The Cheese Soufflé: Simply Elegant
What is a cheese soufflé? It sounds fancy and is impressive to serve, yet is very easy to make. Learn the best cheese for soufflé and what to serve with it.
The cheese soufflé. Just the thought inspires visions of fine French cuisine. It’s whisked to the table so it doesn’t collapse, delicately and proudly puffed like the toque atop the head of a cordon bleu chef. Inside is a texture so light and airy it will put a cream puff to shame, along with the salty, savory tang of a fine aged cheese. Surely something this opulent is fussy in the extreme; only those rigorously trained professionals could know how to make a soufflé. Mais non, mes amis; c’est façile. (That’s French for “nah, it’s easy.”)
What Is a Cheese Soufflé?
Basically, it’s a white sauce with eggs: first enriched with the yolk and then made fluffy with beaten whites. And it doesn’t have to be a cheese soufflé; other soufflés are made with chocolate, or other flavorings like vegetables and fruits. But our favorite, by far, is cheese soufflé. And for a proper cheese soufflé, you need the right cheese.
The Best Cheese for a Soufflé
While a soufflé is light and airy, you want it accented with a bit of pungency that announces the cheese is there. So this is not the time for that mellow, easy nibbling Havarti or Muenster. You want a cheese with some age and some tang. Most classic recipes specify Gruyère, but many chefs love a sharp Cheddar cheese soufflé. Other assertive options like blue cheese or smoked cheese (any variety) are among the best cheeses for a soufflé, and a goat cheese soufflé is fantastic.
Many recipes also call for grated Parmesan, but that’s more of a seasoning applied to the soufflé pan after buttering. The real heavy lifting, flavor-wise, comes from the cheese that’s added to the soufflé itself. So now that we’ve chosen the best cheese for our soufflé, let’s learn how to make it…
How to Make a Soufflé
To start with, you’ll need a soufflé mold: basically a tallish ceramic casserole 8 inches or so in diameter holding about 1-1/2 quarts. Butter the mold generously (with real butter, please), then add either finely grated Parmesan cheese or breadcrumbs (you know which we prefer). To make the soufflé:
- Make a basic white sauce (béchamel) of milk and flour, seasoned with salt and pepper and, perhaps, a pinch of cayenne and/or dry mustard.
- Stir in egg yolks to make a very rich batter, then stir in your cheese.
- Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites. This adds air to the mixture, which provides the fluff and lift for which soufflé is famous.
- Pour mixture into prepared mold and place on center rack of oven
- Bake at 375 degrees F until soufflé has risen nicely above the rim and has turned a rich golden brown, around 30 minutes.
No, the above instructions weren’t all that exact. We just wanted to give you an idea of how easy it is to make a cheese soufflé. There are lots of easy soufflé recipes out there, but none more famous than the cheese soufflé Julia Child made famous. Julia probably would have used Gruyère, but really any Swiss cheese will work if you want to save money and still get that nutty flavor.
Just remember two things:
1) Don’t peek! Once the soufflé is in the oven, DO NOT open the door. Let it develop that beautiful color.
2) Cheese soufflé, like time, waits for no one. When it’s ready, get it to the table now or risk collapse.
What to Serve with Cheese Soufflé
In a word, salad.
There’s nothing better with the light, airy texture and rich flavor of a cheese soufflé than the crunch and acidity of a salad. Keep it simple with romaine hearts (grilled if it’s the season; you can do it while the soufflé is in the oven), or mixed baby greens—especially something peppery like arugula. Skip the creamy dressing and serve a tangy vinaigrette with balsamic vinegar and olive or walnut oil.
Essentially, while your easy cheese soufflé isn’t really substantial enough to be a “main course”, you want it to be the star of the show. If you’d like to serve some meat, don’t spend a lot of time preparing some big roast or grilling steaks. Instead offer some salumi (like prosciutto or salami) or other charcuterie…or crumble some bacon in the salad.
Some crusty French bread is also nice to serve with your soufflé. If you’d like to serve a soup, again, keep it simple. Stay away from creamy soups; in fact, the perfect accompaniment is a traditional tomato soup—the same one that goes with your grilled cheese sandwich.
If you’re serving wine, most whites will do nicely—think chardonnay or sauvignon blanc—as will a dry rosé. Champagne is perfect, or mimosas if you’re doing brunch. If you really prefer red wine, keep it light. Stay away from the big, tannic cabernets and syrahs and go with a pinot noir or Beaujolais.
Let your guests be impressed with your outstanding culinary skills; nobody needs to know how easy cheese soufflé really is to make.