Soufflés have a risqué reputation, but if you’re a dab hand at separating eggs and whipping up whites, you can have one on the table in half an hour or less. Today’s recipe for cheese soufflé comes from Hilary Reyl, a fellow Francophile and the author of a debut novel, Lessons in French. If you love Paris and coming-of-age stories, you’ll love her bittersweet tale about a young American woman who moves to the City of Light in 1989 and struggles to find her way amid a cast of unreliable characters.
Hilary lives in New York City with her family of cheese-lovers — her Franco-Swiss husband Charles and three budding-chef daughters. Today, I’m so thrilled to share her tale of fromage fandom, as well as her (delicious) recipe for cheese soufflé!
by Hilary Reyl
I am the matriarch of a family of cheese hounds. My husband Charles, who grew up in Switzerland, is perpetually amazed — and I mean daily — by his affection for Gruyère. When we got him a raclette machine for his birthday, I thought he might cry. Ella, one of my ten-year-old twin daughters can eat an entire Camembert, wake up the next morning and do it all over. My two year-old Iris can say fromage clear as a bell, and she does so at every practically meal. The Reyl family exists in a bizarrely happy Groundhog Day somewhere deep in cheeseland.
Our favorite way to entertain is to make fondue, with our “signature” blend of Vacherin, Comté, and Gruyère. We stretch the season from November through April and invite groups of eight to ten. Our friends have come to love the ritual, the cornichons, the dried meats, the pièce de resistance bubbling in its communal pot, the white wine and pineapple that Charles maintains will “cut through” the cheese ensuring happy digestion and wonderful dreams. I insist on serving a non-traditional salad of endives, apples and walnuts to give a veneer of lightness to the affair. As I say, our friends love fondue chez nous, but they eat it once or twice a year. For us, in high season, it can be once a week. And no one complains.
On a Tuesday night though, with Ella starving from gymnastics and Margaux from swimming, we need something fast and pleasing, cheesy of course, but perhaps not quite so intense. Julia Child’s cheese soufflé accompanied by a basic green salad is ideal, not only because of its star ingredient, but because it is full of protein, simple and festive for me to make with my daughters, who are avid egg separators. Eggs are one of the staples I try to get at the farmer’s market because freshness makes such a difference in flavor. There are rarely less than a dozen in our refrigerator. We always have some Alpine-style cheese on hand — the recipe calls for “Swiss,” so we use Gruyère or Emmental — and we always have the requisite Parmesan in our dedicated cheese drawer too. Lettuce, avocado and cucumber are generally about, and I enjoy slipping pea shoots into the salad bowl when no one is watching. Then, for a quick dessert, dark chocolate and fruit.
I learned to cook from Julia Child upon my return from a year in the French countryside, at age twelve, and feel very strongly that she changed my life by showing me that I was quite capable of making the food that had seemed so magical to me in France. So, it is with great tenderness that my twins and I turn the splattered pages of my grandmother’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking with its duck-taped spine. For the publication of my novel, I was given a pristine first edition of Julia Child, which I read and cherish but don’t dare consult in action.
Hilary Reyl’s Soufflé au fromage
Note from Ann: I’m going to be honest — I had a devil of a time making Hilary’s soufflé, but that had nothing to do with the recipe and everything to do with operator inefficiency. First, I couldn’t figure out how to whip egg whites with my Bamix immersion blender — I tried for 45 minutes, the egg whites growing more and more soupy as my temper grew more and more inflamed. Then, once I figured out the trick — use a tall, slender vessel like a cocktail shaker — I realized my soufflé dish was too big for the recipe’s quantity. As you can probably tell from the photos, my soufflé failed to puff over the rim of its baking dish. Never mind, it was still delicious — airy and cheesy — and I’m sticking to Julia Child’s motto: “Never apologize.” By the way, Hilary makes two soufflés for a family of five.
1 tsp butter
1 tb grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese
3 Tb butter
3 Tb flour
1 cup boiling milk
½ tsp salt
⅛ tsp pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
4 egg yolks
5 egg whites
3/4 cup of grated Swiss cheese, or Swiss and Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 400ºF (200ºC).
Butter the inside of a six-cup soufflé mold and sprinkle with the 1 tablespoon of cheese. Melt the butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour, cooking until they foam together but don’t brown (about two minutes). Remove from heat and pour in the boiling milk, whisking vigorously until blended. Beat in the seasonings. Return to heat and boil, whisking, for a minute. Sauce should be very thick.
Separate the eggs, dropping yolks into the center of the hot sauce and putting the whites in their own bowl. Beat the yolks into the sauce (may be made ahead to this point). Add an extra egg white to the ones in the bowl and beat with the salt until stiff. Stir a quarter of the whites into the sauce. Stir in all but a tablespoon of the cheese. Fold in the rest of the whites. Pour the mixture into the soufflé mold, sprinkle the remaining cheese on top. Set in the middle rack of the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 375ºF/180ºC. DO NOT OPEN THE OVEN for at least 20 minutes. Bake about 35 minutes, until puffed about two inches over the rim of the mold and nicely browned. Serve immediately.
More about Hilary Reyl and Lessons in French:
Order a copy of Lessons in French (Amazon)
(All non-soufflé photos courtesy of Hilary Reyl.)