Golden, airy and fluffy like a cloud, here is the undisputed king of all soufflés: the cheese soufflé, a true purely French artistic performance.
What is the origin of soufflé?
With cheese, the most famous soufflé, but also with ham, chocolate or lemon, sweet or savory, soufflé is considered one of the most refined and classical dishes of French cuisine, today appreciated worldwide.
The soufflé, the story of the adjective which becomes a noun, says a lot about the charm of this dish. It delights both in its substance and its form. The soufflé has a very specific origin in the history of gastronomy, that started in France in the first half of the 18th century.
“Soufflé” comes from the French verb souffler to indicate its characteristic “inflated” consistency. Initially, the term “soufflé” was used to define a type of preparation softened by the presence of beaten egg whites, such as “omelette soufflée” or “crème soufflée”.
Over time, the word became a noun and took on a broader meaning by acquiring other ingredients in addition to the eggs in the preparation.
Antoine Beauvilliers, former chef of the Sun King, who wrote in details how to prepare perfect soufflés in his 1814 book, L’art du cuisinier, made history as the inventor of soufflé and as the chef who opened the very first gastronomic restaurant Le Beauvilliers, in 1782.
At the same time, in the book The French Cook written by Louis Eustache Ude, the most famous French chef and author in London, wrote about soufflé: “… a new method for preparing elegant dinners …”
After them, chef Antonin Carême is said to have invented, in the 1820s, the Rothschild soufflé, an iced soufflé, with kirsch and candied fruits, which was a favorite of the English court. It is therefore with this famous Monsieur Carême that the soufflé reached its popularity. He codified all the types of soufflés and presented them in individual portions, thus guaranteeing an excellent result.
The soufflé was already very well known when, in 1873, Alexandre Dumas’ Le Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine listed at least eight soufflés: pheasant, tangerines, desire, queen, etc.
The preparation technique for cheese soufflé
As you open the oven door, you worry and wonder: will it deflate? The soufflé has always been the most feared preparation of chefs; the result can give as much satisfaction as a feeling of failure.
Preparing a soufflé is not easy, it requires rigor and attention, so much so that it is a bit of a test bench to assess the capacity of a great chef: it must be cooked to perfection but slowly, not dry and especially with a warm inside.
If successful, it is always a source of great pride almost as if it were a business card that proves great skill in cooking. It is said that in the past, great chefs, for fear of bad luck, preferred not to prepare soufflé often because they always felt tension, and feared that a hypothetical failure would jeopardize their career forever.
That said, a cheese soufflé that does not collapse very quickly does not exist. It is impossible for us to give the miracle recipe for a soufflé that will not deflate but we can at least share some step by step recommendations, in order to obtain a perfect result.
How to make a perfect cheese soufflé
- Make sure that all the equipment you use is meticulously clean and free of any grease that will prevent the egg whites from rising enough, which can cause the soufflé to collapse.
- Béchamel is one of the essential elements of the cheese soufflé recipe. It forms its basis, although there are variations, such as mashed potatoes for example. Make sure the béchamel is perfectly smooth, free of lumps, which would prevent the cheese soufflé recipe from rising properly in the oven. If necessary, you can smooth it out using a hand blender. Also, allow the béchamel to cool before incorporating the egg yolks, to prevent heat from cooking them and turning them into a shapeless or compact mass.
- The eggs should be very fresh and at room temperature, so the egg whites will rise more easily. Like when preparing a meringue, it is recommended to add a few drops of lemon juice to the egg whites before beating them. The whites must contain absolutely no trace of yellow. Beat the whites with an electric mixer and in a very cold bowl until they form a “soft beak” on the whisk. No need to have the whites beaten too firm. Also, it is recommended to carefully incorporate the egg whites into the mixture with a movement from the bottom up to avoid the dispersion of the incorporated air.
- The cheese to use for the cheese soufflé recipe is traditionally Comté. But you can still choose the cheese according to your taste buds. Fol Epi or Chaumes for example, for a cheese soufflé with sweet notes or even Blue Bresse or Saint Agur for a more full-bodied taste. It is strongly recommended to grate the cheese, finely dice it, or even mash it with a fork before incorporating it into the hot bechamel sauce, so that the cheese melts.
- The choice of mold is very important for cooking the cheese soufflé. Cheese soufflés cooked in individual molds tend to rise better than those prepared in a large mold. Choose molds with straight and tall edges. Their inner wall must be perfectly smooth to facilitate the rising of the cheese soufflé during its cooking.
- The mold should be well greased and dusted with flour. It is a very important step. Grease the soufflé dish with a brush, applying the fat (soft butter or margarine) from top to bottom. To make it easier for the cheese soufflé to rise, sprinkle the inside of the buttered mold with flour by tapping the molds to remove the excess.
- To fill the molds, pour the dough up to ¾ of the height slowly, so as not to create air bubbles. Using a small spatula, smooth out the surface, taking care not to leave a trace of the mixture on the edges of the mold. At this point, you can choose to bake the cheese soufflés directly, or place the molds in the refrigerator several hours in advance. Note that the soufflés tend to rise better when subjected to thermal shock.
- The cheese soufflé rises from the bottom of the mold. To help, preheat the oven for a long time, leaving the baking sheet inside. So it will be very hot when you put the cheese soufflé and it will rise all the better.
- Never open the oven door during cooking.
- All the guests must be installed and ready to eat before the soufflé is even put in the oven. Only start cooking it if you know you can serve it immediately, because in a very short time, a soufflé slowly begins to deflate. Remember the golden rule: it is the guests who have to wait for the soufflé because the soufflé never waits!
- 5 oz. freshly grated Comté or Gruyère cheese
- 8 eggs
- 2 cups milk
- 8 tablespoons butter
- ⅔ cup flour
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 4 drops lemon juice
- Preheat the oven and the baking tray to 350 F.
- Heat the milk previously seasoned with salt and pepper.
- In a saucepan, melt the butter, add the flour and nutmeg.
- Remove from the heat and stir well to obtain a lump-free mixture.
- Add the hot milk, cook for 1 minute, stirring vigorously to obtain a slightly thick mixture.
- Remove from the heat and add the egg yolks two at a time. Mix well.
- Add the grated cheese.
- Beat the egg whites with the lemon juice until stiff.
- Gently incorporate them into the cheese preparation.
- Butter and flour a soufflé mold, taking care not to touch the inside of the mold after this process.
- Pour the preparation into it, put the mold on the hot baking sheet and bake at 350 F for 40 minutes.
- Serve immediately.
- Butter and flour the molds.
- Pour the mixture up to ¾ of the height into each mold, taking care not to touch the inside of the molds after this process.
- Put the molds on the hot baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.
- Serve immediately.
Never open the oven door during cooking.