Soufflés, gratins, and terrines are ideal first-course appetizers that can set the tone for a unique evening. There is something special about offering your guests delicious food in individual ramekins or dishes. It’s like presenting a small gift to each of your friends.
Sit-down appetizers don’t have to be complicated or unusual, but they can reflect your thoughtfulness and cooking talents.
Show it off
A sit-down dinner is also an opportunity to show off your linens, pretty glasses, and place settings. Remember them? — hidden on a dark shelf above the fridge, or in a box under your bed. Find your nice things, brush them off, and use them. I like white tablecloths, plates, and candles.
Food is the focus and color on your table. Beautiful style is simple, clean, and inspiring. We seek comfort and warmth during these dark, cold months, and getting together around a dazzling table with amazing food is a bright light.
Get into soufflé
Eating soufflé is an experience. The name itself makes us think of a certain beloved French chef, and the visual is unmistakable. Separating eggs in order to reincorporate them in completely different states is puzzling but it works.
A béchamel/yolk base of savory cheeses and herbs, folded in fluffy whites, creates puffed baked eggs. Classic cheese soufflé is an opener to the special-occasion dinner -– it is February, after all …
Cooking them right
I used to think deflated soufflés were caused by the slam of the oven door after checking it as it bakes. Almost, but not quite. In the cooking time of a soufflé, the first twenty-two minutes are crucial. This is when the ingredients are baking and forming its structure.
The egg mixture is delicate during this time, and losing heat — when you open your oven you can lose up to 100 degrees — disrupts the cooking process, and the slam of the door knocks it down. It’s safer toward the very end of the cooking period to check on your soufflé. Otherwise use the oven light!
Ramekins have several uses. You can cook and serve food in them. They’re great as prep dishes for ingredients. People use them to serve condiments: dipping sauces, mustards, jellies, olives look very nice in white. I like them for small-portioning my snacks. The amount of nuts, like almonds or pistachios, which fit into ramekins, is about a half cup.
Classic Cheese Soufflés in Individual Ramekins
- 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2½ tablespoons unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons unbleached all purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon salt
- pinch of ground nutmeg
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1 cup coarsely grated Gruyère or sharp cheddar cheese
- 5 large egg whites
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Butter 6 individual ramekins. Add Parmesan cheese to each dish, rotating at a tilt, coating bottom and sides.
- Heat milk in heavy small saucepan over medium-low heat until simmering.
- Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk until mixture begins to foam and flour loses its raw taste (about 3 minutes — avoid browning). Remove saucepan from heat for 1 minute.
- Pour in warm milk, whisking until smooth. Return to heat and cook, whisking constantly until thick (2 to 3 minutes). Remove from heat, and whisk in paprika, salt, and nutmeg.
- Add egg yolks 1 at a time, whisking to blend after each addition. Sprinkle in cheese and whisk to incorporate. With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, scrape soufflé base into large bowl. Cool to lukewarm.
- Using electric or stand mixer, beat egg whites in a clean, large bowl until stiff but not dry (whites that are too dry cook and taste grainy).
- Fold ⅓ of whites into the soufflé base to lighten. Fold in remaining whites in 2 additions. Transfer batter to prepared dishes, divided equally.
- Set dishes onto the sheet pan, and place in oven on the lowest rack level. Immediately reduce oven temperature to 375°F. Bake until soufflés are puffed, tops golden brown, and center moves slightly when dish is shaken gently (about 25 minutes). Avoid opening oven door during first 20 minutes.
- Serve immediately.