The fluffy egg cake known as a soufflé can be made both sweet and savoury depending on the flavourings incorporated. In French, the word soufflé is the past participle of the verb souffler that translates to ‘to blow up’ – exactly what a soufflé does when it bakes. The method of creation is related to that of a meringue and the dish dates back to the 18th century. Often considered to be a fussy recipe, the soufflé is actually quite resilient and as long as whipped egg whites still retain some air they will not collapse. It is only when the soufflé cools that the dish will slump and so a quick oven to table service is essential. An old kitchen fable states a loud noise will cause a soufflé to fall but according to Howard Hillman in Kitchen Science ‘Though many a cook has blamed the collapse of a souffle on the spouse who slammed the kitchen door, the force of the shock waves from that deed is too weak to pop more than a few air bubbles, if any at all.’

Jean-Siméon Chardin, Still Life, c.1732
oil on panel, 17.1 x 20.96 cm, Detroit Institute of Arts

Jean-Siméon Chardin is an 18th-century French artist notable for his still lifes and interiors. He painted his subjects true to life in a quiet simplicity that was in direct contrast to the opulent extravagance of his Rococo contemporaries. Stylistically, Chardin mirrored his work on that of the 17th-century Dutch artists and enjoyed immediate success after his acceptance to the French Academy in 1728. In Still Life, the objects on the table are softly lit with thick impasto paint which marked a stark contrast to the smooth translucent layers of paint and spot-lit ingredients by the Dutch artists Chardin regarded. As an artist his ‘pure painting’ influenced the work of Cezanne, Manet, Braque and Matisse who copied many of his paintings at the Louvre.

{Leek & Gruyère Soufflé}

adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cooking from the Farmers’ Market
serves 6-8 people

1 stick of unsalted butter, divided
1 1/2 c Gruyère cheese, grated
1/2 c Parmesan cheese, grated
2 TB olive oil
4 leeks, cleaned and thinly sliced
salt & pepper
5 TB flour
2 1/2 c heavy cream, warmed
6 eggs, separated

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F and position the rack into the top third. Generously coat the inside of a glass or ceramic baking dish (I used a 9 x 12 inch glass dish) with butter and evenly cover the bottom of the dish with 1/2 of the Gruyère cheese.

Warm the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat and begin to cook the leeks. Sprinkle in the salt and pepper to season the leeks and sauté until tender, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and place in a bowl to cool.

Return the pan to the stove top and turn the heat down to medium. Melt 5 TB of the butter and add the flour, whisking for 1 minute to form a roux. Slowly add the cream, whisking to keep lumps from forming. Keep whisking for 4 minutes, until the sauce becomes smooth and thick. Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl. Slowly add the egg yolks, one at a time, stirring between each addition. Mix in the remaining cup of Gruyère cheese, 1/2 cup of Parmesan and leeks. Set aside.

In a large clean and dry bowl, beat the egg whites for about 5 minutes until stiff peaks form. Carefully using a rubber spatula, fold a quarter of the egg white mixture into the leek mixture. Once incorporated, quickly stir in the rest of the egg whites so that no white streaks remain. Pour into the prepared dish and slide into the oven. Bake for 25 minutes until the soufflé is golden brown. Serve immediately.

The soufflé was made with the expert guidance of my friend Monica, thank you so much!