Recipe: Basic cheese souffle
- 15g (3 tsp) butter, at room temperature, for greasing
- 1 1/2 tbs dry (packaged) breadcrumbs
- 150g vintage cheddar, finely grated
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 30g (1 1/2 tbs) butter
- 30g (3 tbs) plain flour
- 250mls (1 cup) milk
- 4 large (59-60g) free-range eggs, at room temperature, separated
- Measure and prepare all your ingredients. Bring eggs to room temperature before using them – cold egg whites incorporate less air than those at room temperature. Use free-range eggs as they have a better flavour than battery hen eggs. Also, the more mature the cheddar, the tastier the souffle will be.
- Start by preparing the souffle dish. The souffle will rise more evenly in a deep, round straight-sided dish, but shallower round or oval dishes can also be used – the souffle may not appear to rise as high but will still have a light and fluffy texture.
- Brush a 2 litre (8 cup) souffle dish with the butter to grease. It is best to have the butter soft, not melted, so it forms a thick coating on the dish. Grease the base of the dish and then use even, upward strokes to grease the side, ensuring the butter coats the entire surface. If the dish is not greased well, the souffle will stick to it and will rise unevenly.
- Place the dish in the freezer for 5 minutes to set the butter. Brush again with the remaining butter. Place the breadcrumbs in the dish and rotate the dish to coat with breadcrumbs. Turn the dish upside down and gently tap to remove any excess crumbs. The breadcrumbs help the souffle grip the side of the dish and rise evenly. They also form a delicious crust.
- Most souffles are based on a flavoured, thick white sauce to which egg yolks and whisked egg whites are added. The air that is whisked into the egg whites expands in the oven heat and makes the souffle rise.
- To make the sauce mixture, place the cheddar, mustard, salt and pepper in a medium heat-resistant bowl and set aside.
- To make the roux (the cooked butter and flour mixture that thickens the sauce), melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until foaming. Add the flour and stir with a whisk for 1 minute or until the roux leaves the side of the pan and is bubbling. Don’t allow the roux to brown.
- Remove the pan from the heat and place on a wet dishcloth or damp tea towel to prevent it from slipping. Add 1/2 the milk while stirring constantly with the whisk. Stir vigorously until smooth and free of lumps. Gradually add the remaining milk, stirring until smooth. This will prevent lumps from forming in the sauce.
- Return pan to medium heat and stir constantly until sauce thickens and comes to the boil. Constant stirring will ensure the sauce is smooth. Reduce heat to low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes.
- Pour the hot sauce into the bowl with the cheese and seasonings and mix well.
- Preheat oven to 180°C. Place 1 oven shelf in the bottom position and remove all other shelves. Place a baking tray on the shelf to heat. This will give the souffle instant heat on its base and assist with rising.
- Separate the first egg, put the white in a small bowl and the yolk in a separate small bowl. Transfer the white to a clean, dry glass, ceramic or stainless-steel medium mixing bowl before separating the next egg. Repeat with remaining eggs. This way, if a yolk breaks into a white, you won’t spoil all 4 egg whites. The egg whites, bowl and beater attachment/s must be free of any water, or fat such as butter, oil or egg yolks, as this will inhibit the whites from holding air and producing a good volume.
- Add the egg yolks to the cheese sauce and mix until thoroughly combined. Use electric beaters to whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Do not beat the whites until stiff or they will be difficult to fold in and will give the souffle a grainy texture.
- Spoon about 1/4 of the egg whites into cheese sauce mixture and use a spatula or large metal spoon to fold the whites through the mixture until just combined. To fold in, gently run spatula or spoon around side and along base of bowl and use a sweeping action to fold the mixture over on itself, rotating the bowl. Repeat until mixture is just combined.
- The folding action is more gentle than a stirring or mixing motion and retains the air beaten into the whites. Adding just some of the whites helps to “loosen” the mixture and makes it easier to fold in the remaining whites.
- Pour the cheese mixture into the side of the bowl containing the remaining whites (this is to minimise air loss). Fold in with the spatula or large metal spoon until just combined. The mixture should appear spongy with streaks of egg white throughout but without large clumps of egg white. Overmixing causes the mixture to lose air and the souffle will not rise as well as it should. Undermixing results in clumps of unfolded egg white which cause uneven rising.
- Pour into the prepared souffle dish and gently smooth top with a spatula. Run your thumb around inside rim of dish and about 2cm into souffle mixture (try not to wipe off the butter and crumbs). This ridge helps the souffle rise evenly. Place on the baking tray in preheated oven and bake for 45 minutes.
- When it is ready, the souffle should be well risen and wobble slightly when the dish is tapped. If you are still unsure, test with a skewer through the side of the souffle. The skewer should come out clean and slightly moist. Serve immediately, and remember, a souffe waits for no-one.
Individual cheese souffles:To make individual souffles, use four 310mls (1 1/4-cups) ramekins. Continue as for the basic recipe and bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes.This basic cheese souffle is delicious served as a starter, or as a main with a crisp green salad. It can be made as 1 souffle or 4 smaller ones.
- The sauce mixture can be made a day ahead. Keep, covered with plastic wrap, in the fridge. To use, remove from fridge and stand at room temperature for 11/2 hours before using.
Variations (based on basic cheese souffle recipe)
Three cheese & herb souffle: reduce the cheddar to 50g. Add 50g finely grated gruyere cheese, 50g finely grated Parmesan, 1 tbs fresh thyme leaves and 2 tbs each of chopped fresh chives and chopped fresh continental parsley to the cheddar mixture. Continue as for basic cheese souffle recipe.
- Cauliflower & blue cheese souffle: reduce the milk to 125mls (1/2 cup). Omit the mustard. Replace the cheddar with 100g blue vein cheese, mashed with a fork, and add 1 1/2 tbs chopped fresh chives to the cheese mixture. Boil or steam 350g cauliflower florets until tender. Place in the bowl of a food processor with the milk and process until smooth. Use cauliflower puree in place of the milk in the basic recipe. Continue as for basic cheese souffle recipe.
- Chicken & green peppercorn souffle: omit the mustard and pepper. Reduce the cheddar to 100g. Add 2 chopped green shallots, 1 1/2 tsp crushed green peppercorns and 130g finely chopped cooked chicken to the cheddar mixture. Continue as for basic cheese souffle recipe.
- Ham & pumpkin: reduce the milk to 125mls (1/2 cup) and the cheddar to 50g. Add 120g finely chopped leg ham and 3 chopped green shallots to the cheddar mixture. Peel and deseed 450g butternut pumpkin and cut into chunks. Boil or steam until tender. Place in the bowl of a food processor with the milk and process until smooth. Use pumpkin puree in place of the milk in the basic recipe. Continue as for basic cheese souffle recipe.
Number of servings (yield): 4
Meal type: dessert
Culinary tradition: USA (General)