soufflé, adjective (soufflé (m.), soufflée (f.), soufflés (m.pl.), soufflées (f.pl.) = blown up, expanded, risen …
or a masculine noun: un soufflé
Well everyone knows what a soufflé is, don’t they?
The word comes from the verb souffler = to blow (le vent souffle = the wind blows, je souffle mes bougies = I blow out my candles) and from the noun souffle (without an accent on the e) = breath (un souffle de vent = a breath of wind).
The expression souffler quelque chose can mean to whip away, to steal something, and laisse-moi souffler means give me breathing space, time to breathe.
Soufflés rise because they are made of thousands of tiny bubbles of air. No bubbles, no soufflé. They are not complicated to make; there are just one or two golden rules: firm egg whites, and a hot oven that you do NOT open during the cooking time. Hot soufflés must be served very rapidly, because they sink down again. So people must be disciplined and be at table when the soufflé is removed from the oven. It is very impolite to the cook not to be.
My recipe is for a basic soufflé au fromage = cheese soufflé, in my opinion the best one. It is a very spectacular meal to prepare when one has virtually nothing in the fridge. All you need is a few eggs, some grated cheese and some milk.
For four people you will need :
- 3 eggs
- 125ml milk (1/4 pint)
- 30gr flour
- 30gr butter
- 90gr grated cheese
- salt, pepper
The basis of a soufflé is a béchamel (in my recipe index, but I will go through it again here), to which you add egg yolks and cheese. Followed by the stiffly beaten whites.
- Heat the oven to 180°.
- Grease a soufflé dish.
- Put the milk to warm (it doesn’t have to boil, just warm it).
- In a saucepan, put a heaped tbs of flour (which is about 30gr) and 30gr butter. As the butter melts, incorporate the flour gradually and let it cook for a minute, stirring.
- Whisk in the warmed milk, little by little ( a whisk will avoid lumps). When the mixture is smooth, leave to cook for a minute or two, gently.
- Add the grated cheese (good quality gruyère or emmenthal), stir to melt and mix well. Add four grinds of the pepper mill and half a teaspoon of salt.
- Off the heat, add the egg yolks, one at a time, stirring briskly.
- Leave this mixture off the heat while you beat the egg whites, with a pinch of salt, to stiff peak. Make sure the bowl you are using is scrupulously clean, no trace of grease, and that there is no yolk in the whites, or they will not whip up well. You should be able to turn the bowl upside down and the whites will stay in the bowl if they are beaten enough.
- Fold half of the whites into the béchamel mixture, stirring delicately with a metal spoon, so as not to break them. But at the same time, the mixture must be homogenous. Lift from the bottom to make sure all the mixture is being incorporated.
- Transfer the remaining whites to the soufflé dish, and fold the mixture in the saucepan into them gently. The mixture should only reach three quarters of the way up the soufflé dish. Place into the middle of a hot oven with no bars above to stop the soufflé rising.
- Cook for about 30 minutes, without opening the oven. When the soufflé is golden, remove it and serve it from the dish immediately, but only after everyone at table has admired the way it has risen. It doesn’t matter much if it is still a bit goopy right in the middle.
My mother used to do a mean cheese soufflé, one of our favourites. But just after the war, when cheese was rationed, she also did a version where she mashed up a tin of sardines and added it to the béchamel in place of the cheese. I preferred the cheese, but this one was ‘interesting’. You can also, instead of the cheese, add some finely chopped ham, some flaked haddock or just lots of chopped fresh herbs.