Tall and majestic, with a crusty exterior and a super creamy interior, this is the quintessential French cheese soufflé. You make it the classic way with a thick béchamel, whisked in egg yolks, stiffly beaten whites folded in along with shredded cheese. You have several options for the cheese depending on the flavor you want. Swiss Gruyère, French Comté, or P’tit Basque, are all excellent choices. Folding the cheese into the soufflé along with the beaten whites, instead of stirring it into the hot béchamel base, assures a light and creamy texture. Baking the soufflé at a hot temperature results in a crust on the bottom, sides, and top.
I like to bake this soufflé in a tall mold because it puffs a good 2 inches above the rim and has a lovely brown crusty top. A 1 1/2-quart charlotte mold, 4 inches tall, works very well. All you need with this is a salad, some good crusty bread, and a bottled of chilled white wine.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for the mold
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan, to coat the mold
4 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk, heated to almost boiling in a small saucepan, plus 1 tablespoon unheated milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
6 large eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded cheese (see suggestions above)
Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and set a baking sheet on the rack. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter the mold and coat with the Parmesan.
Melt the 4 tablespoons butter in a heavy 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. When bubbling, stir in the flour with a wooden spoon. Cook and stir 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and when the bubbling subsides, pour in all the hot milk. Stir well with a wire whisk and return the pan to medium heat. The béchamel will become very thick. Cook, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the egg yolks one at a time, whisking well after each. The sauce will thin out considerably. Scrape the sides of the saucepan and film the surface of the béchamel with the 1 tablespoon of unheated milk.
Whip the whites on medium speed until frothy, about 1 minute. Add the cream of tartar and beat until the whites begin to thicken and increase in volume and form soft peaks. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue beating until the whites form moist, stiff peaks that hold a point. Do not overbeat.
Stir about 1/4 of the whites into the sauce base and fold in the remainder, sprinkling in the cheese as you fold. Fold only until no whites show. Scrape the batter into the prepared mold, filling it about 3/4 inch from the top. Set the soufflé onto the baking sheet in the oven and bake about 25 minutes until the soufflé is well-browned on top, has puffed about 2 inches above the rim, and a wooden skewer inserted into the center of the soufflé comes out clean with a moist tip.
Bring to the table and serve immediately.