The Litmus Soufflé
First off, a few things about life:
1) It is going to change. Best you keep a good friend, bottle of red wine, and/ or strong sedative handy.
2) Your mother was—and will likely continue to be—right about a lot of things (especially those horrible lime green plaid pants you wore in the seventh grade).
3) There will come a time when you are cooking when something will go terribly, terribly wrong. It is bound to happen. And there will be company involved.
Take the soufflé. It is a stately dish that never fails to impress—particularly, if it comes out of the oven as it is supposed to. You feel so many emotions when it rises properly: slight disbelief, awe at your good fortune, a fleeting sensation of feeling impervious, and the nagging notion (perhaps like the memory of your mother warning about the social perils of lime green pants), that this lovely thing you have put all your literal—and perhaps metaphorical—eggs into could deflate with one wrong move. A fallen soufflé is particularly offensive; not only because it instantly deflates your ego, but it manages to do so in front of an audience: and usually one you’ve deemed worth impressing.
All this self-imposed destruction is exhausting, so allow me to suggest a fresh point of view for the soufflé. Use the soufflé’s fragility to your advantage, as an eggy litmus test for the company you keep. If the soufflé rises, it will impress everyone, including the people in your life that may be equally impressed when you put your underwear on correctly. But if your soufflé does happen to fall and the only sound you hear is the polite clink of chattering forks against plates, you may want to reconsider having these people over again … or why they are in your life. After all, life isn’t about how we act when a perfect soufflé comes out, it’s about how we react when one falls.
I’m lucky to have people in my life willing to eat more than their fair share of fallen soufflés. I made this recipe for my mother and grandmother on mother’s day. And, no, I did not intend to use it as a character test; I intended to use them as recipe testers. I think it’s safe to say the mothers I have in my life passed the character test long ago. They are truly remarkable women.
Adapted from Ina Garten
3 tbsp butter, plus extra for buttering the soufflé dish
¼ cup parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano), plus extra for dusting the soufflé dish
3 tbsp flour
¼ cup heavy cream
¾ cup milk
4 egg yolks (at room temperature)
4 ounces aged cheddar cheese
the zest of 1 lemon zest
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
½ cup chives
½ tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
10 grinds pepper mill
5 egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a soufflé dish and then coat with parmesan cheese. Melt the butter in a saucepan; add the flour and cook about 2 minutes. Take off the heat and stir in cream and milk; add egg yolks one at a time and then add in cheddar cheese, parmesan, lemon zest, mustard, chives, nutmeg, salt and pepper and stir until well combined. Beat the egg whites and cream of tartar with a mixer for about 2-3 minutes, until firm, glossy peaks form. Whisk ¼ of the egg whites into the cheese sauce and then fold in the rest of the whites. Pour mixture in your buttered soufflé dish and draw a circle on top with a rubber spatula (this will help the soufflé rise properly). Place in the middle of your oven and turn the temperature down to 375 degrees. Bake 30-35 minutes. Don’t open the oven door during this time. Serve immediately.