My first impression of the title on the 3” x 5” recipe card was bewilderment. Soufflé sandwiches? I could not recall my grandmother, Jessie, ever making such a thing or trucking with soufflés. Among the recipes of hers, which I had come across, this one really stood out.
First, there is the question of American cheese. I do admit to being a tiny bit of a food snob. American cheese processed food product?!? Are you crazy? I could only recall having purchased this once, at the behest of my aunt who was going to be in Vancouver, when we still had our house there, en route to a cruise to Alaska. My aunt demanded that I stock the American cheese – for calcium, she claimed, to prevent osteoporosis – and a bag of frozen peas, the latter of which were to be applied to her bad knee.
However, I do embrace certain very artificial candies, as childhood favourites, generally seasonal ones: Peeps at Easter time, candy corn at Halloween, spearmint leaves and cherry sour candies often in December – you get the idea. Many people I know are appalled by my weakness for this stuff. Hence, I am not a major food snob. But do I feel guilty about these things? Not really.
As for guilt, Jessie was very adept at its practice. Jessie’s oldest granddaughter, my cousin, sent me a recipe she had received with a letter from our grandmother. At the time, my cousin was living in Paris:
How can you beat that last line, “Yankee, enough already, COME HOME!” for guilt? Good thing a decade later, I lived for only a year in Paris or else I might have gotten such strongly worded epistles, too. In case you were wondering, Jessie lived nearly 19 years after she wrote the piece above.
A guilty pleasure could be the soufflé sandwiches, when made with white bread and American cheese. My first inclination was to substitute fontina or provolone, or the wonderful Canadian Oka cheese; they would melt well with some aged cheddar. This would have made a creamy yet full-flavoured sandwich. I also thought about doing a whole-grain bread. However, I wanted to remain true to the spirit of Jessie’s recipe and avoid guilt. I could imagine the kind of remark she might have made, e.g., “What? You’re too good for American cheese now, Mr. Fancy-Pants?” (Jessie might never have used “fancy-pants”, but you get the idea). Here is a link I discovered for a tempting fancy-pants version of this, if you prefer, from the always reliable and charming Sara Moulton.
For the soufflé sandwich critique and the recipe…
I followed Jessie’s recipe almost exactly, though I only made four sandwiches with a demi-loaf of milk-white sandwich bread (a perfect size, with just eight slices). The advance preparation is so quick – it is refrigerated overnight, so the morning of service just requires a bain marie (“Mary’s bath”, a bigger pan filled with water, into which goes the casserole in this case). Also, I did forget to butter the earthenware casserole I used, but I had no trouble removing the sandwiches. One thing I chose not to do was remove the crusts, and I was glad that I had not; this is a matter of personal taste. My other adaptation was to sprinkle chili powder on top and use black pepper liberally.
For our brunch on the deck, I served the sandwiches with a curried apple chutney I had made last fall, Sriracha sauce, and a delectably tangy raspberry chipotle ketchup by my friend-of-the-blog-that-dare-not-speak-its-name (when said blog is ready for an introduction to the polite society of the blogosphere, it will be an extravaganza worthy of a special, hosted by none other than Miss Diana Ross).
Jim and Kip came over to test the results and helped with food styling for the plated sandwiches. We all agreed that it is a toothsome dish – crisp brown edges for the crusts, with a French-toast-like interior, enrobing a molten American cheese filling, surrounded by a bit of a custard base. There was a textural contrast worthy of a much more complicated dish.
Dress it up or down, the soufflé sandwich will suit the fancy-pants or not-so-fancy-pants in you.
Soufflé Sandwiches, from Jessie’s recipe file
- 12 slices of good quality white bread
- 12 slices of American cheese (or, substitute a combination of one slice either fontina, Oka, or provolone and one of aged cheddar, for the fancy-pants version)
- 6 eggs (or, for a lighter version, 4-5 would work)
- 2 ½ cups milk
- 2-3 ounces butter
- freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- chili powder, to taste
- Lightly butter interior of casserole.
- Put six slices of bread on bottom of casserole.
- Place twelve slices of American cheese (or cheese of your choice) on top, two per bread slice.
- Place remaining six slices of bread on top of cheese.
- Mix eggs and milk until just blended.
- Pour egg-milk mixture over bread, dot with butter, and sprinkle with chili powder and black pepper.
- Place casserole, covered with plastic wrap or a lid, in fridge overnight.
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Pour cold water into bottom of an ovenproof pan larger than casserole (a bain marie, if you are curious, or serious about your culinary terminology).
- Place casserole dish into water bath.
- Bake for 55-60 minutes, until the tops of bread are golden-brown.
- Serve with your favourite condiment and enjoy without guilt.