Monday, 20 February 2012

Cheese and Herb Souffle

     What awful things misconceptions are. Everyday, they obsure our sense of reality and often keep us from accomplishing the things we want to accomplish. For a long time, the misconseption that souffles are close to impossible to make unless you are some sort of brilliant chef has kept me away from even trying to attempt making one. I thought that the process of making a souffle was a long, intricate one that was more likely to end in failure than success.

     I also thought that a souffle was a cake.


     I could not have been more wrong! First of all, it's super easy and once you get started takes almost no time at all. Second, it's more like a giant omelette. I'm glad I finally mustered up the courage to make a souffle and debunk this misconception for myself once and for all. It's also been on my list of things to make for a long time now. I'm glad I finally got to scratch it off my list, and I couldn't have done it without a little encouragement from Laura Calder.

Cheese and Herb Souffle
Serves 4
1 cup milk
1 bay leaf
1/2 small onion, peeled
Pinch paprika
Finely grated Parmesan
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
3 eggs, separated + 1 egg white
3 ounces grated cheese (any kind you want)
a handful of chopped fresh herbs
salt and pepper

     Whenever I try a new recipe, especially ones that I think will be complicated, I like to have all of my ingredients measured and ready to take at a moments notice, so that I don't have to scramble to get them ready at the last minute. All that's missing here is the butter (which I did use, just forgot to include here). This is something I've only started doing recently, and I find it makes my cooking time so much more relaxing and straight forward. I'm really glad that I took the time lay out all of my ingredients with this recipe, because even though souffles are easy to make, at some points you do have to work fast.

     In a small saucepan, pour the milk along with the onion, bay leaf and paprika. Bring it just to a boil, turn off the heat, cover and let it sit to let the flavours infuse into the milk for 10 minutes.

     While this is happening, butter your souffle dish and dust it with parmesan, just like you would with flour if you were making a cake. (By the way, I apologize for the lighting. I made this at that awkward time of day when it's still bright outside, but not bright enough to keep the lights off, plus the lighting in my house is not all that great for photography to begin with :) ).

     In a slightly bigger saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, add the flour and whisk for about 1 minute.

     Remove the onion and bay leave from the milk, and add the the butter/flour mixture. Continuing to stir, cook until it gets thick, roughly 5 minutes.

     Take off the heat and beat in the yolks. Stir in the cheese and herbs. For cheese I used aged white cheddar, and for herbs I used fresh thyme, and a bit of cilantro; I really didn't know what else to use. This is where I wish Calder had actually given us what herbs to use, or at least examples of different variations, and what goes best with what cheese, but I guess sometimes its really just a matter of taste.

     Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form stiff white peaks.

     From top to bottom:
         - add about a quarter of the egg whites to the cheese mixture to lighten it
         - pour the cheese mixture into the remaining whites
         - gently fold together

     I found that when you mix it all together, the egg whites didn't get mixed in entirely. As you can see in the picture, there were lumps despite how much I folded it. I don't know if this is normal, maybe my egg white were too stiff, but I don't think this really made a difference as the souffle still turned out. So, if this happens to you, don't panic, unless a "brilliant chef" tells you to ;)

     Pour into parmesan dusted souffle dish.

     Put into a 400F oven, and bake until risen but set, roughly 30 minutes. You could of course do this in small ramekins, in which it will take less time.

     I was actually a little unsure about whether or not it was done, but after watching it for a few minutes at this height and seeing that it wouldn't rise any more but that the top was toasty, I took it out. This is my first time eating a souffle, or even having one close to me so I could look at it. I've only ever seen them on tv, and this hasn't risen like any of them. So, I won't classify this as a failure by any means, but I feel there is definitely room for improvement (on my part, not the recipe).

     Despite how "right or wrong" it turned out, it still tasted delicious. The texture was light, but it was super rich (a little too rich for me, so I could only eat a little), and the taste of thyme was very distinct. I had some left over house vinaigrette, so I made a small salad to go with it. It was a lovely Sunday night dinner.

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