When my mother got married, she was 17 and my father was 22. She did not know how to cook, except for a few simple dishes that she had learned from her mother. Yet she was willing and fearless. My father liked cheese souffle, so my mother graciously obliged. She had never made a souffle before, but a friend told her that it consisted of a white sauce (bechamel), grated cheese and eggs — a cinch! To the bechamel, that staple of the French home cook, she added her grated Swiss cheese and then cracked and added one egg after another to the mixture, stirred it well, poured it into a gratin dish, and baked it in the oven. Viola! No one had told her that the eggs should be separated, with the yolks added to the base sauce and the whites whipped to a firm consistency and then gently folded into the mixture. Ignorance is bliss, and in this case it was indeed: The souffle rose to a golden height and become a family favorite. This is a great recipe; it can be assembled hours or even a day ahead, and although it is slightly less airy than a standard souffle, it is delicious.
Butter a 6-cup gratin dish, and set it aside. Melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the flour, and mix it in well with a whisk. Cook for 10 seconds, and add the milk in 1 stroke, and mix it in with a whisk. Keep stirring with the whisk until the mixture thickens and comes to a strong boil, which will take about 2 minutes. It should be thick and smooth. Remove from the heat, and stir in the salt and pepper. Allow about 10 minutes for the white sauce to cool.
Meanwhile, break the eggs into a bowl, and beat well with a fork. Add the eggs, the cheese and the chives to the cooled sauce, and mix well to combine. Pour into the buttered gratin dish and cook immediately, or set aside until ready to cook.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the souffle is puffy and well browned on top. Although it will stay inflated for quite awhile, it is best served immediately.
Recipe courtesy Jacques Pepin, The Apprentice, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003