Alton vs. Julia

Reader Linda writes:

I took a look at a video showing Julia Child making the cheese souffle, and she emphasized the importance of not letting the cheese melt into the sauce. She partially folded the bechamel/yolks and whites together before sprinkling in the cheese. If the cheese melts into the sauce, she notes, the souffle will be heavy.

I have made her recipe for cheese souffle before and wondered why you can’t melt the cheese into the sauce and then fold in the whites. Why would allowing the cheese melt in the bechamel before folding in the whites make a heavier souffle? Is there a limit to how much fat you can squeeze into the sauce before it makes a heavy souffle?

I noticed, btw, that a recipe by Alton Brown and a recipe by Grace Parisi (Food and Wine) call for adding the cheese to the sauce before folding in the whites. Both recipes got good reviews. So what is the deal? Does it matter or not?

I’m glad you referenced Alton Brown’s recipe (the #1 result for “soufflé recipe” on Google), because ingredient-wise it is almost exactly Julian Child’s recipe, save for some different seasonings and a good deal more cheese. Process-wise, however, there’s a key difference: the Brown recipe calls for melting all that cheese directly into the béchamel sauce.

What does that do? Primarily, the melted cheese flows around the bubbles once the egg whites are incorporated, holding them up and preventing them from popping. This creates a denser, slower-rising but almost fall-proof soufflé. It is also a soufflé that is considerably heavier on the tongue than Julia Child’s. Why? Well, you can conceive of Alton Brown’s soufflé as a heavy egg-and-cheese foam, while Julia Child’s is a lighter egg foam with pockets of cheese suspended in it.

That may not make a big difference in terms of flavor, but it does make a significant difference in terms of texture. I wouldn’t turn down a serving of either one if they were presented to me on a plate, mind you. I’m just sayin’…

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