March 4, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Rising to occasions

By |2018-03-21T18:52:44+01:00January 4th, 2013|"Suzanne's Taste"|
Basic cheese soufflé: Use a light hand.

oo much food over the holidays? Lighten up your life in the New Year with a soufflé, salad, and a glass (or two) of good wine.

Pride before the fall: My cooking class stands expectantly around the demonstration counter as I try to create a perfect soufflé. The egg whites are whipped (a bit too much), and I try impressing my students by turning the bowl of whites upside down. I want to show them that egg whites stay put when properly treated.

No such luck this time. The whites are over-beaten. And in a plastic bowl. Worse still, the weather is damp and humid. There’s a magnificent plop and the demonstration counter is splashed with snowy froth.

“Thank heavens,” cry the students, almost in unison, “you’re human!”

“Thank heavens,” I think, “that I bought extra eggs.”

Contrary to opinion, soufflés are simple to make if you keep a light hand. No self-respecting French cook would dream of not knowing how to whip one up at the drop of a whisk. But neophytes first need to forget everything they’ve ever heard about the impossibility of making one.

There are two kinds of soufflés: savory and sweet. Both come from the same principle: To a roux of cooked flour and butter are added egg yolks and seasonings. When the mixture is tepid, not hot, the whites of the eggs in the tepid sauce are added and the soufflé is baked in a hot oven to raise it quickly and minimize upsetting the balance of the delicate egg white mixture.

When you fold in the whites, try to trap as much air in the mixture as possible by cutting the mixture with a spatula and folding the whites gently into the base. You can make a richer soufflé by using half-cream and half-milk for the base. You may also bake the soufflé in a pan of hot water, much like custard. My own experience suggests that if you carry out the first steps correctly, the hot water part isn’t necessary.

If you’re human and your soufflé collapses before its time, you can make a very decent sweet or salty trifle with the remains. My friend Jane Curry forgot to put Grand Marnier in her soufflé and pulled it out of the oven halfway through the cooking, stirred in the liqueur, and put it back in! That’s true courage.

A soufflé is almost always three or four minutes from being ready the minute you can smell it. Get your guests ready, as a soufflé waits on no one

Basic cheese soufflé (Serves 2)

  • 2 Tablespoon flour.

  • 2 Tablespoons butter.

  • 1 1/2 cups milk.

  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard.

  • Pinch of cayenne.

  • 2/3 cup grated cheese (suggestions: white or yellow cheddar, caciota, Mimolette, or any firm, tasty cheese you like).

  • 4 large eggs, separated, plus l extra white.


— Butter an 8-inch soufflé dish well, and heat the oven to 400F/195C.

— In a saucepan, melt the butter with the flour and cook until foamy, about 3 minutes.

— Add the milk, whisking constantly, then add the egg yolks, whisking until smooth. Add the mustard, cayenne and grated cheese and let cool.

— Beat the egg whites (in a stainless steel bowl or bowl of a food processor that has an attachment for egg whites) until soft peaks form and do not flop over.

— Stir a little of the beaten whites very gently into the cheese mixture to lighten it. This will help you fold in the rest quickly (remember – use a very light hand).

— Butter a straight-sided soufflé dish and carefully pour the mixture in, smoothing the top and running your finger around the inside about 1/4 inch into the mixture. This will help it rise evenly.

— Bake for 15 to 18 minutes on the lowest shelf of the oven. You want the heat at the bottom of the soufflé to push it up quickly. Depending on your oven, you may need a minute more or less cooking time, but the top of the soufflé should be golden brown. You will have a creamy texture in the middle, which will act as the soufflé’s sauce. Serve immediately.

You may substitute flaked cooked salmon, scallops or shrimp, minced, for the cheese. Add a few chopped chives to the base, a squeeze of lemon and a pinch of cayenne to liven it up.

Next up: dessert soufflés.

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.