Both my mom and my grandma told me to read Jacques Pepin’s The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen. I’m glad they did, because I’m not sure I would have picked it up otherwise. Pepin, the famed French chef who has hosted a number of cooking shows and penned approximately one billion cookbooks, writes engagingly of his varied and adventurous life surrounded by glorious food and some of the Western culinary world’s most celebrated figures, including Julia Child, Craig Claiborne, and James Beard.
One of the many charming stories (and great accompanying recipes) Pepin shares is the first time his mother attempted a cheese soufflé:
When my mother got married, she was 17 and my father was 22. She did not know how to cook, except for a few simple dishes that she had learned from her mother. Yet she was willing and fearless. My father liked cheese soufflé, so my mother graciously obliged. She had never made a soufflé before, but a friend told her that it consisted of a white sauce (bechamel), grated cheese and eggs — a cinch! To the bechamel, that staple of the French home cook, she added her grated Swiss cheese and then cracked and added one egg after another to the mixture, stirred it well, poured it into a gratin dish, and baked it in the oven. Viola! No one had told her that the eggs should be separated, with the yolks added to the base sauce and the whites whipped to a firm consistency and then gently folded into the mixture. Ignorance is bliss, and in this case it was indeed: The souffle rose to a golden height and become a family favorite.I have made this soufflé at least five times! Fabulous. Don’t omit the chives. Serve with a green salad and when you’re done eating, swing by the library for more of Pepin’s great blend of food and story.
Maman's Cheese Soufflé
3/4 stick unsalted butter, plus additional to butter a 6-cup gratin dish
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
5 extra-large eggs
2 1/2 cups grated Swiss cheese, preferably Gruyère (about 6 ounces)
3 tablespoons minced chives
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter a 6-cup gratin dish and set it aside. Melt the 3/4 stick of butter in a saucepan, then add the flour and mix it in well with a whisk. Cook for 10 seconds, add the cold milk in one stroke and mix it in with a whisk. Keep stirring with the whisk until the mixture thickens and comes to a strong boil, about 2 minutes. It should be thick and smooth. Remove from the heat, and stir in the salt and pepper.
- Break the eggs into a bowl and beat well with a fork. After about 10 minutes the white sauce should be cool enough to proceed. Add the eggs, cheese and the chives to the sauce, and mix well to combine. Pour into the buttered gratin dish and cook immediately, or set-aside until ready to cook. If setting aside for a few hours, the soufflé can remain outside at room temperature. If assembling a day ahead, refrigerate and bring back to room temperature before baking.
- Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until puffy and well browned on top. Although it will stay inflated for quite a while, it is best served immediately.