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Sunday, March 24, 2013

How To Make a Soufflé… and Rise to the Occasion

Yesterday, we spent most of the day, or more accurately the afternoon and evening, on the couch watching television.  I had had visions of launching back into the book, for a couple of hours, maybe playing my guitar, doing a thorough vacuum, etc., but… nah.  In the end, it was just too relaxing lying around doing next to nothing.
We did, however, as a married team, bake a soufflé.  My first.  Which leads me – in an ambling kind of climb over the stile and wander up the garden meadow, touch the tree at the edge of the pasture and then log-roll back over the cow pats way – to this:
Mrs Brady, or Carol, from the Brady Bunch.
In the faulty video archive that is my mind, as we were making the soufflé, I kept recalling how there was an episode of the Brady Bunch where Mrs Brady was making a romantic dinner for her new husband (Mike).
‘But didn’t Alice, the maid, do all the cooking?’ I hear you ask.*
Ah ha! But this was a special romantic dinner, one where Mrs Brady was establishing herself as the top female in the pack; not only would she would be lying down with the alpha male later, she could also out-cook Alice who always made pot-roast, pork chops with apple sauce and, of course, the inevitable meat loaf… because she had a deal on with Sam the butcher who made sure the family exclusively ate his meat.
So Mrs Brady is cooking a meal, to demonstrate she can be a good provider to Mr Brady.  But the kids keep making loud noises; dropping a pile of books on the table, playing the drums, or maybe bouncing a basketball against the oven door.
And the soufflé doesn’t rise.
The shame!  The infamy!!
I kept having visions of Mrs Brady’s soufflé going down in a comical manner, as I tiptoed around the kitchen and spoke in a whisper, seeing the film slightly sped up as the big pouffe collapsed in on itself (I speak of the soufflé here, not Monsieur Brady).
Carol never did get that soufflé to rise, and while that left Alice in charge at the stove, Mrs Brady was no doubt taken away for a conciliatory lie down upstairs; just to let her know that she had other talents Alice could never bring to the table.**
But ultimately, the show did one very important thing.  It introduced middle-America, and a little boy in Melbourne a decade later and half a planet away, to the idea that soufflés are:
  • hard to cook;
  •  don’t rise if you make a banging noise;
  •  a romantic thing to make your significant other; and
  • originated overseas, and are spelt funny, but you can still make at home even if you are a person who speaks English and not a frog or nothing.
This is, in fact one of the easiest things I’ve ever cooked, and with one or two tricks, you can “wow” everyone into thinking you’re an even better cook than Carol Brady (which isn’t saying much).  Serves two to three people.

To wit, the recipe:

Goat’s Cheese Soufflé

You will need:
  • Flour
  • Butter
  • Milk
  • Nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper
  • A bay leaf
  • Six egg whites
  • 150gm soft goat’s cheese
  • 50gm soft cheese – garlic and herb (why not?)
  • Crème of tartar
  • Parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top

Step One.
Heat the oven to moderate.  About 180-190ºC.
Grease a one and a half litre soufflé dish liberally with butter.  I used an old casserole dish, but think this would work better with individual serve soufflé containers of about half a litre, a bit like the ones you get at serious restaurants.

Step Two.
Make a white / béchamel / cheese sauce.
This is a standard thing, and one I hope you can do already.
If not, it’s a couple of tablespoons of butter melted in a saucepan, a couple of tablespoons of plain flour fried in the butter to make a nice yellow paste, then slowly mix in around a cup and a half of warm milk (heat the milk to avoid getting lumps in the sauce).  This is a white sauce.
Now add grated nutmeg (I went a bit overboard), pepper and salt, and a couple of bay leaves and leave on low for about five minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove the bay leaves.  This is (I think) a béchamel sauce.
Now take it off the heat, melt in a 150gm block of goat’s cheese, and maybe a second cheese; like fifty grams of a soft garlic and herb cheese, and put to one side. A fancy goat’s cheese sauce. 

Step Three.
Beat six egg whites into stiff peaks.  Any tricks here?  Hmm, use an electric beater.  Make sure the eggs are at room temperature to help them take up the air; if they’re out of the fridge, just pop them into a sink with warm water for a few minutes and they’ll warm up amazingly quickly.  Start the beater on low, then add crème of tartar (about a quarter of a teaspoon): this helps things hold their shape, and Jane tells me they use it as an ingredient in PlayDough™.  Beat until stiff peaks form that fold over.

Step Four.
Combine the two.  This DOES have a special trick.  Take a tablespoon of the egg whites and mix into the cheesey sauce to lighten.  Now, tip the cheese sauce over the remaining beaten egg whites and fold, gently, using  METAL SPOON, so they are just combined.  Your aim here is to leave as much air in the mix as possible, so don’t stir too much.
Tip the lot into your soufflé dish/dishes, sprinkle the top with some parmesan cheese for extra browning and pop in the oven.
It will take 25minutes – half an hour to cook.
I took the added precaution of sprinkling some water into the bottom of the stove to make a bit of steam, for humidity to help the thing rise, and then tip-toed around the house not peeking.

Step Five.
Have your guest sitting at the table as you pull it out of the oven.  It will start going down immediately, and to optimise the “wow!” factor, no lolly-gagging.  This is also why making it in a couple of dishes would work better.  Each person gets to deflate their own, and the increased surface area will mean more even cooking and more of that delicious crisped skin that is like a beautiful cheese omelet.

Bon appetite!  Serve with a green salad, a cheeky white wine, and your most seductive looks.  I give it five and a half tentacles out of eight as a meal, but eight out of eight tentacles for impressing the pants off someone you love...  Unless your name is Carol Brady, in which case you don’t need to cook anything.  Just wink like mad, and nod your head towards the bedroom.

*  Actually, you were completely right.  It was Alice making the soufflé, and makes it go down by dropping a tray. What was I thinking?
**  Considering Alice cooked the soufflé, does that mean there were added shenanigans going on of which I am unaware, beside Mr Brady being gay, and Carol sleeping with Greg???  Hmm?????