Saturday, August 21, 2010

Clean out the Fridge Night: Cheese Soufflé

Sounds intimidating and fancy right?  Not at all!

I have made this twice in the last couple months and find that it's a great way to use up extra dairy products in my fridge.  We get our milk, butter, eggs, and cheese from a local dairy farm that does not homogenize (they do pasteurize), so the shelf life on the products is significantly shorter than regular grocery store dairy.  So, if at the end of the week we have a lot of milk, cheese, and/or eggs still around, I need get to make something like this for dinner!  We have small portions alongside a big salad to keep it healthy.

I'd never had cheese soufflé before, so I don't know the "proper" taste and texture, I just know that we thought mine were pretty awesome.  The first time I made them, I used crumbled blue cheese, and the second time I used garlic/onion cheese.  Both were excellent, especially in combination with freshly grated Parmesan.  I even used nonfat milk both times and it still had a nice rich flavor.  I think the proper texture is just supposed to be light and kind of creamy, which it was.  The first time I didn't beat my egg whites very well (my hand mixer didn't touch the bottom of the bowl so some didn't get whipped at all), so the second time I used my standing mixer and the result was much better, though I didn't actually see a difference in the end product.

If you have individual ramekins, those are fun, but it will work just fine in a deep baking dish.

These deflate pretty quickly after you remove them from the oven, so have the rest of your dinner on the table so you can eat them right away.  Even flattened, they still make good leftovers the next day.

Cheese Souffle
adapted from Mark Bittman - How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
serves 4-6

Note: If using individual ramekins (1 1/2 to 2 cups), the cooking time may be reduced by as much as half.

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk, warmed until hot to the touch (about a minute in an average microwave)
6 eggs, separated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Dash cayenne or 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated or crumbled cheddar, Jack, Roquefort, Emmental, and/or other cheese

If baking right away, turn the oven temp to 375 F (give the oven plenty of time to get hot.  Use this time to separate your eggs and grate your cheeses).  Use a little of the butter to grease a 2-quart soufflé, other deep baking dish, or 4-6 ramekins (wait on these steps if you not going to bake the soufflé right away).

Put the rest of the butter into a medium saucepan over medium-low heat.  When the foam subsides, stir in the flour and cook for about three minutes, until the mixture darkens, stirring constantly (It didn't look to me like the foam was going to subside in a reasonable amount of time, so after waiting a bit I just added the flour, and it was fine).  Reduce the heat to low.  Whisk in the milk a little at a time, when you have added it all the mixture should be thick.  Remove the pan from heat and let cool for a few minutes, then whisk in the egg yolks, salt, pepper, cayenne, and cheeses (You can prepare this part a few hours in advance of cooking, just cover tightly and refrigerate.  Bring back to room temperature before continuing.  Turn on the oven to 375 F about an hour before you are ready to cook, so it has time to get nice and hot.)

Use an electric or hand mixer (or a whisk, if you like to do things the hard way) to beat the egg whites until fairy stiff.  Stir about a third into the base, then gently fold in the remaining whites (don't be too thorough or you'll over-mix) using a rubber spatula or your hand.  Transfer this mixture to your prepared baking dish(es).  Bake until the top is brown, the sides are firm, and center is still pretty moist.  In a large baking dish this might take about 30 minutes.  In smaller ramekins it might take 15-20.  You can use a thin skewer to check the interior, if it's still really wet looking, put it back in the oven for another 5 minutes.  It's not like baking a cake or brownies though; it should still be pretty moist inside.  Serve immediately.

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