Tuesday, February 16, 2010

"do we need a blow torch for this?"

For our first official "challenge," we decided to make something new and, well, challenging. So why not a cheese soufflé? It’s French, and if Julie and Julia taught us anything, it’s that everything is harder in French. Mark Bittman provided the recipe. Read his recipe and and our interpretations of it below.

cheese s
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: About 1 hour

An easy but impressive and delicious dish. Make one large
soufflé or or make 4 to 6 individual soufflés in 1 1/2- to 2-cup ramekins; the cooking time may be reduced by as much as half with the smaller dishes.

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups milk, warmed 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

Use a bit of the butter to grease a 2-quart soufflé or other deep baking dish. (Hold off on this step if you're going to delay baking the
soufflés until later.)

Put the remaining butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. When the foam subsides, stir in the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture darkens, about 3 minutes. Turn the heat down to low and and whisk in the milk, a bit at a time, until the mixture is thick. Let cool for a few minutes, then beat in the egg yolks, salt, pepper, cayenne and cheeses. (You can prepare this base a few hours in advance of cooking; cover tightly and refrigerate; bring back to room temperature before continuing.)

About an hour before you're ready to cook, preheat the oven to 375°F. Use an electric or hand mixer or a whisk to beat the egg whites until fairly stiff. Stir about a third into the base to lighten it, then gently - and not overthoroughly - fold in the remaining whites, using a rubber spatula or your hand. Transfer to the prepared dish and bake until the top is brown, the sides are firm, and the center is still quite moist, about 30 minutes. Use a thin skewer to check the interior; if it is still quite wet, bake for another 5 minutes. If it is just a bit moist, the
soufflé is done. Serve immediately.

(Above photos l to r: Kate's first soufflé; Kristen's first soufflé)

kate (brooklyn)

"Do you need a blowtorch for that?" Yes, those words were part of the phone conversation I had with Kristen last weekend in regards to this post.

A soufflé. Two things come to my mind when I hear that word: French and puffy. I don’t usually bake things that have anything to do with those words. Cooking French food intimates me and the last puffy thing I made was a microwave s'more in the teachers lounge at the school where I work. I put the chocolate and marshmallow on a graham cracker and watched the marshmallow expand to about ten times its normal size and then become as hard as a rock. I figured that was about as close to a soufflé as I’ve ever been.

So when Kristen suggested that we try a soufflé, I was all for it. It was something new and challenging. As far as the blowtorch comment, I saw one advertised online at Crate and Barrel in my search for a soufflé dish in that little "you might also like..." box at the bottom. Luckily, we didn’t need one – however I do have a little bit of welding experience and would’ve felt comfortable making a puffy cheese sculpture with one.

I had no problem finding a soufflé dish. There are two great kitchen stores in my neighborhood like The Brooklyn Kitchen and Whisk as well as many chain stores in the city like Crate and Barrel and Sur la Table. I ended up meeting my friend, Abby, in SoHo one night after work last week at C & B, where we found the soufflé dish and then, realizing how all this food talk was making us hungry, proceeded to get margaritas and dinner at Spring Street Natural.

Saturday rolled around. I had a few of the ingredients in the fridge, but needed a couple more things. We also did not have much else to eat in our place, so I talked my husband into going to Trader Joe’s in Union Square to do the rest of the shopping for the week. Trader Joe’s seems to have the best prices when it comes down to buying a lot of food at once. Unfortunately, I think most of New York City has also realized this by now, as well.

We arrived at Trader Joe’s around 11 am and already the line was stretched around the store (at least there wasn’t a line to get into the store – I’ve never gone in when that happens). Branden and I usually tag-team our shopping experience there: one of us will wait in line and grab things on the edge of the store while the other will go up and down the aisles. I think we were in line for at least 45 minutes, which is probably the longest I’ve ever waited there.

The store was also missing a lot of items – about 90 percent of the bread was gone. I got into a conversation with the couple behind me who wanted to know if the store was closing, as it looked like a clearance sale had happened on some of the shelves. I remarked that maybe everyone was stocking up for the big blizzard headed our way (which only left a dusting).

Anyway, we made it around the store, past the greens, the empty bread shelves, the meat, and finally the dairy. Even got a snack cup from the sample table filled with TJ’s trail mix about half-way – I thought it was pretty thoughtful of them to help keep our energy up while we waited. We paid and hauled 4 big, heavy bags out of the store, got on the L, and headed home. It takes us about 10-15 minutes to walk home from the train. I don’t mind the walk, except during times like this where I’m carrying (what feels like) close to my body-weight in groceries.

I prepped everything ahead of time and made sure the recipe was posted in a place where I could see. (I don’t have the cookbook we used for this recipe – Kristen was nice to scan it for me). I have to admit, though, I think if I ever write a cookbook I would make the font a lot bigger and have more visuals.

Everything seemed to go well (I did drop the butter on the floor and after trying to cut off the fuzz and gross-ness from the floor I gave up and just put out the other half) up to the part where the egg whites are beaten. I also (like Kristen) was worried about over-beating them and don’t think they were as stiff as they should have been.

I put the souffl
é in the oven, poured myself a glass of wine, and waited for half and hour. It had definitely risen, but the center was still wet. Branden joined me in the kitchen and we waited together. After about 3 more 5-minute intervals, the soufflé was done in the center and had risen a little above the dish. I considered it a success for a first soufflé.

We carried it to the table and I took some photos, as it slowly sank. We cut and served and ate. It was really good and had the right balance of cheese and herbs (chives and thyme). Who knows how high a soufflé is actually supposed to rise; what matters most to me is the way it tastes.

(Kate's photos above l to r: Reading the recipe; Branden and thyme)

kristen (beacon)

The whole idea of the soufflé has forever intimidated me. I’m not exactly sure why: The shi shi French name? The very specific ceramic dish? The oh so important rise? Who knows? What I do know is that I have avoided them like the plague, but if I wanted to broaden my culinary horizons, I knew I had to try making one.

When Kate and I decided to start this blog, I knew immediately that the basic cheese soufflé should be our first challenge. A risky adventure like that was sure to bring some interesting results to compare. And what an adventure it was.

First thing I learned: Soufflé dishes are nearly impossible to find in the Hudson Valley. Considering that we are so close to the Culinary Institute of America, you’d think our kitchen stores would be better stocked. But half a dozen stores later, all I had found were a bunch of blank stares. (More than once I pointed to a ramekin and explained, “It’s like that, but bigger.”) Finally, PJ reminded me of a new gourmet kitchen store in Rhinebeck, Blue Cashew, which is about an hour north of Beacon. Sure enough, they were well stocked and happily claimed to “have a lot of things you can’t find anywhere else in the Valley.” Whew, thank goodness.

Soufflé dish in tow, I shopped for the rest of my ingredients at Adam’s Fairacre Farms in Newburgh. Adam’s is a mini-chain in the Hudson Valley that is chock full of local and hard-to-find ingredients. We still don’t have Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but thanks to Adams we can almost always find what we need. I stocked up on Ronnybrook Farm Creamline Milk (Ronnybrook is located just north of Beacon in Ancramdale), Gruyere and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses (ok, not exactly local), and thyme (not fresh, but heck, it’s the middle of February). Tim Heuer, the head farmer at our CSA (Common Ground Farm) had given us a dozen fresh eggs from his chickens earlier in the week, and I thought they would also be perfect.

I was so nervous about making the soufflé that I procrastinated as much as possible. I carefully laid out and rearranged my ingredients several times. I watched a video of Julia Child making a soufflé to see if I could pick up any last-minute tricks that Mark Bittman may have left out (like the “foil collar” and lining the buttered dish with leftover cheese for a crispy, savory crust). Finally, I took a deep breath and dove in.

The béchamel base turned out well enough, but I think my first misstep was with the egg whites. I was so terrified of overbeating that I think I may have actually underbeat them. Mark Bittman suggests using one hand to fold the whites into the béchamel, but I may have done this too vigorously. Finally, I think I may have adhered the foil collar too high on the dish.

The result? A soufflé that didn’t even rise over the top of the dish, and wasn’t the least bit pretty.

But then I remembered we still got to eat it! I kept my fingers crossed that it would be delicious. And it was. Gloriously, it was. Light and airy (for the most part), savory, and as PJ remarked, “It’s like eating a warm, cheesy cloud.” Oh la la.

I still don’t know exactly why the soufflé didn’t rise as much as it should have, but I look forward to making many more in the future to improve my technique. Besides, since I clearly own one of the only soufflé dishes in the Hudson Valley, I owe it to my hometown to crank out as many of these as possible. I’m sure that’s what Mark and Julia would have wanted.

(Kristen's photos above l to r: The ingredients; The first bite)

View more of our soufflé photos on Flickr.


Maggie Dickinson said...

Mmmmm...a warm cheesy cloud. Well that just sounds delicious. Hopefully I will try to make this soon. I will have to order my souffle dish online though. They closed our fancy cooking store...sigh.

Tara said...

You girls are too funny!

I love that you both took advantage of local retailers and ingredients. This makes me want to give souffles a try, too.

Oh, I have a friend who works at Blue Cashew! What a wonderful little store that is. I wish we had something like that in Beacon.

Cindi Gasparre said...

Nice posts! I was taught (when making my first souffle) that it means murmur, but apparently it really is the past participle of the verb, souffler, to blow, puff up; which makes perfect sense. Still I would like to think of it as a murmur as it slowly creeps up the side of the dish.

Heidi said...

just don't do what my mom did in the seventies while working on her weekly perfection of the Julia souffle:
raisins. Please no raisins!

Kate and Kristen said...

Cindi, I really like the idea of thinking of souffles as little murmurs.

Heidi, duly noted! Eek!


Kate and Kristen said...

I agree...I love the idea of the souffle making a murmur...mine was more like a tire deflating!