Le cheese puff

As it turned out, I did make a soufflé using Mimolette cheese from Vin Goat in Corona del Mar, a resolution alluded to in my post last week about this exceedingly useful new shop. Came to pass the very next night, in fact—I guess I was sort of compelled, which happens, cooking-wise. I can report it made as fine a cheese for soufflé as I’d suspected.

Soufflés, an old-school classic with an undeserved reputation for persnicketyness, are a fall-back staple for me. They’re made with everyday provisions and go together fast. They also suit vegetarians, can be made ahead and conveniently socked away in the fridge, or even, yes, frozen, for baking later. They’re nowhere near the temperamental prima donna dish that kitchen folklore would have you believe.

I especially think of them when the markets offer fresh spinach to serve as an accompaniment. Such was the case recently at the Sunday Newport Beach Farmers Market, where I found some extra-fine stuff from Meños Farms of Riverside.

My cheese soufflé recipe follows. Use any cheese you like, provided it can be grated, like Gruyère or sharp cheddar, or crumbled, like blue cheeses. Blues are my preference, but a mix of whatever bits are kicking around in the fridge can be very good, too.

Priscilla’s Basic Cheese Soufflé

(Makes 4 to 6 servings)

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2 to 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan (or other grating cheese)

For soufflé:

6 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion, small dice

6 tablespoons flour

2 cups milk

6 ounces cheese, grated or crumbled

6 eggs, separated

1 additional egg white

Salt, pepper, cayenne, nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grease interior of 2-1/2 quart soufflé dish with the 2 tablespoons butter, and coat with grating cheese. Tap out excess, and put prepared dish in refrigerator.

In a 3- or 4-quart saucepan, melt the 6 tablespoons butter and add onion. Cook over medium heat until translucent. Add flour, cook a few minutes before adding milk, stir and whisk as mixture thickens. Add a big pinch of salt, several grinds of pepper, a breath of cayenne, and a little fresh-grated nutmeg. Cook sauce a couple of minutes more, and turn heat to low.

Keeping the mixture warm, but not allowing it to boil, add the egg yolks one at a time, whisking well after each addition. To keep it from getting too hot, take the pan off the heat from time to time to control temperature while whisking. Steam beginning to rise over the surface, or tiny bubbles appearing around the edge of the pan are signs of too-high heat; remove from burner and whisk until it cools a bit. When all yolks have been added, stir in cheese. Remove from heat, stir as cheese melts, and taste and correct salt and pepper. Transfer soufflé base to large mixing bowl.

In a mixer bowl with whisk attachment or by hand with a whisk in a clean bowl, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Using a spatula, gently fold in about a quarter of the beaten whites into soufflé base. Then gently fold in the remaining whites. Carefully transfer mixture to prepared dish and smooth top.

At this point, you can hold the soufflé in the refrigerator for hours, or cover with plastic and freeze, to be baked straight from frozen at a later time.

When ready to bake, put soufflé in preheated oven and bake 45 minutes. Soufflé should be brown on top, puffed, and jiggle slightly when gently shaken. If underdone bake for up to 15 minutes longer. (Baking from frozen might require even a bit more time.) Serve immediately.

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