a moving account

We’ve been doing some serious sorting around the house, long overdue.  I am not speaking figuratively of this sort of startling renovation of the Raisin; I mean going through closets and drawers and the boxes of papers and drawings and photos that have accumulated.  Most of the paper correspondence in these boxes is vintage material.  After the advent of email, the volume of letters from far-flung pals was sharply reduced.  Gone are the days of the little thrill when you recognized (or didn’t) the handwriting on the outside of the envelope, the rustly feel of airmail paper, the interesting stamps.

It’s kind of hard to recall a time before email, but in one of my boxes, I hit a vein of slippery, thermal-paper faxes, and I remembered that when two of my closest friends moved overseas, we began faxing letters back and forth.  Typing these letters made them much easier to read, and one of these friends, when she received the first one, said—well, it’s nice to get the letter so fast, but it’s kind of like you got some kind of drastic facelift.  It’s your voice, but it looks wrong.

Which kind of leads us to speaking figuratively about the Raisin renovation.  It’s a work in progress. I dreaded taking it on, and I put it off, and then it became sort of inevitable.  Then I was going to wait to make it official until I could make it look nice, but as it turned out I could only wait until I got it to work.  Looking nice will come later, when the hair-loss that resulted from a week of wrestling cyber-gremlins to the ground has rebounded to a degree.  I hope all the following and commenting and pinning works and I would love to hear from you if it doesn’t (and if it does!).

So in honor of the lightness of being—being at peace with works in progress, being nimble and willing--here is a soufflé.  Soufflé is one of those cooking tasks that daunts and alarms.  For all the "it's not like it's" statements about things that are very difficult (ending, generally, with phrases like "brain surgery," "root canal" and "rocket science"), soufflé would definitely serve as an alternative in the minds of most.

The thing is, it isn't very hard.  A little fussy, but in the end shockingly cooperative, and with a very high bang/buck yield on the "CHECK.  ME.  OUT." axis.  When it succeeds, which is likely, you get a fluffy, golden, cheesy puff.  In the unlikely event that it fails, you get a baked frittata.  No big loss there.  It can be prepared ahead and refrigerated until you want it, which no one ever tells you, and if there is some better thing to have with soup I cannot think of it right now.

souffle cups
souffle cups

The little miracle of this soufflé is that it is gluten-free and delivers a little fiber, secretly, in ways no one will ever make note of on the palate, thanks to millet flour.  I will go on record right here to say that I detest millet, and no amount of telling me to toast it before I cook it, or of toasting it before I cook it, seems to have an impact on that. But millet flour is the unsung hero of the gluten-free world, in my opinion.  Not gritty and very neutral in flavor.  I make brownies with it, even for people who are glutenful.

It makes a lovely white sauce (secretly not all that white), which is the basis of the soufflé. In terms of tools, I think the balloon whisk is your best pal here.  It takes all the stress out of folding the whites in, and allows you to be done with it in a snap.


cheese soufflé

adapted from The Joy Of Cooking

  • 4T unsalted butter
  • ¼ c millet flour
  • ¾ t salt
  • dash of cayenne or hot sauce
  • 1 c milk, at room temperature
  • 4 oz cheddar cheese, or a mixture of other cheeses that appeal, coarsely grated
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • about half a cup of very finely-grated parmesan cheese
  • extra butter to grease the baking cups

Assuming you will be baking right away, heat the oven to 475.  Lightly butter six small ramekins or tea cups, and sprinkle some finely grated (a microplane works well for this) parmesan in each cup.  This gives the egg mixture something to climb as it rises, as well as making everything cheesier. Set the cups in a larger dish or on a cookie sheet. Youcn also use a standard glass loaf pan, and bake it all at once

Get everything in order: the grated cheese in a pile, the yolks in a little cup, the whites in a larger bowl.

In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter.  Whisk in the flour, and let this mixture cook, while you stir, for about three minutes.  Dump the milk in all at once and whisk like you mean it, until the mixture is quite smooth and lumpless.  Add the salt and the dash of heat, and continue to cook and stir over medium heat until you have a nice, thick sauce. Remove it from the heat and let it rest a minute. Taste it; thinking about the saltiness of your cheese, adjust things here so you can just taste the salt.

Plop the egg yolks in, one at a time, whisking energetically after each one.  Now whisk in almost all the cheese, leaving yourself a little pile to festoon the tops with in a moment.

Beat the egg whites and a pinch of salt with an electric mixer until stiff.

Using your balloon whisk, plop about a quarter of the egg whites into the yolk mixture, and whisk around to incorporate; this lightens things up so the remaining whites get to retain all their air when you add them.  Now slide int he remaining whites, and gently and swoopingly mix the two substances.

Divide among the prepared cups.  Drop a few bits of the reserved cheese on top.  At this point, you can refrigerate the whole thing, and just take it out about 20 minutes before you want to bake it.

Or you can slide it right into the hot oven.  After ten minutes, reduce the heat to 400, and bake another 20 minutes or so, until puffed and golden and appearing to be set.