It’s been a while since we had a soufflé; we guess that we just don’t think of making a soufflé when we decide what to have as a main for lunch or dinner. It’s not because they’re difficult, although they do have the reputation of being so; we just forget how good they are. So, we decided on a soufflé for lunch, but what kind?
We decide to try making one with Swiss chard and Cheddar cheese, figuring that would be similar to a spinach soufflé, but we had no idea how or when to add the chard. Even so, we forged ahead and tried the first thing we could think of. And, you know what? Our instincts were pretty much right.
A no-brainer: this is an egg dish, so go all out on the eggs. We always use eggs from free-range hens, and we think it makes a noticeable difference. While we used a sharp Cheddar cheese, you can easily substitute any other strong cheese that you like. We suggest using a strong-flavored cheese because, when hot, cheese tends to lose flavor.
Procedure in detail:
Prep. Preheat the oven to 400°F and move a rack to the lower third of the oven, keeping all the space above clear. You don’t know how much the soufflé will rise and it would be messy if it rose right into a rack positioned above the soufflé. Butter and flour a soufflé dish if you have one, or, do as we did, and just use a loaf pan. Set aside. Finish up any remaining preparations such as chopping the chard or grating cheese. And don’t forget to separate the eggs so they can warm to room temperature. Room temperature egg whites whip better.
Cook chard. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add bay leaf, nutmeg, and chard. Stir and cook until the chard has released its moisture and most of the liquid has cooked away, about 5 minutes. You might think it’ll be difficult to find the bay leaf in there later, but, if you chopped the chard into fine ribbons, the bay leaf will stand out.
Add flour. Sprinkle the flour over the chard and stir it in. Some of the flour will stick to the bottom of the pan, but just scrape it up. You’ll probably have to scrape flour off the spoon, too. Just keep cooking, stirring, and scraping for about 5 minutes.
Add milk. While stirring, slowly add the milk to the chard mixture. Keep stirring while the mixture thickens and comes to a boil, add salt, and let it bubble away, still stirring, for about a minute. Remove from heat. Find that bay leaf and remove it, then taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
Mix yolks and cheese. While the béchamel sauce cools a bit, quickly stir together the egg yolks and cheese. With all that cheese, it won’t really mix very well; just do your best.
Temper. Adding a hot sauce to egg yolks is known as tempering. The goal is to combine the two without cooking the yolks. The béchamel sauce should still be quite warm. If you just add it directly to the egg yolk and cheese mixture, the yolks will cook and you won’t have a nice, smooth soufflé. So, this is what you need to do: start stirring the cheese mixture as fast and as well as you can, while simultaneously slowly pouring in the béchamel sauce. It’ll be tricky because the sauce has those chard strands and it’s pretty thick. As sauce is added, you can pour a bit faster, and right near the end you should have no problem stopping stirring while you scrape out the pan.
Whip egg whites. Start whipping the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. When you start, you should be able to adjust the speed to medium easily without whites flying out of the bowl. In about 30 seconds, the whites will begin to get foamy, which is the cue to add the pinch of cream of tartar. This pinch will help stabilize the whites and make them easier to whip. Increase the speed to high and whip until the whites can hold stiff peaks but are still glossy, about 2 minutes.
Fold. Switch from a spoon to a spatula, and, in three equal additions, fold the egg whites into the cheese mixture. The first addition will mostly collapse, the second addition will hold up better, and the third should make your batter nice and light.
Bake. Scrape the batter into your prepared pan (it should come close to the top) and bake. If you’re worried that it may overflow while baking (we were), place a baking sheet on the rack below the soufflé. Let bake for about 30 minutes — don’t open the oven until the soufflé is nearly done. The top will be golden and the soufflé should have just about doubled in size, but most importantly, a skewer inserted into the middle will come out clean.
Serve. This is a dish that should be brought out and placed on the table. There’s no point in making such an amazing creating and not showing it off, so bring it out with a large serving spoon and let everyone dig in.
We think we liked this chard and cheese soufflé even better than the goat cheese soufflé. It seemed to have more flavor, and, perhaps surprisingly, more spring in the oven. We don’t think that the extra spring is due to the different cheese or including chard, but we do think that our technique may have improved. One of the best parts of this soufflé was the brown crust on the top and the sides caused by the addition of Cheddar cheese. They were just slightly crispy, and oh, so tasty. Five stars.