A perfect soufflé — whether sweet or savory— was my mother's favorite food bar none, the one thing she always ordered when we dined out.
That's why when I was 10 and Mom inconveniently rebelled against the family's Mother's Day breakfast in bed tradition, insisting that it made her feel liked a caged animal, my father suggested we celebrate her with brunch in the dining room instead.
She enthusiastically embraced the new plan. All good, but what to serve? Wishfully, Mom proposed cheese soufflé and even handed Dad a recipe. He looked it over and optimistically proclaimed it child's play. Surprisingly, it turned out to be just that. With me and my younger brother as sous-chefs, it was a huge success and precedent was set for years to come.
So, if you or the mother in your house is primed for a change of pace this Mother's Day, do try this rich and cheesy soufflé. If your egg whites are at room temperature and if, once whipped, you fold them into the base slowly and gently, the recipe is hard to mess up. However, if somehow your soufflé doesn't rise or manages to fall before reaching the table, just call it your "special cheese pudding"; no one need be the wiser and it will still be delicious.
Our golden and (sometimes) ethereally light soufflés for Mom monopolized center stage, but we always served wedges of iceberg lettuce dolloped with Green Goddess dressing alongside, essentially because my father said (loudly and repeatedly) that our mother was a "Goddess with a capital G" and because making the sumptuous, avocado-rich "sauce" was so easy, entailing nothing more than blitzing together a few ingredients in a food processor or blender. If any of you are avocado or iceberg adverse, feel free to serve mixed greens or arugula with a basic vinaigrette instead.
As kids, our culinary attention span had its limits, so dessert was always a no-brainer plate of cookies and a bowl of fresh strawberries — another of Mom's favorites and just coming into their own in May. When we didn't buy cookies at the fab French patisserie around the corner, we baked our own, usually oversized chocolate chip. Whether homemade or store-bought, after indulging Mom with a cheese soufflé, we could do no wrong.
Cheese soufflé for mom
Serves 8 generously
You will need a 12-cup soufflé mold or gratin dish
To prepare the mold:
Approximately 4 tablespoons softened butter and 6 tablespoons finely grated Italian Parmesan
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large clove garlic, minced (optional)
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
large pinch teaspoon cayenne pepper or a few drops of Tabasco Sauce
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
6 egg yolks
10 egg whites at room temperature
large pinch fine sea salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup (packed) coarsely grated Gruyere or a combination of Gruyere and Parmesan cheeses
3 tablespoons finely grated Italian Parmesan for sprinkling on top
Position rack in lower third of oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Generously butter a 12-cup (3 quart) soufflé mold or gratin dish. Add Parmesan cheese and tilt dish, completely coating bottom and sides.
Bring milk to simmer in small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in salt, both peppers and nutmeg.
Meanwhile, melt butter with garlic (if using) in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Cook 1 minute, then add flour and whisk for 2 minutes without browning.
Remove pan from heat and carefully whisk in hot milk. Return to heat and stir constantly until very thick, 1 to 3 minutes.
Remove from heat and whisk in egg yolks 1 at a time.
At this point, you can proceed immediately or cover, cool to room temperature and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Warm to tepid, over very low heat and stirring constantly, before continuing.
Using electric mixer with the whisk attachment in place — and starting on low speed and raising the speed a notch every minute or so — whisk the room temperature egg whites and cream of tartar with a pinch of salt until soft peaks form, about 4 to 7 minutes. They should be not be super stiff.
Stir of the beaten whites into the tepid soufflé base and then stir in the Gruyere .
Then slowly and gently use a rubber spatula to fold the lightened base into the remaining whites.
Gently scrape batter into prepared dish and smooth the top a bit. Place dish in oven and immediately reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees.
Bake until soufflé is puffed and golden brown on top and the center moves only slightly when dish is shaken gently, about 30-40 minutes or a bit less if using a gratin dish (do not open oven door during first 20 minutes). Serve immediately.
Green Goddess dressing
Serves 8 generously
2 large ripe Haas avocados
freshly squeezed juice of 2 lemons (plus optional finely grated zest)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons white wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, peeled
4 oil-packed anchovy fillets
fine sea salt, pepper, and Tabasco sauce to taste
Pulse all ingredients until smooth in a blender or food processor.
Serve right away or store refrigerated—with plastic wrap touching the surface of the dressing—for up to 1 day.
Served dolloped over wedges of iceberg lettuce or alongside grilled chicken, fish or shellfish. Also great on sandwiches.
Oversized chocolate chip cookies
Makes 10 very large cookies
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
cup granulated sugar
1 packed cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs at room temperature
3 to 4 cups best quality dark chocolate chips OR substitute 3 to 4 cups of a mixture of some or all of the following: dark, milk, and white chocolate chips, raisins, dried cherries or cranberries, and very coarsely chopped nuts of your choice
Preheat oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.
Sift flour, soda and salt together
Mix butter, both sugars and vanilla until light and creamy, preferably using an electric mixer. Add eggs and continue to mix until light and fluffy, about 5 more minutes.
Stir in and evenly distribute the chips
Divide dough into 10 large equal balls and chill for at least 2 hours and up to 2 days. Set 3 to 4 balls on each of 3 parchment-lined baking sheets. Press down to about -inch thickness and bake for 15-20 minutes or until done. Cool on a wire rack.