French Recipe: Paule Caillat's 3-Cheese Soufflé

I have to confess that until recently I did not understand all the fuss over soufflés. They seemed finicky, a lot of work, and not terribly appealing. Why not just have a nice frittata — it's so easy. Well, that opinion changed last week when I had a tender, melting cloud of creamy cheese and egg — the perfect marriage of dairy. Here's one more takeaway from my class and tour with Paule Caillat in Paris: Paule's 3-fromage soufflé recipe.

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A soufflé is actually quite a simple, elemental thing. It is made of a basic white sauce or Béchamel with egg yolks. Then the separate egg whites are whipped until stiff and gently folded in. Pour everything into a soufflé dish, and bake. Tada! A fluffy, airy, creamy dish that showcases the taste of cheese better than almost anything else I know.

Paule was adamant on the order of things, when it comes to a soufflé: Le soufflé n'attend pas, on attend le soufflé — "The guests wait for the soufflé — the soufflé does not wait for the guests!" Yes, this is the way it should be — the guests sit down and wait patiently while the soufflé finishes its magical rising act in the oven.

I have not made thousands of soufflés the way that Paule has, but I am about to embark on some serious soufflé work this fall. This old basic is so delicious for fall and much easier than I thought. Why not try it too?

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Paule Caillat's 3-Cheese Soufflé

serves 6

For the sauce Béchamel (thick)
6 tablespoons (50 grams) flour
3 1/2 tablespoons (50 grams) butter
1 1/2 cup (350 grams) milk

For the filling
4 eggs (3 whole eggs + one egg white)
1/4 cup (50 grams) grated comté cheese
2 tablespoons grated French Gruyère cheese
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
Salt, pepper, nutmeg, cayenne or Piment d'Espelette to taste
Butter and grated parmesan for the molds

This is a base. You can add any flavor to your soufflé such as: other dry cheeses, herbs, mushrooms, asparagus tips, ham, crabmeat, shrimp or fish, providing everything is cut small and cooked as necessary before adding to the soufflé.

1. Line the soufflé mold with butter, sprinkle with some finely grated Parmesan while the butter is still warm and set aside. [Note: Paule does not specify a mold size, but I believe she used a 2-quart mold for this recipe. The batter can also be divided evenly among 1-cup individual molds.]

2. Make a thick sauce Béchamel with flour, butter, and milk. [Note: See instructions here on cooking a roux. Add the milk to it and whisk and cook until smooth and quite thick.]

3. Separate the eggs, add the egg yolks to the above mix one by one. Mix well (you now have a Sauce Mornay).

4. Add the grated cheeses, ground pepper, nutmeg or cayenne. Taste and check the seasoning.

5. Place the egg whites in a very clean bowl, make sure there are no traces of yolk, start beating at average speed then increase until stiff. Fold them into the mixture carefully so that they do not lose their consistency but are completely absorbed.

6. Meanwhile turn the oven broiler on, and when the soufflé mold is filled, place it under the broiler for 3 to 4 minutes, until a light crust forms.

7. Switch back the oven to 400°F (200°C) and bake for 20 to 25 minutes depending on size of the mold.

8. Serve immediately.

Visit Paule Caillat: Promenades Gourmandes in Paris

Related: The Perils and Joys: Cheese Soufflé

(Images: Faith Durand)

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