On the last night of a recent stay in Paris, my husband and I dined in a small Left Bank restaurant where souffles are the specialty.
We couldn't wait to return to La Cigale, a jewel of an eatery we had discovered several years ago, to sample more of the creative chef's inventions. We ordered a salad and a souffle aux morilles -- an incredible puff of air scented with mushrooms and napped with a luscious cream sauce. For dessert we devoured two sweet souffles, one flavored with Grand Marnier, the other with lemon.
Nestled in our seats against a wall of banquettes, we noticed the excitement among neighboring diners as they swooned over souffles fashioned with herbs, seafood, chestnuts and more. On what was a dreary, rainy Parisian night, the mile-high triumphs brought smiles to everyone's lips.
Souffles are classic. Like a little black dress, a Volkswagen Beetle or a Cole Porter song, they will never go out of style.
Back home I realized it had been far too long since I had prepared a souffle and decided to plan a menu that included one. A Gruyere souffle napped with a tarragon cream sauce I had made years before came to mind. The recipe, from Simone Beck's Simca's Cuisine, was sublime, but what made the souffle unique was that it could be baked and unmolded a day in advance and reheated at serving time. It took the edge off the anxiety often connected with waiting for a souffle to rise.
The individual blue cheese souffles that follow are modeled after Beck's recipe. Baked in small, individual dishes set in a bain marie or water bath, they are unmolded, arranged in a baking dish and refrigerated. The souffles start to deflate even before they are removed from their dishes. But when reheated they rise again slightly.
These piping-hot cheese souffles are delicious served with pencil-thin asparagus spears sprinkled with toasted walnuts and drizzled with melted butter. My guests loved the combination and hinted for seconds.
You can serve the souffles as a first course or offer them as a light entree for a luncheon or brunch. No matter how you serve them, they make a great impression.
Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
Make-Ahead Blue Cheese Souffles With Fresh Asparagus
Serves 8 as a first course
5 tablespoons flour
1 cup whole milk
4 ounces creamy blue cheese, such as a French Fourme d'Ambert, cut in small pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cubed, plus extra for buttering the souffle dishes
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for egg whites
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 egg yolks
4 egg whites
1 1/2 pounds thin asparagus spears, with tough ends cut off and discarded
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped (see Note)
2 tablespoons melted butter, optional
Arrange a rack in center of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Butter generously the insides of eight 1/2 -cup oven-proof souffle dishes, ramekins or custard cups. Cut circles of parchment paper to fit the bottoms, and place circles in the bottoms of the dishes. Butter the parchment papers.
Put flour in medium saucepan and very gradually whisk in the milk, a little at a time, until you have a smooth paste. When all the milk has been added, set the saucepan over medium heat and stir continuously for a minute or longer until the mixture is smooth and quite thick.
Remove the saucepan from heat and whisk in the cheese, butter, salt and pepper. Mix well. Whisk in egg yolks.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer on medium speed, beat egg whites with a pinch of salt until frothy. Raise speed to high and beat until whites hold stiff peaks but are not dry. Fold egg whites into cheese mixture in three equal additions.
Divide mixture evenly among prepared souffle dishes and place them in a large baking pan. Carefully pour in enough boiling water to reach halfway up the sides of the souffle dishes.
Bake souffles in 375-degree oven in water bath until puffed and golden, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool in the pan 5 minutes. Run a knife around inside edges of each souffle dish and then, holding a souffle dish with a tea towel, carefully unmold a souffle and place it, right side up, in a buttered baking dish. Repeat with remaining souffles. (Souffles can be prepared a day ahead. Cool, cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before reheating.)
To reheat: Arrange rack at center position of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake souffles, uncovered, until heated through, 8 to 10 minutes or longer. They will rise again slightly. While souffles are heating, cook asparagus in a large pot of boiling water to cover, until tender, 3 to 4 minutes for very thin asparagus spears; a minute or two longer for larger ones. Drain well, salt to taste, then cover with foil to keep warm until souffles are done.
Serve each souffle on a salad plate and garnish with a small bundle of asparagus spears. Sprinkle asparagus with walnuts and drizzle with melted butter, if desired.
Note: To toast walnuts, spread on a baking sheet and place in 350-degree oven until fragrant and golden, 5 to 8 minutes.