Brunch is a puzzle. People arrive starving and over-caffeinated, having put off breakfast in anticipation, and making due with extra coffee instead. Brunch has to satisfy the taste for breakfast, but also rise to the task of lunch. On a personal note, I don’t want to have to wake up at dawn to start prepping for it, especially on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I was already feeling as though I’d been lost for the previous 10 days in a Fantasia/Ground Hog Day scenario: no matter how much I cleaned up, the kitchen remained a mess. (Recall Mickey schlepping bucket after bucket of water only to be faced with an insurmountable tide…) Brunch. I want to impress, but I also want to sleep in. The answer: The Soufflé.
Just look at them, hot and steaming and practically glowing. I challenge anyone to stifle the involuntary moan of pleasure you will positively need to emit at the sight and smell of these emerging from the oven. And they are so easy. Really. Easier and far more impressive than an omelette or quiche. And though I do love a good frittata, the souffle is like a frittata with a push-up bra. One is Fruit-of-the-Loom…the other, Victoria’s Secret.
I used Gruyere, a mild and nutty cheese, but you could employ almost any kind of cheese…Cheddar, Swiss, Gouda, Brie, Feta…and add savory items such as crisped bacon, smoked salmon, sauteéd mushrooms, spinach or minced vegetables. I kept it simple with the Gruyere and some shredded Parmesan on the bottom of the buttered ramekins to provide a solid, cheesey base.
Then it’s a simple matter of separating eggs, making a roux and beschamel (melting butter, adding flour, then adding milk), mixing the cheese with the yolks and the beschamel, whipping egg whites, gently combining the whole mixture, and filling up the ramekins.
The entire prep time is under 25 minutes and you can even do some of it ahead, (the part before incorporating the whipped whites), and pull it all together and bake 20 minutes before your guests arrive. You want to pull these out of the oven with an audience…a hungry, oohing and aaahing audience ready to sit down immediately and eat. Sounds like brunch to me!
Serving note: These would go nicely with a lightly dressed mixed green salad, maple-apple sausage and crunchy warm rolls and butter. And this is not just for brunch…in a slightly larger ramekin, with a side of soup or salad or both you have a great, warming, lovely dinner with these too.
adapted from Grace Parisi, Food & Wine
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus additional for greasing ramekins
1/2 cup shredded/grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne, or a good pinch
6 large eggs, separated
8 oz coarsely shredded Gruyere cheese (about 2 packed cups)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1. Preheat the oven to 400° and brush seven 1-cup ramekins with butter. Lightly coat the ramekins with 2 tablespoons of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and set them on a sturdy baking sheet.
2. In a medium saucepan, melt the 4 tablespoons of butter. Whisk in the flour and cook over moderate heat for 1 minute. Whisk in the milk and cook over moderately low heat until smooth and very thick, about 2 minutes. Stir in the salt and cayenne. Off the heat, whisk in the egg yolks. Let cool slightly. Transfer to a large bowl and stir in the Gruyère.
3. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar at medium-high speed until frothy. Increase the speed to high and beat until firm peaks form. With a rubber spatula, fold the egg whites into the soufflé base until no streaks of white remain.
4. Spoon the soufflé mixture into the ramekins, filling them to 1/2 inch below the rim. Run your thumb inside the rim of each ramekin to help the soufflés rise evenly. Sprinkle the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano on top and bake in the bottom third of the oven until the soufflés are puffed, firm in the center (not runny) and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Serve immediately.
The recipe can be prepared through Step 2 and refrigerated overnight. Remove from fridge and allow to warm up for at least 20 minutes before proceeding. Whip whites and gently fold into yolk mixture just before you want to bake them…you don’t want to lose any of that beautiful “loft” from the whipped whites by letting them sit around too long. Resist opening the oven to peek at them, let them bake for the full 20 minutes, (unless your oven runs really hot) or peek only through the window, as opening the oven may result in them dropping…