There are some activities that I prefer to do alone: I like to travel solo, I don't mind going to the movies by myself, and I most certainly bake alone. It's the product of my time spent in the kitchen that I enjoy sharing with others, but the act of baking, for me, has become a private quiet time when I allow myself to disengage from the world and focus entirely on the task at hand: the measuring, the mixing, the folding, the kneading, the watching. I've become so accustomed to my ritual, that I had forgotten what it can mean to cook with someone else in the kitchen; to create a dish together. Working side by side, passing utensils across the stove, starting and stopping the timers, talking about the boiling water or inquiring about the chopped onion, is nothing if not a bonding experience.
This past weekend, I not only worked with another cook in the kitchen, but found myself in another kitchen entirely, which I found to be refreshing. Maybe I didn't know where the saucepan or the cutting boards were, but a little collaboration goes a long way, especially when making a soufflè.
I had always considered soufflès to be a sweet dish, involving eggs and cheese and cream. Although I was not far off, I didn't consider the other realm of savory soufflès, and I'm so glad I finally did. My co-cook was actually the one who pushed the recipe in front of me, but it took barely an utterance to convince me to try it. I had my apron tied around my waist at the very mention of Gruyère.
What intimidated me, as I'm assuming worries many beginner chefs who come upon a soufflè recipe, is the idea that these dishes are time-consuming, laborious, and easy to royally screw up. I found none of these presumptions to be true. There was a certain amount of prep work for this soufflè, but having a companion by my side to help with some of the chopping and dicing helped quite a bit...in all truthfulness, I think he may have contributed slightly more to that effort, but I did my part with whisking and egg beating. In short, there is nothing to be frightened of in this recipe. And for the effort that goes into it, the result is beyond worth the time spent. It's difficult to put into words just how satisfying this dish turned out, how well the flavors blended together, how creamy and rich each mouthful was. True, we had the advantage of farm fresh San Juan eggs and local Pacific Northwest Gruyère, but the recipe itself is simply one that's perfectly crafted to produce a fine specimen of culinary art. And having the opportunity to sit down with the person I shared a kitchen with, to share each savory bite together...well, that was the sweetest thing of all.
Sweet Potato and Gruyère Soufflè
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
1 cup coarsely grated Gruyère (about 3 ounces)
2 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds)
4 large eggs, separated
1. Butter a 1 1/2-quart soufflé dish and dust it with 1/4 cup of the Parmesan.
2. In a large heavy saucepan cook the onion and the garlic with salt and pepper to taste in the butter over moderately low heat, stirring, until the onion is softened, stir in the flour, and cook the roux, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add the milk in a stream, whisking, and simmer the mixture, whisking, until it is thickened. Remove the pan from the heat, whisk in the Gruyère, whisking until the cheese is melted, and whisk in the sweet potatoes and the egg yolks, 1 at a time.
3. In a bowl with an electric mixer beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they just hold stiff peaks, whisk one fourth of them into the sweet potato mixture to lighten it, and fold in the remaining whites gently but thoroughly.
4. Pour the mixture into the prepared soufflé dish, sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan over it, and bake the soufflé in the middle of a preheated 375°F. oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until it is puffed and golden. Serve the soufflé immediately.