After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years—La Cuisine: the Cook’s Resource, in Alexandria, Virginia—Nancy Pollard now writes Kitchen Detail, a blog about food in all its aspects—recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources and food-related issues. She and her husband, the Resident Wine Maniac, have recently moved to Italy.
I had never heard of Flat Stanley until a couple of years ago. Stanley is simply a cut-out figure, and his adventures began as bedtime stories by the author Jeff Brown for his son. Flat Stanley accompanies various children (and sometimes adults) on their travels and gets photographed wherever he goes. His adventures have been translated into many languages, as children all over the world joined in sending their paper or cardboard Stanleys on journeys and sharing photos of his travels. According to a Keith Olbermann report, a Flat Stanley was aboard the US Airways Flight 1549 that landed in the Hudson River. He was reported to have been carried safely off the wing in the briefcase of his traveling companion.
The Flat Soufflé
Even though it’s not famous (yet), the Flat Soufflé Project actually began in my head when I first read Jacque Pépin’s wonderful autobiography, in which he recounts his mother’s first adventure with the classic soufflé. Her husband had airily told her that, oh, you make a béchamel, you add the eggs and the cheese and voilà! No one told her that in the classic procedure, the eggs were separated, a béchamel was made with the yolks, the whites were whipped, the fragile mixture baked in a high cylindrical mold and rushed to the table. So she made her soufflé without separating the eggs and poured the whole mixture into a low-sided gratin dish—and it rose, maybe not in the most classic sense, but it was creamy and light. There are several videos about his mother’s soufflé, but this is my favorite (and the picture on the front comes from this video). As Pépin says, it’s easy and no-fuss, and I found out that it travels well to vacation-rental kitchens.
Since we have stayed in some places where the equipment was pretty basic, I have developed a fascination for the Flat Soufflé, a dish that can be made easily with the few items that are almost always available in vacation rentals. This less- lofty soufflé is sturdier, and can hang around in the kitchen until you are ready to pop it into the oven.
Harriet Healy’s chocolate soufflé can be baked in any ovenproof dish that holds about 10 cups or a bit more. It was my first Flat Soufflé recipe, made in a London rental kitchen. In 1953, Harriet was the first student to show up for the cooking classes organized by Simone Beck and her soon-to-be-famous co-conspirator, Julia Child. Beck credits her student with this recipe in New Menus From Simca’s Cuisine, which she co-wrote with Michael James, a very promising chef who died in one of the first waves of the HIV pandemic. Personally, I found that Simone Beck had some of the most interesting and palate-pleasing recipes of the three women who started the cooking school that launched Julia Child’s career.
This savory version is one I recently discovered from a book written by Joanne Weir in 1994 (the same time that the Flat Stanley Project took off internationally) in which she travels around the Mediterranean Sea seeking out different dishes from Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and a few from the Middle East and North Africa. There are no photographs in From Tapas to Meze, alas, but I have happily traveled around the Mediterranean Bowl with some of her recipes, including this one. The yolks and whites are separated, with the latter whipped into a meringue—I actually carry a whisk in my suitcase as part of my traveling batterie de cuisine—before folding them into the goat-cheese-and-onion mixture. You can switch out the goat cheese, but I really like the creaminess and the mild taste. If I make it in a large gratin or baking dish, it will take longer than the baking time in her recipe. She suggests an ovenproof platter as a baking vessel, which then makes it larger and even flatter. I am going to try it on a half-sheet pan.
As for the onions, I follow the recipe from Paula Peck (a very talented cook who worked, I think quite unsung, for both Craig Claiborne and James Beard). Paula Peck was shown this technique by her Polish neighbor, Mrs. Rudski, who topped her pierogi with them. I adjust her recipe to the amount of onions specified for this soufflé, and have used this easy and delicious way to cook onions for other dishes. You chop onions (I do thin half-moon slices) and put them in a heavy fry pan without any fat. Cover and cook over medium heat for around 7 minutes. Add 6 tablespoons of butter (you could switch to olive oil; it will give you a different flavor) and cook uncovered over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are the consistency you like. Season to taste.
Caramelized Onion & Goat Cheese Soufflê
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) olive oil
- 3 medium onions (1½ pounds or 550gr) thinly sliced
- Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 teaspoon stripped, chopped thyme
- 6 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons (95gr) butter (2 teaspoons for greasing platter or gratin)
- 6 tablespoons (50gr) all-purpose white flour
- 1 cup (237ml) whole milk
- 1 cup (237ml) heavy cream
- 5 egg yolks
- 5 ounces (142gr) crumbled goat cheese
- 6 egg whites
- ½ cup (118ml) grated Parmigiano cheese
- Heat the olive oil in a skillet and add the onions, seasoned with salt, pepper and half the thyme.
- Sauté the onions over medium-low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.
- Then uncover and sauté for another 30 minutes. Then remove them to a strainer over a bowl to remove excess liquid.
- Butter a 10×18-inch oval ovenproof platter with 2 teaspoons of the reserved butter and preheat the oven to 450F.
- Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan over low heat and add the flour, stirring with a whisk to combine. This should take about 2 minutes.
- Add the milk and cream to this base and whisk until smooth, and then stir for 2 to 3 minutes to get a thick, smooth sauce.
- Transfer to a bowl and add the drained onions and mix well.
- Add the egg yolks, one at a time, stirring well after each addition.
- Add the goat cheese, stirring until it is blended into the mixture.
- Season this mixture with salt and pepper before baking.
- Beat the egg whites until stiff and then whisk half of them gently into the cheese mixture, then fold in the remaining half of the whites. I use a large whisk to do this rather than a spatula now.
- Pour the mixture onto a platter or low gratin dish and top with the grated Parmigiano and remaining thyme.
- Bake until golden brown.
- I found that in a gratin dish this recipe takes longer to bake than on an open platter
Harriet Healy’s Chocolate Soufflé
- 2 tablespoons (30gr) unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons (25gr) white all-purpose flour
- 1½ cups (355ml) whole milk
- 7 ounces (200gr) mild bittersweet chocolate
- ¼ cup espresso coffee
- 6 eggs separated plus 2 egg whites
- Pinch fine sea salt
- ¾ cup (145gr) granulated sugar (I use India Tree Caster Sugar)
- Powdered sugar for dusting
- Butter a 10- to 11-cup (2½ liter) shallow baking dish.
- In a medium saucepan, melt the butter, then whisk in the flour and stir while cooking 2 minutes to cook off the flour.
- Off the heat, whisk in the milk. It does not need to be at room temperature.
- Return to the heat, bring this béchamel sauce to a simmer, whisking until it thickens and is smooth and then remove from the heat. Set aside.
- In another, larger saucepan, melt the chocolate and the espresso coffee, stirring.
- Separately, whisk the egg yolks.
- Remove this second saucepan from the heat and add the yolks, stirring constantly until the combination is thickened, smooth, and just warm.
- Stir the béchamel sauce into the melted chocolate mixture, whisking until the two mixtures are well blended. This mixture can be covered and stand at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours.
- When ready to bake, stir the chocolate-egg mixture (you may have to reheat it a bit if your kitchen area is cold).
- Preheat your oven to 400F (205C).
- In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form soft peaks. Gradually sprinkle in the granulated sugar as you are beating until you achieve a meringue with firm peaks.
- Fold the warm béchamel-chocolate mixture into the meringue (I use a whisk for this) and pour into the prepared baking dish.
- Tap the baking dish on the counter and put it into the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes.
- At 25 minutes this soufflé should rise about an inch or two above your baking dish.
- If you want a firmer soufflé, bake about 5 minutes longer.
- Dust with powdered sugar. Spoon onto plates and serve.