A holiday recipe inspired by Chef Ed Bugia and my favorite queso de bola.
During the holidays, queso de bola (QdB) is one of those foods I can’t stop thinking about – or eat enough of. I’m constantly looking for new ways to incorporate it with other foods and use it as an ingredient in my holiday baking.
Not too long ago, I’m talking to Chef Ed Bugia (of Pino fame), rhapsodizing about my favorite QdB foods. I’m expounding on how so very cool QdB is with bibingka, one of those no-brainer, gotta-have-it-this-Christmas foods, when he suddenly interjects, “I make a good queso de bola bibingka soufflé.”
A lengthy silence ensues as I absorb what he’s just said, my brain processes the myriad possibilities of pleasure brought on by a dessert like that. Obviously, no time is wasted in setting a “bake a bibingka soufflé day.”
Soufflé ingredients – aka mise en place.
A soufflé is a source of terror for some cooks, it being the subject of numerous stories involving dramatic risings and suspenseful sprints to serve it before the darn thing collapses. Really just beaten egg whites folded with a denser, flavored mixture, a properly done soufflé rises high above its rim. Its airy exterior is crusty and golden brown, the stark opposite of its lush, loose center bursting with flavor. But it can be temperamental and pose its own difficulties. The first time I made a soufflé, the only comment I received was, “Nice bread, Lor.” Good grief.
We’re in Ed’s kitchen. He’s explaining his inspiration for this soufflé as he gets ready to grate the cheese. “I first tasted a queso de bola bibingka soufflé at C2 and I liked it so much I made my own.” In our cooking and baking, Marca Piña Queso de Bola is our preferred cheese ball. He likes it because it’s consistent in quality and I like it because of its distinct flavor, mild and nutty and not too salty. Of course there’s the nostalgia factor, too. At my lolo’s Noche Buena table, slices of Marca Piña Queso de Bola took centerstage with big-as-plates ensaymada and slices of ham. Now that I’m an adult, it’s the only cheese that graces my Christmas table and I hoard balls of it during the holidays so that I can bake with it throughout the year.
Grating the Marca Piña Queso de Bola. Using the medium grind on the grater produces cheese that’s fluffy and highly aromatic. Whisking the soufflé batter. This shot just freaks me out: how can you not use a measuring spoon when adding extract? Don’t omit the pandan extract however. It adds an incomparable element to the soufflé. Ed throwing sugar into the soufflé batter. At this point, I want to throw a measuring spoon at him.
Up and under, up and under. Folding the egg white base into the soufflé batter.
As Ed goes about making the soufflé, I’m alarmed at his rather cavalier attitude to measuring—the man doesn’t measure! I’ve always been attracted to baking because of its precision but at the Pino Kitchen Studio, everything they do seems to fly in the face of that fact. I see not a single set of measuring cups or spoons, although there’s a battered kitchen scale on the counter. Ed’s actually chuckling and poking fun at himself as he sprinkles sugar into the egg whites, showers queso de bola into the soufflé batter, and thins out the crème anglaise with nary a measurement tool. My fastidious side is screaming but I’m too busy taking pictures and scribbling down notes so I go with the flow and worry about hammering out a workable recipe later.
Running your thumb around the ramekins keeps the filling from sticking to the rims. Ready for the oven. Mise en place for the Coconut Crème Anglaise. Ed, waiting for the soufflés to finish baking. “See Lori, no measurements!” (Yeah Ed, leave the hard work to me.) The soufflés have deflated considerably by the time Ed garnishes their tops with grated coconut and the Coconut Crème Anglaise. I love this shot for the easygoing, almost tongue-in-cheek nature it depicts. Ed always has fun with food, and it characterizes all of his creations.
Regardless of non-existent measurements, Ed gets an impressive rise from his soufflés. (See cover photo). “I always like to underbake my soufflés just a bit so that the center stays loose and foamy,” he says, setting them down on the counter. He finishes them off with a smattering of grated coconut, the brown and white shards look like a miniature shower of stars as I peer at them from behind my camera. My mouth beings to water … and water some more as he inserts a spoon into one soufflé and dribbles some Coconut Crème Anglaise into it.
Pictures done, oven turned off, Ed and I sit down with our respective soufflés. “They’ve shrunk!” Ed declares. I take a bite. “But they’re still so good!” I aver. A still crisp exterior shows its softer side, a rich and loose middle pocked with pieces of queso de bola – a subtle, salty strike against the sweetness of the soufflé. Another spoonful serves up a chunky surprise of salted red egg, and that’s when it really tastes like a bibingka. I like the Coconut Crème Anglaise which rounds everything off quite nicely with its sweet creaminess.
Queso de bola and a soufflé that tastes like a bibingka: a deliciously traditional start to the Christmas holidays.