- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The first time I ever tucked into a fluffy cheese souffle I was in a tiny restaurant in Paris called, what else, “Le Souffle.”

Imagine an entire restaurant devoted to souffles. They offered cheese, vegetable or dessert souffles, each a perfection confection of airy heaven, delivered straight from the kitchen puffed, browned and aromatic.

I had just graduated from college and was in Europe to get my culinary education, circumstances that left me without a restaurant budget. So I taught myself how to make a cheese souffle in my tiny Parisian kitchen.

I thought it would be difficult but discovered that once you know how to get your egg whites to the right stiff-white-peak consistency, you’ve got it nailed.

Today’s recipe is basically a simple white sauce enriched with egg yolk and nutty Swiss cheese. Stiff egg whites are folded right into the mixture. Remember to fold the egg whites carefully into the sauce to keep as much air in the mixture as possible.

You might be thinking, forget it, this is too much work, but the truth is that souffles couldn’t be easier to put together.

The secret to success is timing. So figure out what you will be serving ahead, such as a salad or soup, and time the souffle to go into the oven as you sit down for your first course. Remember: You can wait for the souffle, but the souffle waits for no one! You don’t want to serve a deflated souffle.

I like to feature this souffle for a weekend brunch or lunch. It’s light yet satisfying. Begin with a salad with shrimp or crab. For dessert, try sliced pears drizzled with honey. Serve a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc with the souffle.

Help is on the way

• Use room temperature eggs (cold eggs hold less air).

• Separate the eggs carefully. Make sure you use a spotlessly clean bowl for the egg whites or they will not whip up properly.

• When separating the eggs, use an extra bowl to separate the eggs individually. Then transfer each egg white into another bowl that contains all of the whites. This way you can make sure no yolk accidentally contaminates the white. If yolk does accidentally get into the white of an egg, save it for making scrambled eggs.

• Use an electric mixer for the whites; make sure the beaters are perfectly clean.

• You can use any kind of cheese you like; other cheeses that work nicely are nutty Parmesan, sharp cheddar and goat cheese.

• You can make additions such as crisp bacon pieces, thin cooked vermicelli noodles or chopped spinach. Make sure to add it to the sauce before you fold in the egg whites.

Cheese souffle

1 teaspoon unsalted butter

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons grated Swiss, Parmesan or cheddar cheese

2½ tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup milk

4 egg yolks

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

½ teaspoon salt

Pinch white pepper

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

5 egg whites

Pinch of cream of tartar

1 tablespoon bread crumbs

Prepare a 1½ quart souffle dish by rubbing 1 teaspoon butter over base and sides of dish and sprinkling with 1 tablespoon grated cheese.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and mix with a wooden spoon for 1 minute. Let the flour and butter cook until bubbling but still white, about 2 more minutes.

Add milk and whisk the sauce until thick and smooth, about 2 more minutes. Bring the sauce to a boil while whisking. Cool for 10 minutes.

Add egg yolks to the cooled mixture and whisk until smooth. Add the mustard, salt, white pepper and nutmeg, and whisk to combine.

Whip egg whites with a pinch of salt and cream of tartar in a spotlessly clean large bowl with whisk or electric mixer until stiff peaks form but are not dry.

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold half of egg whites into sauce. Add all but 1 tablespoon of remaining grated cheese to sauce and then fold in the rest of egg whites just until no white streaks remain. Pour into prepared dish.

Sprinkle remaining tablespoon of cheese and finish with the bread crumbs on top.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until brown. Remove and serve immediately. Makes 4 servings.

Diane Rossen Worthington is the author of 18 cookbooks, including “Seriously Simple Holidays.” To contact her, go to www.seriouslysimple.com.

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