Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Joy of Cookbooks - The Six-Minute Souffle

The challenge is to share a cookbook and recipe that started your cookbook collection and share it with the food blogging community. (Check out Alicat and Sara’s Weekend Cookbook Challenge for a round up of treasured cookbooks and recipes across the web.)

Well, Faith Jane’s addiction (yes, the FJ in FJK is for Faith Jane) to cookbooks began with The Six-Minute Soufflé by Carol Cutler. I had other cookbooks before. I learned the basics of white sauces, omelet folding, hamburger shaping and hard boiled egg boiling from circa 1970s versions of Joy of Cooking (volumes one and two) and Craig Claiborne’s Kitchen Primer, but I learned how to become a cook from the Cutler book.

It was only the third cookbook I ever bought (or the fourth, depending how you count the Joy of Cooking volumes), my first hard back cookbook and the first one purchased after I graduated college and hotplates and had my own apartment and an actual stove and oven.

Even today I can recall my sense of discovery and wonder. This woman had lived in France, cooked with the seasons and each of her recipes was preceded by a little story about how it came about. I was charmed. While the combination of tastes and techniques seemed exotic, the directions and ingredients were not intimidating. In some not so subtle ways Cutler forever changed how I looked at food and cooking and creativity. Although I don’t use the cookbook that much anymore, I always keep in near at hand and grab it whenever I just don’t know what to cook. The book became my muse.

I don’t remember the first recipe I cooked out of that book. In those days I was timid about writing in my cookbooks. I made light little pencil marks against the titles of those I tried. I remember a rich cheese and bread pudding cooked inside a pumpkin shell that I served at Halloween, a “one-fish bouillabaisse” which made me feel more like visiting France than any French onion soup ever did, or poulet Yvonne, with it’s page splattered with brandy spills, multiple checkmarks and notes about substitutions and suggestions that now span more than 20 years. The chicken was a revelation to me, moist and rich, each bite partnered with the exotic tang of artichoke hearts and earthy tenderness of mushrooms smoothed by the tomato cream sauce.

The Six-Minute Soufflé went out of print and was repackaged as a paperback called Cuisine Rapide (not to be confused with the Pierre Franey cookbook of the same name).
Over the years I stalked used bookstores and remainder tables, snatching up copies when I found them and always bestowing them as gifts on friends and acquaintances who I would overhear wishing that they knew how to cook. I felt I was giving them a trusted mentor who would show them exactly what to do and not let them down, one who would encourage them to move on and create their own dishes from their own tastes and resources. It’s been years now since I’ve spotted a copy in the dim and dusty crammed aisles of some used bookstore, but I keep looking. I owe it to Carol Cutler and the book.

The Recipe

Supposedly the average cookbook buyer only prepares two recipes from every cookbook bought. I must have prepared dozens from this book. It was hard to pick just one recipe for this challenge, but then I realized that the one I had to share must be the Six-Minute Soufflé. Go back in time with me and remember when cooking a soufflé was exotic and seemed treacherous. Then try this recipe.

Six-Minute Soufflé

“This streamlined soufflé puffs impressively and has none of the notoriously temperamental characteristics of the classic soufflé. It can wait, it can’t fail and it can be held for several hours before going into the oven.” – Carol Cutler

The book actually gives several variations of this method, the one here is my own which substitutes non-fat milk for the cream and adds pesto and sun-dried tomatoes for seasoning. To make Cutler’s cheddar cheese soufflé, use the cream and skip the Tabasco sauce, pesto and dried tomatoes and add ½ tsp prepared mustard and ½ pound of sharp cheddar cheese. The book also has blue cheese and dessert variations.

If you are tempted to devise your own variations, Cutler asks that you “just keep in mind that the basic flavoring ingredient must have some firmness of its own. Spinach, for example is too watery…” I guess the pine nuts and cheese in the pesto in my recipe compensate for the basil’s lack of firmness.

Pesto Soufflé
Serves 6 as a first or main course
Working time, according to Cutler, “6 minutes”
Baking time, 40-50 minutes

1 tbsp butter
6 eggs
½ cup non-fat milk
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
Dash Tabasco sauce (optional)
5 tbsp prepared pesto
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
11 ounces of cream cheese (I’ve only ever made this with full fat Philly brand)
5 sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil, drained and finely chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Butter a six-cup soufflé dish or six one-cup individual soufflé or baking dishes. Set aside.
Place the eggs, milk, pesto, pepper, salt and Tabasco sauce (if using) in the container of a 6-to-8 cup blender. Blend until smooth.
With the blender running, add the parmesan cheese. Then break off chunks of the cream cheese and add it to the running blender. After all the cream cheese has been added, blend the batter at high speed for 5 seconds or until the mixture is completely smooth. Add the finely chopped dried tomatoes and pulse a few times just to incorporate the bits without pureeing them.
Pour the batter into the prepared dish(es).
Bake the six-cup soufflé for 40 to 45 minutes until the top is nicely browned and the center jiggles if you shake the dish. Individual soufflés should bake 15-20 minutes. If you prefer a firmer soufflé, bake until completely set, about 45-50 minutes and the surface is cracked. Serve while still hot.

Note: Recipe can be prepared up to adding the sun dried tomatoes. Keep in blender jar. If refrigerated, allow to come to room temperature and give it a whirl in the blender before proceeding. The recipe can also be made and poured in the prepared dish(es) and wait for hours before baking.

The Six-Minute Soufflé and Other Culinary Delights by Carol Cutler, 1976, Clarkson N. Potter. I found three copies starting at 50 cents each on Amazon. The later paperback reprinting, Cuisine Rapide, 230 Delectable Recipes for Cooks in a Hurry, was going for $1.27

Craig Claiborne’s Kitchen Primer, 1972, Vintage Books. I recently researched this one for a friend and found it in several locations on the web. The hardcover seems to be a bit of a collector’s item. I found the paperback and hardcover versions at prices ranging from a couple of dollars to more than $30. Great illustrations by Tom Funk.

Joy of Cooking abounds. I prefer the mid-seventies version to the new ones.

I was unable to find a website for Carol Cutler, but while searching for one, I came across this quote from her book Pate, from Simpson’s Contemporary Quotations:

“A pâté is nothing more than a French meat loaf that’s had a couple of cocktails.”

I’d love the opportunity to share some cocktails and pate with her. My treat. It’s the least I can do.


Kalyn Denny said...

Hey, I have this cookbook too. You are right, it is a classic.

FJKramer said...

Here's more on the design of this great book:

Anonymous said...

My copy is worn. The slip cover is long gone. It is fraying at the edges. But if falls open to "Poulet Yvonne." The actual souffle's are excellent, too. So many great ideas...