Parmesan & Gruyère Soufflé
The soufflé is a gem of a dish. Whether sweet or savory, it’s the ideal combination of light, airy, and creamy — a veritable cloud of eggy goodness. And it arguably has the most succinctly descriptive name ever: it’s derived from the French verb souffler, which means “to blow” or “to puff.” In honor of our 70th anniversary, we whipped up a classic cheese soufflé (its loftiness alone makes it well-suited for a celebratory centerpiece!) and took an appropriately breezy look into its history.
The earliest mention of the soufflé can be traced back to chef Vincent La Chappelle in the early 1700s. However, according to food historians, the soufflé was perfected by Marie-Antoine Carême in the mid-1800s. As a cook for Paris’ nouveau riche, he had access to updated ovens that were heated by air drafts rather than coal, which was key to the rise — both literal and figurative — of the soufflé. The popularity of the dish only grew as fine dining burgeoned from the early 1900s through the mid-20th century.
In the 40s and 50s, cheese soufflés found their way into the home kitchen thanks to chefs like Julia Child and Irma S. Rombauer. The cheese soufflé became all the more accessible with the advent of pasteurized processed cheeses, like Velveeta and Kraft American, which melted easily and did not curdle when used in hot dishes. (Kraft even published a recipe for "cheese soufflé with a top hat" in a 1948 advertisement.) Many of the cheese soufflé recipes of this era also offered numerous variations, with everything from mushrooms to crabmeat and pineapple (yes, really) added to the base.
In this recipe, we opt for simple ingredients with a touch of modern elegance — there’s not a pineapple ring or block of bright orange cheese in sight. Shallot, fresh thyme, black pepper, and garlic play the aromatic roles, and after a bit of simmering, we strain them out of the roux so the baked soufflé has a nice, smooth texture. For cheese, we go the nutty route with Parmesan and Gruyère, and then round everything out with punchy Dijon mustard, earthy nutmeg, and cayenne for a hint of heat.
Soufflé has an only somewhat-deserved reputation for being fussy. The truth is, as long as you follow the instructions carefully and treat the eggs like you love them dearly, your soufflé will rise just fine! Nevertheless, here are some tips from the test kitchen to help guarantee a successful soufflé-making experience.
After slowly whisking the milk into the roux, don’t worry about bringing the mixture up to a boil; it should thicken into a creamy sauce after a minute or two of whisking over medium heat.
Wait to whisk the egg whites until right before you’re ready to use them — this helps ensure the soufflé will rise. Also, if you over-whisk, the eggs won’t incorporate into the batter properly; under-whisk, and there won’t be enough air to get the soufflé to rise. Instead, you’ll want to find a happy middle and whisk them to a medium peak. What does that mean? When you dip a spatula or whisk into the beaten eggs and then remove it, the whites will stick to it and hold their shape, but won’t be really well-defined. Once the egg whites are the right texture, fold them into the sauce a scoop at a time and as gently as possible so they don’t deflate.
With soufflé, how you prep the ramekin is crucial. Butter alone won’t provide enough grip for the soufflé to rise to mesmerizing heights. So you have two options here: Keep things simple, and don’t grease the pan at all. Or better yet, do as we’ve done and grease it with butter and then dust it with grated Parmesan, which will help the soufflé creep and climb up the sides of the ramekin. Plus, the Parm creates a beautiful, golden brown crust on the outside of the soufflé — the perfect juxtaposition to the rich, luscious center. (And you really can’t beat the caramelly taste of baked cheese.)
Even if it seems like your soufflé isn’t rising, don’t panic! All that creamy, eggy business balloons very slowly over the whole baking period, so just give it time.
Finally, use an oven thermometer, if you have one, to make sure your oven temperature is right on the money at 375°. If you don’t, no big deal; just make sure your oven is fully preheated before sliding the soufflé in there.
Once your cheese soufflé has emerged from the oven, you’ll want to eat it immediately: that glorious, fluffy tower will deflate within five to ten minutes. It can absolutely stand on its own in the center of the plate, but you might also serve it alongside a slice or two of glazed ham and a crunchy green vegetable, like broccoli or asparagus. And here’s one more tip for the road: add a few dashes of hot sauce to your helping — that little bit of heat plays so well with the nutty cheeses!
Parmesan & Gruyère Soufflé
Preheat the oven to 375°. Grease a 1 ½-quart soufflé dish with unsalted butter, and coat the bottom and sides with ¼ cup Parmesan cheese. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the unsalted butter. Add the shallots, garlic, thyme, black peppercorns, and ¼ teaspoon kosher salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallots are translucent, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the all-purpose flour and whisk for 2 minutes, being careful not to let it burn. While continuously whisking, slowly pour in the whole milk and then the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and cook until the mixture is quite thick, 1 to 2 minutes.
Strain the sauce into a medium heatproof bowl, discarding the aromatics. Whisk in the Dijon mustard, a pinch of cayenne pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Whisk in the Gruyère cheese and remaining ¼ cup Parmesan cheese until evenly distributed.
Whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time, until thoroughly combined. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar on high speed until medium peaks form, 2 to 3 minutes.
Gently fold a spoonful of the egg whites into the cheese mixture. Fold in the remaining egg whites, in 3 additions, until fully combined, being careful not to deflate the egg whites.
Gently transfer the mixture to the soufflé dish, and then to the oven. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and the soufflé is firm. Serve immediately.