Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Souffle Project

A few years ago I stumbled upon a copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking at the Salvation Army in North Kingstown. I bought it for ten dollars, took it home, but sadly never ended up making many of the recipes. I have been a Julia Child fan since I was about six, when I would watch old re runs of her cooking show on PBS, sitting on the couch, while my parents made dinner in the kitchen. Besides being mesmerized by all her cutting and clomping, kneading and mixing, all I remember is thinking how strange she was. Like, this woman is really weird. Weird and amazing.
So when I decided that it was time to attempt the infamous soufflé, it was Julia I turned to. I had wanted to try making soufflé for a while, especially since my mother’s chickens were laying well over two dozen eggs weekly- and there could easily be seven dozen eggs in the fridge on any given day. So making a soufflé seemed very practical and logical, despite the soufflé’s reputation. And you all know the reputation I am referring to here- I am referring to the myths, the legends, the paranoia, the “culture of fear” if you will, that surrounds the delicate, elegant, elusive soufflé.
I did not allow myself to be daunted by this however. And early Sunday morning I was resolved. Before I could change my mind I sent out a text message to the few friends I thought may be brave enough to partake in the project. It was 9:00 in the morning. “Attempting the soufflé tonight” I wrote. “Join me if you dare.”
Only a small handful replied. “Shhhhh,” one wrote back. “We will speak only in whispers.” And later, “I’ll wear my slippers.”
With the word officially out, there was no turning back. I promptly began researching and luckily Julia Child is explicit about each step, and heeds simple warnings about the process to the home cook. For example, the bowls you use to beat your egg whites cannot be greasy or oily or your whites will not stand up right. And that once out of the oven the soufflé must be eaten immediately (within 5 minutes) before it begins to deflate.
Armed with this new knowledge I went through my refrigerator and cupboards in order to gather ingredients and write a shopping list. I traveled upstairs to my parents’ refrigerator to procure the necessary eggs when !Shock! Gasp! There were none! *
By 3 pm however the hens had come through and laid half a dozen beautiful, pale eggs. I held them delicately between my fingers and as I made my way back to the house I found myself thinking about this passage from Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale in which Offred, the protagonist, describes how long ago women used to hold eggs in between their breasts to incubate them. I don’t know why, but to my seventeen-year-old mind this just seemed to be the pinnacle of sensuality and eroticism. And I remember lamenting distinctly that my breasts were too small to ever hold and incubate an egg and how this seemed unfair. Offred goes on to remark how eggs seem to glow and have a life of their own, and how thinking about them gives her an intense pleasure. And how holding an egg in between her breasts would have felt really good…
But clearly I digress! I am supposed to writing about cheese soufflé, not bosoms. Sorry if that last paragraph made any of you uncomfortable....
So anyway, I decided to make one cheese soufflé and one with spinach, onion and cheese. I even made a soufflé playlist of calm, quiet music in order to coax and encourage the soufflé to rise and be voluminous and golden (Julia’s description, not mine).
A half hour later my soufflés were indeed golden and voluminous much to my elation and relief, and I immediately rushed everyone to the table to eat it ASAP. Two of my friends were late and while I would never start dinner with missing guests soufflé! can’t! wait! So we had to start without them but luckily they arrived just as I was pulling the second soufflé from the oven.
The soufflés turned out lovely- were creamy and comforting and tasted perfect on a late summer night with a glass of red wine.
Desert soufflés are next.

Souffle Aux Epinards (Spinach Souffle)

1 Tbs. minced shallot or green onion

1 Tbs. butter

1/4 c. chopped frozen spinach

1/4 tsp. salt

Cook the shallots for a moment in the butter. Add the spinach and salt, and stir over medium heat for several minutes to evaporate as much moisture as possible from the spinach. Remove from heat.

Souffle Base

3 Tbs. butter

3 Tbs. flour

1 c. boiling milk

1/2 tsp. salt

a pinch each of black pepper, cayenne, and nutmeg

4 egg yolks

Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in flour and cook over medium heat until butter and flour foam together for 2 minutes without browning. Remove from heat and when mixture has stopped bubbling, pour the boiling milk and beat vigorously with a wire whisk unit blended. Beat in the seasonings. Return to medium heat and boil, stirring, for 1 minute. Sauce will be very thick.

Remove from heat and drop each yolk into hot sauce and beat together.

The Egg Whites and Cheese

5 egg whites

A pinch of salt

3/4 c. graded cheese of your choice (SSwiss, Parmesan, Gruyere, cheddar)

Put egg whites in bowl and beat with salt until stiff. Stir a big spoonful (1/4 of egg whites) into the sauce. Stir in all but a tablespoon of the cheese. Delicately fold in the rest of the egg whites.


Preheat oven to 400 degrees and then turn down to 375 once souffle is put in oven.

Butter the mold heavily and then coat with grated cheese or breadcrumbs. Pour the souffle mixture into the mold, which should be 3/4 full. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top and place in center of oven. Bake for 25-35 minutes until the top is nice and brown. Serve at once!
* When the fridge is really on egg overload my aunt takes them to Providence and sells them to her co workers*


  1. Genious... your incubators are lovely... XoX -Reidy

  2. Your website is great Sophie - and your writing as well!! Big kiss from Zurich, Martina

  3. Uh! How did Reid find your blog???

  4. i wanna come next time. yum.

  5. are those Granny's arms/hands in the middle photo? Was this 2 summers ago?

  6. no, those are not granny's hands...they are george hill's! This was this past summer...

  7. Don't apologize for the digressions! They're entertaining, especially for those of us who read your blog and are not really cooks.

  8. Mouth watering! How do I get on the invite list?