As we were getting to Memorial Day this year, I was thinking about all of the holidays I could talk about. This kept me deep in thought. Then, I tried thinking of the various ways I could come up with to talk about holidays. I wasn’t sure whether standing on my head was a good way to discuss them. But I knew underwater wasn’t going to work. Then a lightning bolt struck me and I decided, between dribbling into a cup, that writing about food holidays would be a fun way to kill two birds with one stone. (Please don’t dig up the parakeet in my back yard. It’s not pretty.)
We often talk about the major holidays. And we talk about the food on those days. But we don’t often speak about the food holidays unless some morning talk show host is telling us about them at some ungodly hour of the morning. And all we can hear is: “bleh blah bluh . . . food . . . bleh blah . . . dessert . . . bloh bluh.” So I decided I would spend time talking about the food holidays that surround us. (Think the force. See. Now you can blame something else for your food cravings.) But I wanted to keep this current, so this blog series covers current food holidays.
From there, I needed to start planning. So when I got to think about what food I was choosing for this week’s holiday, National Cheese Soufflé Day screamed out to me. It’s probably because it’s the most difficult recipe I have ever attempted making. And it was one of the more shocking successes that I have ever had in a kitchen. What’s worse, I didn’t even get to share it with anyone. Primarily, it was because of my own lack of understanding about soufflé. I thought that if you made it right then it would stay up. But a soufflé is really the cooking universe’s equivalent to a butterfly out in the world. It’s only perfect for a short time. And then it flattens faster than a can of Pepsi left out in the Arizona Desert at noon . . . in July.
So how did the cheese soufflé come to be? What made them come up with the magic of cheese and eggs in a light airy dish? And why did the chicken cross the road? We here at the Guide did not want to leave you in the dark, so we figured giving you to answers about two out of those three should suffice. So our crack research team (me) scoured the fake news on the net to bring you the real fake story behind the cheese soufflé. Here is what we found.
The History of the Cheese Soufflé
Originally brought to us by the French, where much of modern cooking seems to originate, we first hear of the soufflé in the early seventeen hundreds. It was attributed to Vincent de la Chapelle. (The precursor to Dave Chapelle, with no family resemblance whatsoever. As far as we know. Because, you know, Jefferson and all.) Of course, La Chapelle was not exactly a genius, as he had a penchant for calling any dish with rice in it, Indian. He would then go on to be a freemason. And of course, that means he was the head of the Illuminati with his head cryogenically frozen in some container until the day he can come and take over the world. Or was that a Pinky and the Brain episode. Hmmmm . . . But I digress.
The soufflé itself did not become popular until Marie-Antoine Careme pushed it in the mid eighteen hundreds. Of course, we know that his parents must have been idiots for naming their child after a French ruler who would have her head cut off. But I guess we cannot all be smart. From his humble beginnings Careme decided that he needed to become the next contestant on the Ace of Cakes. How he was going to survive two hundred years, let alone make one of his masterpieces, he was still working on.
Careme created elaborate constructions made out of sugar, marzipan and pastry, used as centerpieces for his dishes. Luckily for the people of France, he did not have fondant to ruin the taste of all of his tempting dishes. What he did do was construct ornate pieces based on ancient temples, pyramids, and ruins. Why he should choose to make foods looks like ruins, we can never know. But the French ate it up. Which I suppose says something about the French, which I will not speculate upon.
After years of marvelous constructions, Careme thought that he needed to do something in cheese. Hearing rumors of this “soufflé,” Careme thought about making the perfect cheese construction supported by air. This dish would eventually become the cheese soufflé that we know of today. It was made by Careme to frustrate future cooks as well as ensure that all of his dinner guests came to the table promptly so that they could eat the amazing dish before it flattened on them. Even five minutes late and the guest may as well have been served pancakes. From then on, no one was ever late for a Careme dinner.
How Do You Make The Dish?
But how do you make this marvelous dish? What are the basic concepts behind it? And what ever happened to that darned chicken crossing the road? Did he make it halfway yet? Well, we here at the guide have made an in-depth study of soufflé and have found that it basically consists of two separate parts. (None of which includes a chicken crossing a road . . . unless she is laying eggs all along the way.)
Two different parts make up what we know as the soufflé:
- A flavored cream, cream sauce, or puree
- Egg whites are beaten to a soft peak.
I know many of you chefs are staring at me in utter disbelief or incredulity. How could one of the most difficult dishes on the planet, taking the deftest of touches be made of two such simple ingredients? I must be lying to you. Off with my head! But first, let’s have a spot of tea and crumpets.
Before I worry about whether I am having a metal disc slice through my neck, or before you talk to me about having any “necktie parties”, I want to tell you what I learned from watching Alton Brown….. I learned something. I swear. Actually, I learned from him three important things about the soufflé. One, tempering the egg yolks and milk. This is an absolutely essential and delicate task. Screw this up, and you will screw up your dish. So after heating your milk, add a little to the eggs yolks and stir. And then once you have incorporated some of the hot milk into the eggs, slowly pour that mixture into the milk, whisking vociferously.
The second thing I learned is Cream of Tartar, Cream of Tartar, Cream of Tartar. Is that three more things? Maybe. It’s just that important. I know some recipes do not include this. And if you want your soufflé to be souflat, then go ahead. But I wouldn’t do it without this.
Finally, you need to become a really good folder. This does not mean paper airplanes. Although those can be cool too. This means that you need to be able to put a dollop of a mixture into another mixture and instead of whisking it, you scoop from the bottom of the dish and fold it over the top. You do this a few times and then put in another dollop. Do these three things well, and you are golden.
The Recipe . . .
I would love to put it in here and claim it as my own. But I cannot. Alton Brown can do some amazing things. If you have never watched Good Eats, you love food, and you are a nerd like me, you really need to go back and watch a few episodes. In the meantime, I am going to give you the link to his Good Eats® Recipe. You can also find it in his cookbook. It’s even cooler watching on video so you can get a visual of his instructions. What’s great here is I can personally recommend this recipe because I did it myself. Sometimes you wonder whether some famous chef makes a recipe to taunt you. You wonder if they left out a key ingredient or didn’t tell you one step. I can say here, I made it myself. And you can too.
Now, what are you going to do to celebrate National Cheese Soufflé day on Thursday, May 18th? Are you going to find something cheesy? Something eggy? A bit of both? Well, I recommend you do a bit of both and get yourself a cheese soufflé. It maybe hoity-toity, but you will thank me. It’s a cooking marvel, and a taste to die for. Although it flattens in less than 10 minutes. So don’t be late.
Continue the Conversation
What is the best cheese dish you have ever had? What is the best egg dish you have ever had? Or, if you are one of the lucky ones, what is/are your experience(s) with cheese soufflé? Like I said, I have tried this recipe personally and I know that it works. I cannot recommend anything higher than that. I know I have heard horror stories of someone taking a recipe and trying to make it at home and failing, utterly. That’s why I only recommend things I have done well. (Notice I am not doing National Rarebit Day.) So try the recipe, or find some bistro that makes it well. You will thank me.
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Until next time, this is me signing off.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life