When Jacques Pépin's mother got married, she was 17 and his father was 22. She did not know how to cook, except for a few simple dishes that she had learned from her mother. Yet, she liked to cook and was willing and fearless.
Pépin's father liked cheese soufflé, so his mother graciously obliged. She had never made a soufflé before, but a friend told her that it consisted of a white sauce (béchamel), grated cheese and eggs...a cinch! Everyone knew how to make a béchamel, that staple of the French home cook. To this sauce she added her grated Swiss cheese and then cracked and added one egg after another to the mixture, stirred it well, poured it into a gratin dish and baked it in the oven. Voila! No one had told her that the eggs should be separated, with the yolks added to the base sauce and the whites whipped to a firm consistency and then gently folded into the mixture. As Poe said, "ignorance is bliss," and in this case it worked: the soufflé rose to a golden height and became a family favorite.
This is a great recipe; it can be assembled hours, even a day ahead. Although it is slightly less airy than a standard soufflé, it is delicious. It works on the same principle as cream-puff dough.
Great Comfort Food Recipes
3/4 stick unsalted butter, plus additional to butter a 6-cup gratin dish
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter a 6-cup gratin dish and set it aside. Melt the 3/4 stick of butter in a saucepan, then add the flour and mix it in well with a whisk. Cook for 10 seconds, add the cold milk in one stroke and mix it in with a whisk. Keep stirring with the whisk until the mixture thickens and comes to a strong boil, about 2 minutes. It should be thick and smooth. Remove from the heat, and stir in the salt and pepper.
Break the eggs into a bowl and beat well with a fork. After about 10 minutes the white sauce should be cool enough to proceed. Add the eggs, cheese and the chives to the sauce, and mix well to combine. Pour into the buttered gratin dish and cook immediately, or set-aside until ready to cook. If setting aside for a few hours, the soufflé can remain outside at room temperature. If assembling a day ahead, refrigerate and bring back to room temperature before baking.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until puffy and well browned on top. Although it will stay inflated for quite awhile, it is best served immediately.
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