Part of the point of this blog is to get me to cook things that I don’t usually, for whatever reason. One such thing is cheese soufflé. Perhaps it’s my of a fear of failure or perhaps it’s because whenever I’ve thought of doing it, I’ve been cooking for friends and it feels like too big a risk: what if they don’t rise? I couldn’t possibly serve deflated soufflés to real people (real people being any one other than Sven or me)! Shocking isn’t it? I recently realised that the reason I don’t experiment too wildly with flavours or mess around with classic recipes is because to me food is all about feeding people (hence the name of the blog). I can’t take the risk that the food I put down on the table might be anything but delicious. I’m stopping slightly shy of saying food is love, but you get the picture.
Recently, however, I had twice-baked Larg Soufflé at The Gingerman restaurant and decided that I absolutely must try to make cheese soufflé at home (it being just too good to exclude from the repertoire). Therefore on a day when we had gorged massively on lunch, making dinner somewhat of a formality, I decided to give it a go.
This was surely a brash step, an epic undertaking to be marvelled at with a mixture of wonder and admiration. I shyly announced my intention to Sven, who grunted his approval without even looking up from his computer. No, I tried to explain. This is huge. Soufflés are one of the most difficult dishes to get right. You never know if they are going to rise and the smallest jolt could cause them to collapse. This will be absolutely triumphant or disastorously catastrophic. There will be nothing in between. All my high drama and grandiosity was completely lost on Sven. He managed a weak “good luck” before dropping his eyes back to the computer.
Slightly put out that my bravery and adventurousness were not getting the recognition they deserved, I embarked on my very first soufflé with not a small amount of trepidation. I took the bits I liked from a couple of recipes (one annoyingly being from the vile Sophie Dahl in Waitrose magazine), and followed the instructions with way more care than I would usually. Finally (actually quickly, the mixture being suprisingly little more than a bechamel) I got them in the oven and sat nervously with my faced pressed against the glass to see if they would work.
Having read that the smallest knock around the oven could be enough to cause the souffles to collapse, I paced tippie-toed carefully around the kitchen. This was nerve-wrecking stuff. With 5 minutes to go I decided to leave them to it (they looked like they were rising afterall) and moved to the living room, wringing my hands. At which point, Sven went through to the kitchen to clean up after me (thank you, my love) and started clattering and clanging around. I screeched through to the kitchen shrieking at him. Don’t move a muscle. Don’t even breath. Please don’t touch the oven. No, not even to wipe up the mess I’ve made. The soufflés, Sven. THE SOUFFLES.
Eventually, the 15 minutes were up and I delicately opened the oven. They had risen. I gently placed the ramekins down on the plates next to the fennel and rocket salad I had prepared earlier and rushed (carefully) through to the livingroom triumphantly. Look, look, they’ve risen. They risen and I’ve made soufflé and it’s worked. Now eat them quick before they collapse. And we did and they were lighter than air and completely worth the stress of the previous 15 minutes. Hurrah!
makes 3 little soufflés
- 15g unsalted butter, plus another few grams, softened, for greasing
- 150g good quality aged Gruyère, grated
- 10g plain flour
- 175ml whole milk
- A grating of nutmeg
- A piece of fennel, or failing that half an onion
- 3 eggs, separated
- A pinch of nutmeg
Preheat your oven to 200°C. Grate your cheese, then (using the softened butter) grease your ramekins before sprinkling some of the grated cheese into each one. Then pop them in the fridge for 20 mins or so to chill.
While that’s going on, put your milk in a sauce pan with a grating of nutmeg and a chunk of fennel (or onion) to flavour your milk. Warm the milk gently over a low heat and then leave to infuse for 15 minutes or so.
Melt the butter in a second saucepan and add the flour, cooking gently for 2 minutes without colouring. Remove the fennel (or onion) from the milk and slowly add the milk to the pan, a little bit at a time, stirring continuously. When all the milk has been added, continue to stir over the heat for 1 minute more. Then remove the pan from the heat and add the cheese, stirring until it is completely melted and the mixture is smooth.
Season the egg yolks with salt and pepper, then stir them into the mixture.
(No pictures from now all, as this is when I started getting panicky… egg whites being the crucial airy ingredient).
Whisk the egg whites with a little pinch of salt until they form soft peaks, then fold in half the mixture (gently, you don’t want the air to be knocked out of the mixture) until combined. Then fold in the other half (again, as carefully as you can). Divide the mixture between your ramekins and level off at the top. Dahl (I despise myself for offering her suggestions, but…) suggests you run your thumb around the edge of each ramekin to give the soufflés room to rise. Out of sheer fear I obeyed, though I don’t know if this makes any difference at all.
Bake your soufflés on a baking tray for about 15 minutes. Don’t be tempted to open the oven to check their progress, but if you have a window in your oven then you can torture yourself by spying on them that way. If you absolutely can’t resist opening the oven (but really, don’t) then make sure you close the door really super gently as the bang of the door closing could (apparently and horrifyingly) be enough to knock the air out of the soufflés. Disaster.
Once ready, carefully remove the soufflés and place them (still in their ramekins) on a plate (continuing the theme… putting them down gently). I served mine with a fennel salad, which went beautifully.
And, in the words of Sophie Dahl, “if the soufflés collapse, laugh.” God, I hate her.