IT’S NEITHER FUSSY NOR FICKLE, AND IT’S SURPRISINGLY GOOD
Awell-made cheese soufflé is a thing of beauty. Ethereally light eggs and nutty, tangy Gruyère cheese lifted to startlingly tall heights can’t help but impress. And if you use good-quality cheese, the flavor of this dish will match its stunning looks. So why has the cheese soufflé almost disappeared from the modern table?
Classic cookbooks intimidate prospective cooks with pages upon pages filled with precise instructions for whipping egg whites, folding them into the soufflé base, and timing this dish perfectly. If you believe these experts, preparing a soufflé is a high-wire act likely to end in an embarrassing collapse if the slightest detail goes wrong. We respectfully disagree.
A soufflé won’t fall because of loud noises or sudden movements, so go ahead and open that oven door to check on its progress and don’t worry about the kids or the dog. The egg whites in a soufflé can withstand aggressive beating. There’s no need to fret over gently folding the beaten whites into the base—in fact, we use a stand mixer for the job.
And soufflés certainly are not complicated. A cheese soufflé is nothing more than a sauce transformed into dinner through the addition of egg whites and air. The sauce itself is dead simple: Melt butter, stir in flour and seasonings, whisk in milk, and cook until thick and smooth. At this point, you add the cheese and egg yolks, followed by the whipped whites. That’s it.
We think a cheese soufflé might just be the most impressive dish any cook—even someone with modest skills—can prepare. So put aside your fears (they are groundless) and rediscover the pleasures of a great cheese soufflé.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
The Big Cheese
Most cheese soufflés start with a béchamel, essentially a butter and milk sauce thickened with flour—but that flour can dull the cheese flavor. Dialing down the flour and increasing the cheese—nutty Gruyère is classic—is a better strategy. Using all Gruyère results in a squat soufflé, but supplementing some of the Gruyère with feather-light but intensely flavored Parmesan works like a charm.
Whip It Good
Whipping egg whites to stiff peaks (until they’re glossy, firm, and hold their shape) creates maximum volume, which you would think would be a good thing in soufflé. But it’s also what gives it too much airiness. Whipping the egg whites to stiff peaks and then whipping in the cheese mixture breaks down some of the structure and brings the whites just where they need to be. As for the conventional step of folding the whites into the cheese base gradually and gently? Forget it. Folding in the whites all at once turns out a beautifully risen soufflé.
No Collars Needed
The theory with a parchment collar (securing a piece of parchment around the lip of the dish), is that it will create a tall soufflé, while preventing overflow as the soufflé rises. Save yourself some bother and simply leave at least 1 inch between the top of the batter and the dish—you’ll get the same results.
When is it time to pull the soufflé from the oven? Please don’t rely on the jiggle test. You might as well be looking at a crystal ball for signs of doneness. A soufflé is not a balloon—it’s a matrix of very fine bubbles. No tool can pop enough of them to cause it to fall. So go ahead and use an instant-read thermometer when you really want to know when your soufflé is ready to be served.
Parmesan in the dish and two cheeses in the base create a soufflé packed with flavor.
SERVES 4 TO 6
- 10 minutes to grate cheeses and separate eggs
- 15 minutes to make and cool soufflé base (whip egg whites while base cools)
- 35 minutes to fold in whites and bake soufflé
- 8-inch round (2-quart) soufflé dish
- Stand mixer (A handheld electric mixer is fine too, as is a whisk, if you’re willing to expend some elbow grease to whip the whites.)
- Instant-read thermometer (the most reliable way to judge doneness)
Substitutions & Variations
- Comté, sharp cheddar, or gouda cheese can be substituted for the Gruyère.
Serve this soufflé with a green salad for a light dinner. To prevent the soufflé from overflowing the soufflé dish, leave at least 1 inch of space between the top of the batter and the rim of the dish; any excess batter should be discarded. The most foolproof way to test for doneness is with an instant-read thermometer. To judge doneness without an instant-read thermometer, use two large spoons to pry open the soufflé so that you can peer inside it; the center should appear thick and creamy but not soupy.
- 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (½ cup)
- ¼ cup (1¼ ounces) all-purpose flour
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ⅛ teaspoon white pepper
- Pinch ground nutmeg
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1⅓ cups whole milk
- 6 ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded (1½ cups)
- 6 large eggs, separated
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 8-inch round (2-quart) soufflé dish with vegetable oil spray, then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons Parmesan.
- Combine flour, paprika, salt, cayenne, white pepper, and nutmeg in bowl. Melt butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour mixture and cook for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in milk and bring to simmer. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture is thickened and smooth, about 1 minute. Remove pan from heat and whisk in Gruyère and 5 tablespoons Parmesan until melted and smooth. Let cool for 10 minutes, then whisk in egg yolks and 1½ teaspoons parsley.
- Using stand mixer fitted with whisk, whip egg whites and cream of tartar on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high and whip until stiff peaks form, 3 to 4 minutes. Add cheese mixture and continue to whip until fully combined, about 15 seconds.
- Pour mixture into prepared dish and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon Parmesan. Bake until risen above rim, top is deep golden brown, and interior registers 170 degrees, 30 to 35 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining ½ teaspoon parsley and serve immediately.
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