong on that. Hopefully it’s actually a big myth, and we can all be special little flowers with our own fancy breakfast treats.
At least you all can get one thing right: beats. Here’s Wax Taylor with How I Feel:
In case anyone out there’s getting a little anxious, like I am, that I’ve been pulling from pretty established recipes (today’s from the lovely people at Epicurious, check the handy link below), don’t fear. Next week I’ll be doing something stupid and dangerous, with a generous chance of failure. Ambition’s a beautiful, fiery, burn-inducing thing. Stay tuned for 5 foot flames, bananas, and singed eyebrows. See you next time.