What to serve at this year’s Oscar party? I had no clear idea about the right dish until I glanced at a list of the movies in contention.
“Gravity” was the one that jumped out at me. Watching the trailer, I was a little alarmed at the sight of poor Sandra Bullock floating around in space. But I also was inspired by her weightlessness. It made me think of souffles, which are famously light thanks to all the whipped egg whites in them. Thus, these “anti-gravity” – not “anti-‘Gravity’ ” – treats.
A problem remained: How to turn a full-blown souffle into a tasty nibble for a party?
The solution: Make each one small enough to fit into a mini-phyllo shell. These days you should be able to find mini-phyllo shells in the freezer section of your local supermarket. Take them home, fill them and bake them and they’re good to go. Even better, each of these little guys is fairly low in calories – no more than 15 per shell.
If you can’t find them premade, they’re easy to make at home. Just stack four sheets of phyllo dough on top of one other, lightly spritzing each sheet with olive oil cooking spray as you stack. Cut the stacked sheets into 3-inch squares, ease the stacks into the cups of a mini-muffin pan, then bake at 375 F for 8 to 10 minutes, or until they’re barely golden at the edges. Let them cool before filling and baking.
What about that filling? I considered a chocolate souffle or an orange souffle or a broccoli souffle. But I opted for the lusciousness of a cheese souffle because after all we’re talking about the Oscars here, which is not exactly a model of restraint. Still, there’s no reason to chump ourselves, so I went with goat cheese, which is relatively lean even as it boasts tangy flavor and creamy texture. I also added some Parmigiano-Reggiano, because even a little of this rich bruiser delivers big impact.
With the cheeses chosen, making the “cream” sauce was easy: Just thicken some 1 percent milk with a little roux (the classic butter-flour mixture), and flavor it with the cheeses and some Dijon mustard.
Here are a couple of tips about working with eggs whites. First, it’s much easier to separate the whites from the yolks when the eggs are cold. Second, separate them not by swapping the innards from one cracked egg shell to the other, but with your own (very clean) hands. That way you eliminate the possibility of puncturing the yolks with the sharp edges of the shell.
Once you’ve got your whites, it’s best to beat them at room temp. To warm them up quickly, simply put them in a metal bowl set into a larger bowl of hot water until they feel tepid to the touch. Then beat the whites until they’re barely stiff. If you overdo it, your souffle won’t be as stable or high as it could be.
Then again, even if you do overbeat the whites, these little souffles are fairly indestructible. It’s hot melty cheese in a crispy shell. Indeed, when the show is over, don’t be surprised if you walk away with an award for Best Appetizer at an Oscar Party.