The Handoff: Cauliflower and Sage Soufflé
by Sarah A. Maine
In my Tuesday post I mentioned that the fritters in Brianna’s Butternut Fritters with Lentils and Spinach inspired me to venture into baking territory – specifically soufflé territory. Once I had made that decision I was someone paralyzed with fear: now I actually had to make a soufflé, one worthy of sharing with RecipeRelay readers no less. I resolved to give it my best effort and keep doing it until I got it right. I got lucky on my first try. This was mainly the result of thorough research and careful (and mostly calm) preparation.
I owe the success of this dish to information gleaned from the Joy of Cooking, Mark Bittman’s How to Eat Everything Vegetarian and the Silver Spoon. The JoC and How to Eat Everything both have clear sections on soufflé how-to’s (JoC 1997 pg. 228, How to Eat pg. 185). The Silver Spoon doesn’t coddle you with that kind of stuff but it does have numerous soufflé and béchamel sauce recipes (Silver Spoon béchamel pg. 50-51, soufflés pg. 174-178) that really illustrate the scope of what is possible with a few changes to the same basic ingredients.
This brings me to the major thing that I learned about soufflés – they have a three part structure, and as long as you take your time with each part then you are headed for success. The first part of a soufflé is a béchamel sauce: essentially butter, flour and milk. The next part is a custard base made by blending the béchamel sauce with egg yolks and cheese along with your chosen herbs and vegetable ingredient. Finally you integrate the custard base with fluffy whipped egg whites which lighten and aerate the custard, lifting it into a soufflé during the baking process. Once I had broken the soufflé into these elements in my head I felt much more confident about forging ahead. I followed the basic béchamel sauce from the Silver Spoon (pg. 50) and used How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (pg. 186) for the framework of my custard as well as baking instructions. Bittman’s soufflé is a spring dish made with fresh peas and mint, I exchanged the peas for cauliflower and substituted fresh sage for the mint leaves. Fresh sage keeps for a long time in the fridge, I am actually still using the bunch that I bought from Maxwell’s farm stand at the Union Square Greenmarket for my Herbed Roasted Chicken with Apple, Butternut Squash & Leek Purée.
Once I understood the steps that go into making a soufflé I realized I needed to get organized before I started to cook anything. Anything that I could prepare in advance, I did. This included steaming the cauliflower, grating the cheese, separating the eggs and portioning out the milk and flour. I had a veritable lineup of bowls and measuring cups awaiting their turn in the cooking process. This not how I normally cook but it made everything flow very nicely, allowing me to keep my attention on layering the ingredients for each part of the process.
Cauliflower and Sage Soufflé
Prep time: 30-40 minues
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 2 1/4 cups milk
- 1 pinch nutmeg
- salt and pepper, to taste
Custard Base & Egg Whites:
- 6 eggs, separated
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Podda Classico cheese (or substitute any Parmesan-style hard cheese)
- 2 cups tightly packed raw cauliflower, cut into small florets (makes about 1 1/4 cups cooked cauliflower)
- 2 Tbs fresh sage leaves, chopped
- 1 pinch cayenne
- Steam the cauliflower florets for about 7 minutes until just tender, remove them from the steamer and set them aside to cool.
- Grate the cheese (1/4 lb makes about 1/2 cup) and set it aside.
- Separate the egg yolks from the whites and set them both aside.
- When the cauliflower florets have cooled, purée them in a blender or food processor and set them aside as well.
- About 1 hour before you are ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 375ºF.
- Preparing the béchamel sauce:
- Melt the butter in a deep pot over medium heat.
- Add the flour and whisk it into the butter.
- Add the milk, whisking constantly until the mixture begins to boil.
- Lower the heat, allow the sauce to simmer gently until the mixture thickens, stirring occasionally for about 15 minutes.
- Add the nutmeg and the salt and pepper to taste.
- Let the béchamel cool for a few minutes then add the egg yolks, cheese, chopped sage and puréed cauliflower. Congratulations! The custard base of your souffle is done – now onto the egg whites.
- Beat the eggs in a large metal or ceramic bowl. You want them to be shiny and firm enough to hold real peaks. If they become clumpy, stiff and watery you have beaten them too much and should start over. I recommend taking it slow and checking the formation of peaks often.
- Once your egg whites are ready, take about 1/3 and stir them into the custard base to lighten it up a little bit.
- Using a large spatula gently fold the remaining egg whites into the custard.
- Grease a deep baking dish with butter (I used a 3 1/2 quart cast iron pot).
- Transfer the souffle mixture to the prepared dish and bake for about 30 minutes until the top is nice and brown. Check the center with a thin skewer, if it is still quite wet bake for another 5 minutes. If it is just moist then your souffle is done!
- Serve immediately!
Even after discovering the relative ease of making the soufflé I would still classify it as a dish to be served for special occasions and holidays. The custard base can be made a few hours ahead of time and stored in the fridge until you are ready to start cooking. Just be sure to allow it to return to room temperature before folding in the egg whites. This little trick qualifies it for a spot on the holiday table – any dish that can be partially prepared ahead of time is helpful when you are juggling multiple dishes. Also, it is just so darn impressive looking that guests are sure to be awed by your cooking prowess. One last thing I would like to mention: I made a very traditional soufflé, all dairy and wheat flour. I thought about experimenting with alternative ingredients but in the interest of mastering the process I decided against it. I did some research on vegan options but found almost nothing. I am also not sure how the dish would react to milk alternatives or even to gluten free flour. These are all explorations for another recipe. If you have any experience or suggestions adapting soufflé recipes for restricted diets please let me know so I can try them out. Happy soufflé-ing!