Hay Hay It's Donna Day #9: Spinach & Cheddar Soufflé

I did it! My little heart flutters even as I write this. Bear with me and my naïve excitement for a moment. Foodie fears are not stared down into submission everyday. But yesterday was just such a day for me. After much tension and worry, laying awake at night with Donna Hay’s Modern Classics Book 1 on my chest, and praying to all manners of food gods, I finally marched into my kitchen to do it. I hid my phone away, gunned my KitchenAid, and took destiny by the reins. For the first time in my life, I made a soufflé.

Such a big deal over one dish you say? For this girl, a very big deal. Making a soufflé has always been one of my food fears. Anything that deals with handling egg whites is a challenge for me, especially when they play the pivotal role. The dishes (and desserts) I make are rich and substantial. I rarely venture into the “light and airy” part of food land. As much as I’d like to be able to associate myself with “delicate” (and I really, really do!), I, more often than not, gravitate towards “hearty”.

So what was the catalyst that propelled me towards the un-chartered waters of soufflé-making? It’s all thanks to Tami of Running with Tweezers, the host of this month’s Hay Hay It’s Donna Day! She chose soufflés as the theme, challenging us (well, me at least) to push cooking boundaries and get out of the kitchen comfort zone. (She didn’t leave us to wander about clueless though…she left us some tips)

From the moment Tami announced the theme, until I had safely taken a picture of the soufflés, I was a bundle of nerves. I stuck to the original recipe Tami posted like glue…I was not taking any chances. I had my own copy of Modern Classics Book 1 too, so I read and reread the recipe ad nauseum.

I set aside the whole morning to make it, alone, with no interruptions. I quietly went about doing the prep work (I actually really love this part -- so conducive to reflection): grating the aged cheddar, blanching the spinach, measuring out everything. Then I got on with the custard base. No problems there…egg yolk and I get on famously. In fact, this part went on like a dream…and the resulting creamy base was so yummy! There was many spoon-licking moments while musing, “Is this room temperature yet? Hmmm…better have another taste..."

Finally it was time to whip those egg whites into shape. I rolled up my sleeves and stood by the humming mixer. Was it stiff peaks or soft? I can’t tell! Ack! I was faltering. Get yourself together Jo! I turned off the mixer. Stiff or soft you whites are getting folded in…right now! I gained control of the situation once more and gently folded the whites into the cream base, then spooned them into the ramekins I had previously buttered and coated with bread crumbs. Then off they went into the oven…and all I could do was wait with crossed fingers.

I was so nervous at this point that I turned off every single fan in the apartment and closed all the windows. And I live in Manila. And my kitchen is already “naturally” hot to begin with. Sweat trickled down my face as I stared into the gloom of the oven through its glass door. Was it going to happen?

Well, you be the judge. I think they still have a bit of awkward pre-pubescence about them. Not quite all the grace and elegance of the more Audrey-Hepburn-esque soufflés I have seen. But as they came out of the oven, their little tops puffy and proud, my heart melted and I loved them anyway. Even the little guy who, uh, had a minor “accident” as I must have over-stuffed him. So for now, I will settle for…cute :)

Of course, no pudding can be proved without the tasting, and by strange coincidence my best friend K drops in earlier then planned, just it time to sample my achievement! I am happy to report (whew!) that it got a good review from K. I couldn’t have asked for more from my first soufflé…living up to its name, it was light and fluffy (yes!), and delicious to boot! I need to have cheese in soufflé form more often I think. (here’s a great idea for a cheese soufflé from Peabody)

Thank you Tami for being such a great HHDD host and for choosing a fantastic theme! Truth be told, if it weren’t for you, who knows if I would have ever made this. So thank you!!!

(a little side story: I burnt my finger pulling these babies from the oven. I showed the blister later to C hoping for some sympathy, and he quotes Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential about having cook’s hands and that I should be proud. When did he turn into a Bourdain-quoter? And yes, I was a bit proud.)