julia child, mastering the art of french cooking, julie powell, french cuisine

All Puffed Up and Nowhere to Go

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“The glory and lightness of French souffles are largely a matter of how voluminously stiff the egg whites have been beaten and how nicely they have been incorporated into the souffle base…A fluffy mass of beaten egg white is actually hundreds of minute air bubbles all connected and enclosed by a film of egg white; the bubbles of air expand as the souffle cooks in the oven, and that is what pushes it into its magnificent puff.” – Julia Child

Well, we’ve been socked in for a week and today the snow is finally beginning to melt. Just in time for another round of “wintry mix” tomorrow. Ah, well. I managed to make it to work most of the days this past week, although I did have a mild spin-out on the highway yesterday and thought to myself at least three times, “This is stupid! I’m turning around and going home!” Only there was no place to turn around, and it became easier just to continue the hour-long drive (which, in the snow, became a two-hour-long drive) rather than back-track. I eventually made it, having to pry my hands from the steering wheel after an extremely white-knuckled drive, and I spent the next few hours trying to figure out how to convince my husband to rent a helicopter to come pick me up from work.

Needless to say, by the time I got home yesterday afternoon, I was done with driving. When it came to dinner, we would just have to make something from whatever we had in the house – a trip to the store was out of the question. Luckily, it just so happened we had eggs, Swiss cheese, milk and butter, all the ingredients necessary for Julia’s Souffle au Fromage (cheese souffle). The makings of Salade a la d’Argenson (potato and beet salad) had been marinating in my fridge since Monday, so I decided that would make a good side dish.

Peanut butter or souffle sauce? You decide.

The souffle was surprisingly easy, and I made an interesting discovery. I had always thought a souffle was baked in a crust, like a quiche with a top that would puff up when cooked. Not the case. A souffle is actually just a sauce with stiff egg whites that rises and browns on its own. No crust whatsoever. Huh. Who knew? After preheating the oven to 400 degrees, buttering the inside of a souffle mold and sprinkling the bottom with a little bit of shredded Swiss cheese, I melted butter and flour together on the stove. Off heat, I added a cup of boiling milk and stirred the mixture together with a wire whisk. At this point, the sauce looked like peanut butter and I was feeling a little skeptical.

I sprinkled in some nutmeg, salt and pepper, then separated four eggs in two bowls, whisking the egg yolks into the sauce pan. I added another egg white to the other bowl and sprinkled in some salt, then used an electric beater to whisk the eggs until stiff peaks formed. I stirred a big spoonful of the whites into the sauce, then folded in the rest of them. This thinned out the sauce quite a bit, and the foamy eggs made it light and fluffy. I stirred in about a cup of shredded Swiss cheese, then turned the sauce into the souffle mold. I added a little extra cheese to the top of the sauce, then set it in the middle of the oven, immediately bringing the heat down to 375. I let it cook for about 30 minutes while I finished the potato and beet salad.

Marinating potatoes and beets

Earlier in the week, I had boiled and diced potatoes and mixed them together with canned beets in a small bowl. I made a batch of Julia’s Sauce Vinaigrette (French dressing) – a simple mixture of wine vinegar, salt, pepper and olive oil – and drizzled it over the potatoes/beets. I tossed it all together, then let it sit in the fridge to marinate. I had also cooked peas and carrots to add later, keeping them in a ziploc bag until I was ready for them. All I had to do last night was whip up a batch of Mayonnaise aux Fines Herbes (mayonnaise with green herbs). This was made by beating egg yolks in a glass bowl, then adding wine vinegar, salt and prepared mustard. I slowly drizzled in olive oil as I continued to beat the mayonnaise, then added oregano for flavor.

Doesn't it look pretty?

I poured this into the bowl with the potatoes/beets and then stirred in my carrots and peas. I gave the salad a good toss with a wooden spoon, and it was done. It looked beautiful! The bright purple of the beets was a lovely contrast to the bright green and orange of the peas and carrots. Even if this dish didn’t taste good, it sure looked good. This salad is served cold, and while it takes a few steps (with the vinaigrette and mayonnaise), it’s generally pretty easy to whip up.

After 30 minutes in the oven, the souffle needed five more minutes to finish rising. When I took it out, it was puffed up and turning golden, and it looked great! I let it sit for a minute, during which it slowly began to deflate a bit, and I used a big spoon to serve pieces onto plates. I added a scoop of the Salade a la d’Argenson, and (just because I had it in the fridge) a side dish of leftover chili.

Profile of the souffle, all puffed up and lovely.

We sat at the table to give these new foods a try – I was a little leery. I didn’t trust the peanut butter color/texture of the souffle sauce during the cooking process, and I’ve never been a fan of beets. At least we had chili…just in case.

But as it turned out, the meal was actually really good! The souffle was light and fluffy, thanks to the egg whites, and tasted cheesy and salty. The texture was a little dough-y and could have used something in the filling to add some variety, but overall I liked it. It seemed to be cooked well – the sauce had formed its own light crust around the sides which was golden and yummy. I’m looking forward to trying more variations from MTAOFC.

Salad, chili and souffle

The salad was surprisingly good. I didn’t much care for the mayonnaise on its own. Because it’s a mustard base, it’s really tangy – I like the good ol’ white stuff in a jar, personally. And the vinaigrette was a little heavy on the olive oil for my taste. But when everything came together in the same bowl, all of the flavors worked well together. The carrots and peas really added a lot to the flavor and texture and were probably my favorite part. The beets, which I expected to add a bitterness to the dish, were hardly noticeable. The vinaigrette and mayonnaise gave the salad a slight bite of acidity, but it wasn’t unpleasant – just kind of tangy. This would be a great summer side dish, perfect for a picnic or outdoor barbecue. Give it a try!

All in all, we give this dinner two thumbs up. It wasn’t super fancy, but it filled our tummies without having to venture out into the ice and snow for groceries. I’ll bet you have most of the ingredients lying around your kitchen. (Don’t have a souffle mold? No worries! Just use a pyrex bowl – no big deal.) If you’re looking for something different to try and don’t want to make an excursion to the grocery store, look up Julia Child’s Souffle au Fromage and see what you think.

Stay in and stay warm this weekend!
– Jessica

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